Legacy systems leave opportunities for IT contractors

Tuesday 6 August 2013

IT contractors are keenly aware of how quickly the industry is moving. Systems are constantly being updated and upgraded, meaning that those with experience of business change and transition projects are in as much demand as those who keep abreast of the newest developments. But contractors who work for financial services clients should not forget to maintain their skills on older ‘legacy’ systems, according to one recruiter.

Twenty Recruitment says that the banking sector in particular demands skills in both current and legacy systems. In its latest company blog post, the firm points out that many of the UK’s largest retail banks are still using outdated systems. Many of these are based on old mainframe technologies like Cobol.

Maintaining these older systems is critical to business operations for the banks in question, Twenty says. As a case in point, the firm refers to the disaster that befell RBS last summer, when a failed software upgrade brought transactions to a standstill for many customers. Hundreds of thousands of customers found that transfers in or out of their accounts had not been carried out.

The company, which owns Ulster Bank and Natwest, fixed the problem quickly but was faced with a backlog of transactions which took days to clear. In fact, 1,200 major branches had to operate extended opening hours to catch up with their workloads.

According to Twenty, this demonstrates the extent to which many large institutions still depend on legacy technologies in spite of the constant pressure to stay up to date.

“From a hiring perspective though, this is actually great news,” says Jonny Ward, head of financial services technology at the firm. IT professionals who have expertise in legacy systems are in high demand, he adds - and because they are relatively thin on the ground, large businesses are willing to offer generous benefits to attract the highest calibre contractors.

At the same time, the addition of new systems means that contractors need to stay abreast of developments, since more recent technology still needs to communicate with these existing systems. Compatibility is an important issue for a large proportion of financial services clients, who will need contractors to ensure that new and old technologies can work harmoniously.

Demand for IT contractors is clearly not receding in any particular industry. Analysis conducted for the FT of the latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) data shows that the UK is currently enjoying the fastest growth in IT sector jobs since the ‘dotcom boom’. Close to 720,000 people were working in IT roles in March, the research found, 11 per cent more than just a year earlier. In fact, the percentage increase in computing jobs reached double figures in two successive quarters for the first time since 2001.

Fresh demand has been created with the advent of new online businesses, especially those located around London’s ‘Silicon Roundabout’ district which is fast becoming a hotbed of technological development, FT says. Equally, large firms are looking to speed up their adoption of new technologies and public bodies are following suit - the Ministry of Justice is set to invest £160 million in digital technology by the end of 2016.

By Victoria McDonnell

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