Five signs it’s time for you to consider COBOL modernisation

04/02/2021 minute read Rob Anderson

2021 is in full swing. With the sustained unpredictability of the economy and the COBOL talent pool continuing to shrink, there’s never been a more important time to get serious about modernising your organisation’s environment. The perils of not doing so are clear. We saw what happened in New Jersey last March, when the sudden surge in pandemic-fueled benefits claims caused the state’s 40-year-old mainframes to crash. Thousands were left without access to an important lifeline, whilst the Governor had to put out an urgent call for COBOL programmers.

But how do you know whether you need to start considering a modernisation strategy for your organisation’s COBOL environment or not? To start with, think about these five signs:

  1. You lie awake at night worrying about how you will be able to mitigate the risk of losing all of your COBOL expertise
    The reality is that 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 per cent of the world's actively used code. To quote a 2018 article written by Glenn Fleishman for Increment, “it’s a slow-moving crisis with no crackling deadline, like Y2K, to focus the minds of Chief Information Officers” – and the problem still persists to this day.
  2. You’re under pressure from your business leaders to better prepare for the future
    It’s important to be positioned to take advantage of more agile IT methods, such as the Cloud, DevOps and microservices. Ultimately, the business wants faster and more frequent IT delivery of new services to its customers. To achieve this, you will need to embrace 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 migrating 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 behind 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, nipping at your heels and 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. This allows them to react far more quickly to changing market dynamics and customer demands. On average, 60 per cent of organisations strongly agree that they will suffer competitively if they fail to modernise – you’re not the only one trying to keep on top of your game.

  1. You don’t have overall peace of mind when it comes to your current IT environment. Your modernisation 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. If so, 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 agile 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 Automated COBOL Refactoring; however, it can be leveraged in Java operating environments, and is much more flexible than alternatives from other vendors.

  1. 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 technology brand, many consultants on-hand, etc.), but are you are missing out on being flexible and future proof, and possibly spending far too much of your budget maintaining 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. It can begin saving you money well before you determine an exact modernisation 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 modernising your IT environment and thinking about a new partner. One who understands the different pathways, can provide a complete assessment before any modernisation 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.

Modernization can transform an organization. Most recently, Nasdaq’s CIO spoke up about the benefits that Cloud migration has brought onto the stock exchange – particularly in the wake of both the COVID-19 pandemic and the American stock market turmoil of last week. Their modernisation strategy has enabled them to adopt a ‘bend, don’t break’ approach to dealing with market turbulence, and has led them to also eyeing the potential of more advanced digital tools (including edge computing and chips capable of processing AI-powered stock trading apps) for future innovation.

Next steps

Get started by contacting us for a brief discovery and workshop session. There's no cost or risk to you - and you'll know whether or not we're a match for each other in just a few days. We provide flexible, incremental approaches that balance cost, risk, and time in a way that meets your organisation’s unique requirements.

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