Five Signs It’s Time to Consider a Strategy for Modernizing your COBOL Applications

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Summertime is in full swing, and it’s a great time to start getting serious about modernizing your IT environment. With compliance and regulations heating up, and demands from the business for IT to continue providing more value added services, you need options that are flexible and collaborative for modernizing your legacy systems.

Here are our 5 signs you are ready to pull the trigger on modernizing your environment.

1. You lie awake at night worrying about how you will be able to mitigate the risk of losing all of your COBOL expertise from your team, who are nearing the retirement phase of their careers. The reality is, the amount of new COBOL programmers entering the market is drastically lower than it was 10 years ago. And yet, COBOL has more production lines of code than any other language in existence. In fact, there are over 220 billion lines of COBOL in existence, a figure which equates to around 80 percent of the world’s actively used code.

We agree with Glenn Fleishman’s assertion on the state of the COBOL industry in his article, “the language never died, though its early practitioners have faded away, and the generation of programmers who built systems towards the end of the predominant mainframe era in the 1970s and ‘80s are largely near or past retirement age. It’s a slow-moving crisis with no crackling deadline, like Y2K, to focus the minds of chief information officers.”

2. You’re under pressure from your business leaders to better prepare for the future, and be positioned to take advantage of more agile IT methods, such as cloud, DevOps and microservices, for example. While adopting COBOL can be an important step in transforming IT, ultimately, the business wants faster and more frequent IT delivery of new services to its customers. To achieve this, you will need to embrace more agile methods of IT and a strategy that can support much more rapid application delivery. Whether it’s moving to the cloud, integrating with Java or moving to Linux, you will need a more open-based model to handle your legacy COBOL applications.

3. You are losing your competitive edge because of your reliance on dated technologies. You suspect you might be falling back in your industry’s market compared to your closest competitors who seem to be able to react faster to customer needs. Direct competitors are encroaching more and more, while would-be ankle biters keep cropping up in more and more new deals.

If these dynamics are something you are starting to see as a trend, it may be because your competitors are moving away from large software vendor lock in, and looking to open source systems that lend themselves to business agility, allowing them to react far more quickly to changing market dynamics and customer demands. To put a finer point on it, they are modernizing their IT and investing in new technologies and as a result, they are catching up to you.

4. You don’t have overall peace of mind when it comes to your current IT environment. Your modernization strategy, whatever path you take, should give you comfort for today and in your future. To do that it must be a path that is rooted in flexibility and collaboration, and must be tailored to you and your business.

As an example, perhaps you want to continue to program in COBOL in some cases, but operate in a significantly pure native Java environment. After all, not all COBOL applications should be moved. If you fall into this description, then you are a great candidate for a solution that is more flexible and manageable. If you want to generate Java as the compiled object, the result will be inflexible static Java objects, rather than something flexible and extensible. You should seek out a vendor who can provide you with the Java source. This source is not nearly as maintainable as the source generated in the COBOL to Java conversion; however, it can be leveraged in Java operating environments, and is much more flexible than alternatives from other vendors.

5. You’re experiencing vendor lock-in. You’re wedded to an established vendor platform, and you know it, but you can’t seem to cut the cord, and make that change even though you know you should. This vendor marriage might seem like a safe bet (e.g. an established tech brand, many consultants on-hand, etc), but you are missing the point of being flexible and future proof, and you are likely spending far too much of your budget to maintain this relationship.

If getting started with a new vendor seems overwhelming, start with an assessment. The assessment should produce a complete picture of your operational, infrastructure and application environment, and should start saving you money well before you determine an exact migration or conversion path.

If these five things sound familiar, or even if some of them ring true, then it’s time to look for a change in modernizing your IT environment and thinking about a partner who understands the different pathways, can provide a complete assessment before any migration even begins, and who creates a collaborative approach to moving away from COBOL and into a modern pathway. Ultimately, your end game should be a legacy-free environment, moving monolithic applications to object oriented applications.

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