Digital transformation – buzzword or business opportunity?

Digital transformation is what analysts, tech vendors and IT professionals call the latest move towards business innovation.

As this blog explains, organizations are finding that their digital strategy is increasingly being driven by changing market events – digital disruption – and the desire to improve the customer experience (CX) by better understanding how they engage with their products and services.

There will be no turning back. As Accenture research discovered, more than 65% of consumers rely on digital channels for product and service selection, speed and information accuracy, with the same percentage judging companies primarily on the quality of their customer experience. And expectations have never been higher.

Keep the (digital) customer satisfied

Digital technologies such as web, mobile, Cloud, the Internet of Things (IoT) have changed the way we live our personal lives and how we engage with businesses. Gartner predicts that this year will see more than half of the world’s population become digital subscribers and fuel expectations of easily consumed, tailor-made content, to be available on-demand and accessible from their device of choice.

It’s not something companies can get wrong. Organizations will probably be aware that more than 80% of the customers who switched to more digitally-savvy competitors could have been retained with a better digital experience. So who is best prepared for the new world of digital natural selection?

Smaller IT shops, born of new technology and running flexible processes, have a clear advantage. Better prepared to leverage consumer feedback in creating and delivering more focused products, faster, they can use disruption to challenge established incumbents. Across the sectors, from medical to manufacturing, entrenched enterprises are being left behind by the pace of change.

COBOL in the digital world?

In the new, shiny world of digitalization, systems of record written in COBOL are viewed as obstacles to progress, to faster delivery and new innovation. So what are the options for businesses with decades of IT investment and a new CIO directive to suddenly shift to a digital-first strategy?

When transforming any aspect of a business, whether it’s a single application or process, or the wider culture, business leaders must begin with a clear understanding of what ‘digital’ success looks like to that organization. CIOs, IT Managers, and dev teams have different definitions – some are strategic, others more tactical – and some are more concerned with the purely practical. However the imperative to improve the customer experience is paramount. Intuitive, content-rich, adaptive to new technologies and easily accessed, the CX should modify business behavior towards a customer-first approach.

Digital – the new frontier for business

The customer experience underpins digital transformation and improves business productivity. New hires with access to a better, faster, more intuitive application experience need less training and have more time for customers. In this world, every business is a software organization that creates a USP – a clear differentiator – using unique, software-generated ‘experiences’ for the end user. In this definition, success is building enduring customer loyalty and using it to access new markets.

But what about longer-established enterprise shops running COBOL? Where can their products take them? There’s good news. Micro Focus remains committed to a strong technology roadmap, supported by millions of R&D dollars, focused on innovation and customer success. Creating and refreshing technology solutions that enable the enterprise to reinvent their IT assets for the new reality remains a core tenet and guiding principle. And here’s the proof.

Drum roll, please

Say hello to a new UI transformation solution for ACUCOBOL customers—AcuToWeb®. With the latest version of extend® (v10.1) and AcuToWeb, organizations can instantly transform their COBOL applications by enabling browser access across multiple platforms.

Data: Challenge & Opportunity

Data Challenges

Researchers claim that the average smartphone user glances at their device roughly every seven seconds. Do you? It’s an impulse that each of us experiences within our daily lives, whether at the airport, the bank or the shopping mail, but also in workplace. Why is this so? Well, mobile technology has unleashed the power and desire for instant information that’s readily available to all using our device of choice. The mobile economy is underpinned by data. This quest for information, engagement or even entertainment requires instant, readily accessible access to this valuable resource and without it that same mobile experience would be well, not nearly that exciting. But the demand for data is not isolated to those searching for the latest sports scores or for that needed holiday recipe.  Business organizations have the same need to unlock the value of their business data and leverage that information to make smarter decisions leading to new market opportunity. But for many businesses, it’s not quite so simple.  There are a number of challenges that must be addressed.

Many core business systems are written in the COBOL language.  In fact, over 70% of business transaction processing is supported by COBOL technology.  It continues to be the lifeblood of core business applications in the airline, insurance, banking, manufacturing and retail industries as well as a prominent piece of public services IT infrastructure. But unlocking COBOL data is not easy.  Traditional COBOL systems utilize COBOL data files for information access and storage. Retrieving data from these systems requires a knowledge of the COBOL language but also an understanding of the application itself. This creates challenge for an organization that desires to gain real time access to data for business intelligence, analytics or reporting needs. COBOL data is not relational which makes the use of modern tools difficult for analysts and developers, alike.  Applications underpinned by COBOL data files also experience application reliability and serviceability issues. COBOL data files can and often do become corrupted which compromises business continuity and reduces application up-time. Also, even during scheduled application maintenance, application recoverability can be slower than desired. So, how can you overcome these challenges and what are the options?

Options

In an effort to gain easier access to COBOL business applications, some will utilize tools to extract, transform and load data into a new repository. Other options include mirroring the data or creating copies for analytics and data warehousing purposes. The challenge with these options is that the data, itself, is not relational nor available in real-time which means the data is immediately out-of-date. Re-writing these COBOL applications is often considered an option too in order to achieve the benefits of SQL and RDBMS.  Doing so, however, can be risky and costly to the business.  Additionally, the size of the average COBOL application codebase is large and is often measured in millions of lines of code (MLOC) which means the prospect of changing or re-writing these systems to accommodate RDBMS or SQL integration is almost unobtainable for many.  So where do we go from here?

A Better Bridge – For the Old and the New

There’s a better path to achieve the benefits of SQL and RDBMS without application code change. For business analysts and end users seeking to gain real-time access to relational data or create custom reports without the assistance of the development team, a new data modernization toolset enables you to utilize modern, off-the-shelf reporting tools such as Excel or Crystal Reports to access existing COBOL application data with ease. And for developers and technical teams seeking to utilize the power of SQL alongside modern RDBMS platforms to improve application uptime or reliability, a supplemental toolset is available to bridge existing COBOL business applications to relational database management platforms, including SQLServer, Oracle IBM DB2 and PostgreSQL.  With these solutions, organizations can unlock the power of business data, enabling all to make smarter decisions that drive opportunity and new digital business.

New Solutions

Today, Micro Focus is delighted to announce a new innovation- a set of data modernization solutions to enable analysts, developers and management teams to better align their core systems of record with modern relational database management technology. With Relativity and Database Connectors, you’ll have the ability to unlock the value of business application data and leverage the power of SQL and RDMBS to gain access to business information, improve application reliability and better manage RDMBS costs while expanding application usage. To learn more about these new and exciting tools and how to get started on your own journey to data modernization, we encourage you schedule a complimentary value profile meeting with us. During this consultation, we’ll examine your business and technical goals and help align your data modernization needs to solutions that meet your objectives. As the demand for data only continues to rise, fueled by digital business and the mobile economy, we must find new and innovative ways to leverage core business systems to unlock both the power of data and the competitive advantage that it delivers.  Click here to learn more and get started with this complimentary service offering.

Building a Stronger Mainframe Community

Community brings individuals and groups together – united in a common practice, belief or behavior. We see positive examples of community in many aspects of our daily lives whether it is our local neighborhood, family settings or common interest groups. Good examples are also found in the software industry. Following on from a recent Mainframe Virtual User Group event, Ed Airey explores the importance of community and how this proven principle can yield lasting value for new and existing members.

What is the Mainframe Virtual User Group?

On November 17th, Micro Focus held the November edition of its Mainframe Virtual User Group (VUG). This fall meeting saw Micro Focus Enterprise users and Mainframe enthusiasts across the former Serena business, come together –united under one flag and one common theme – the future and growing importance of the Mainframe. The Mainframe VUG serves as a quarterly update offering company news, product roadmap updates, recent event highlights as well as a spotlight technology and educational demonstration.  November’s theme focused on the importance of DevOps and the increasing role that the Mainframe plays in enabling that practice across the enterprise.

Highlights from the September iChange event in Chicago were also covered in this briefing as well as a reference to valued technical resources* for community members. Al Slovacek, Product Manager for the ChangeMan ZMF solution provided several product roadmap updates including a review of ChangeMan 8.1.2 and 8.1.3 and a forward view into version 8.2.  Eddie Houghton, Enterprise product director, provided a similar technology overview and roadmap update for the Micro Focus Enterprise solution set, including the most recent version-Enterprise 2.3.2.

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DevOps takes center stage…

Perhaps the highlight of the November Mainframe VUG, however, was a live End-to-End Mainframe DevOps demonstration performed by Gary Evans, Technical Services Director at Micro Focus.  Gary showcased the development efficiency and test automation capabilities available within this continuous integration toolset designed for the Mainframe—a powerful solution to accelerate and streamline application delivery. Gary explained how organizations can get started quickly on their incremental path to DevOps and his demo was a great technology overview for DevOps newbies and seasoned practicioners alike.

These are exactly the reasons community matters. Sharing best practices, product knowledge and building a sense of shared engagement. Underpinned by a commitment to education, the Mainframe VUG seeks to share subject matter expertise across the Mainframe community.  Why not come along to the next community event and see for yourself?  Join us on Thursday, February 9, 2017 for our winter edition of the Mainframe VUG.  Watch the Micro Focus website for more information – registration begins in January.

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#DevDay is coming too

And for those local to the Chicago area this week, why not stop by another great community event-a Micro Focus #DevDay?  It’s your opportunity to see our technology in action, get your questions answered and connect with subject matter experts and industry peers.  You’ll even get a chance to try the tech yourself and it doesn’t cost a penny.

To learn more and register for #DevDay events, visit www.microfocus.com/devday  I look forward to seeing your there and at the next Mainframe VUG event in February!

Are We There Yet?

Digital transformation demands that every IT shop find new ways to move faster and reach their customers with new innovative solutions. Getting new code to market quicker than the competition requires smart tools and intuitive integration to enable faster delivery. Ed Airey explores the new Micro Focus COBOL Analyzer product offering and its capacity to help developers and analysts deliver on this promise.

Every Journey Needs a Map

‘Are we there yet?’ 

A familiar family question heard on most long distance car trips.  A question that’s also difficult to answer, particularly when some drivers, despite better guidance, go off the beaten track.  The increasing mobile use and popularity of satellite navigation (or GPS) technology, has made answering this question a bit easier in recent years. Assuming you listen to the little voice in the box. For those that wait on every wise word and detailed direction, it’s hard to imagine life without GPS. Once you’re used to reliable directions that get you there, every time, why would you take a different path or use a different tool?  The same can be said for application analysis when the right tooling is used.

Actionable Insight
Actionable Insight

The Code Analysis Challenge

Less than 10% of developers use application analysis tools on a daily basis, according to a recent analyst study.   As many as 44% use analysis tools on a project-by-project basis, yet we see a continual need in IT to drive greater efficiency, faster time to market and reduce code re-work.  And that’s exactly how these tools can help—to get you to your destination, quickly and reliably, every time – without getting lost!

It’s Time to Take on Digital Transformation

If you, as a developer, could help your team better understand its core business systems, determine where code change need to occur and reduce the amount of re-work that delays code from going live, wouldn’t you jump at that chance? Or as a business analyst or IT manager, if you could easily onboard new talent to your team, improve collaboration between dev and operations teams or improve IT productivity, would you not take that opportunity?  These are the promises of application analysis tools—helping you better understand your business application and manage code change with confidence.

Impact Analysis made simple
Impact Analysis made simple

Introducing COBOL Analyzer

Today, Micro Focus announces a new offering for its COBOL customers—COBOL Analyzer.  The solution enables developers, analysts and IT management better understand the impact of application change.  Using familiar tools, IT teams can gain immediate insight to where changes need to occur, understand how and where those code change should be made and do so with an understanding of their impact across the entire codebase.

Finally, COBOL Analyzer delivers the integrated toolset to accelerate that change with confidence. Only COBOL Analyzer can help you visualize, understand and act on application code change.  Unlike other offerings, COBOL Analyzer is a solution designed for Micro Focus COBOL applications.  For development teams wondering if the last code package passed QA or made it to production. For teams that are pushed to deliver better code, faster, but are unsure if ‘they’re there yet, code analysis tools are your GPS and trusted toolset to help you reach your destination with greater confidence.

Search your code easily
Search your code easily

Give it a Try

And there’s good news.  You can try this new solution for nothing.  To register for your personal copy, visit the COBOL Analyzer product page.  Also, for those that would like to get started quickly, take a look at the community page for more great materials including a 5-part video playlist, code samples and a getting started tutorial. For organizations with Micro Focus COBOL applications, this is your unique opportunity to gain better insight into your business applications, accelerate code change and reach that digital destination.

Ed

Defining the future of enterprise applications

It’s nearly that time of year again. Yes, the holidays and colder weather (for those of us in the Boston area) are both fast approaching, but it’s also nearly time to attend one of the most electric and engaging events in the open software community – SUSECon 2016. Ed Airey takes a closer look at this upcoming event, its touchpoints with the enterprise community and the continued interest in Linux as a platform for future innovation – all ahead of next week’s activities in Washington, D.C.

Lead with Linux

If you’re a developer, you’re always watching out for the latest technology that delivers new tools, new features and that innovative capability that’s sure to ‘wow’ your customers.  Linux has increasingly become that target technology and platform of choice for new software development, pilot projects and company innovation. Why Linux?  Simply put, it offers the choice and open flexibility that developer demand along with the cost savings that the business desires.

With countless Linux distribution choices on the market, this platform provides vendor variety for both development and operations teams alike. Built on an open-source base, Linux also delivers unmatched compatibility with leading software packages and needed integration tasks. Last, but not least, Linux vendors (in most cases) offer a subscription licensing alternative to that of traditional software packages—providing an opportunity for business to leverage OPEX rather than CAPEX budgets.  All of these reasons also align nicely with a recent Micro Focus survey where Linux was selected as a strategic platform for future growth.

SUSE Linux & App Modernization

But for the enterprise, where critical business workloads reside, are all Linux offerings really created equal?  For organizations with trusted business applications, it’s important to understand the distro difference to ensure existing core systems continue to run without costly interruption.  Some Linux providers pride themselves on enterprise-grade Linux offerings—offerings designed for scalability, performance and security. One such example is SUSE—and that brings us back to next week and a key SUSECon session topic.  Whether you are a software developer, an operations manager or an IT director, this year’s event is an opportunity to define your Linux future and the future of your enterprise applications. For those with legacy application workloads running on (let’s say) less than current hardware, this is also your chance to move to the future.

SUSE Linux delivers a launch pad for established enterprise apps. For legacy (COBOL) applications, this powerful combination of SUSE Linux, Visual COBOL and LinuxOne take existing business systems to new architectures including the Java Virtual Machine and the Cloud. Taking that step is easier than you may think.

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Join us in Washington, D.C.

Join Steffen Thoss from IBM Research Labs and Ed Airey from Micro Focus to hear how enterprises are moving core business workloads to SUSE Linux, underpinned by the latest in high performant, hardware and software innovation—LinuxONE and Visual COBOL.  Learn how with modern tools, industry expertise and proven platform technology, core business systems can be protected and extended well into the future. Discover how digital transformation is enabling new delivery models and why a ‘Lead with Linux’ strategy can enable enterprise application portability, flexibility and choice. Define your Linux application strategy and future proof your proven business systems at SUSECon on Tuesday, November 8th at 11:30am US Eastern time.  We’ll see you there.

MaytheOSbewithyou

We’re heading to Oracle Open World

This Ed Airey blog explains how the modern enterprise can harness technology and technique to outpace and counter the changing face of completion and achieve sustainable business agility. Ed will be at Oracle Open World discussing this further at his session: Destination Java: Take enterprise apps to JVM and the Cloud so if you’re attending don’t hesitate to find him and chat more…

Into the Future: new tools for the agile enterprise

What is the agile enterprise? Is it an organization ready to respond to new demands or business opportunity, rapid changes in the market or changes in consumer demand?  To survive-it must achieve all these goals and more. This is the new norm for 21st century business – ever increasing flexibility. But how does business obtain and keep that nimble responsiveness to change? Is there a secret ingredient to the recipe of organizations that have done so already?  To be agile is to be adaptable—to flex and shift to meet the challenges of one’s environment. Just as the chameleon adapts to his surroundings shielding itself from predators a business organization must adjust its strategy and approach to counter its competition.  For most enterprise shops this is not an easy feat. Mired in technical debt, most IT leaders struggle to manage their IT backlog alongside new business initiatives.  Addressing both requires new thinking, new tech and a new approach to enterprise modernization.

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The Case for Modernization

For organizations struggling to cope with increasing IT debt and an older enterprise application portfolio, consider the innovative path taken by a very well-known European auto-manufacturer.  For years, this organization maintained a sterling reputation for quality, performance and service.  Its aging IT infrastructure, however, now plagued with stability problems threatened its ability to both service its customers and maintain its industry prestige.

The manufacturer considered a complete replacement of its core application infrastructure but quickly realized this would be both costly and risky to business operations.  In a fiercely competitive auto market, competitive advantage was paramount and this organization couldn’t afford to lose a step to the competition by disregarding its precious intellectual property.

Modern tools and new technology was employed to modernize its core enterprise applications. Using the power of Eclipse, new and existing IT teams could quickly integrate existing enterprise applications with Java, web services and other solutions. Enterprise application deployment to the Java virtual machine (JVM) enabled future flexibility and scale to meet new business requirements and opportunity. Modern tools and a new mindset delivered fast results—all without rewriting valued application code.

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Oracle Open World #OOW16

The key to this strategy—unlock the value of IT investments. This year in San Francisco at the Oracle Open World event come and see the future of enterprise application modernization for yourself.  Explore how to easily take existing enterprise systems to new platforms including Java, the JVM, and Linux.  We’ll examine how this European car manufacturer and other businesses took their enterprise applications to modern environments using new tools, new thinking and Micro Focus’ game changing solution Visual COBOL

If you’re attending please don’t hestitate to come and visit us at our booth at the Networking Station @ Oracle Linux, Virtualization and OpenStack Showcase and please attend my sessionTake Enterprise Apps to Java Virtual Machine and the Cloud’ on Tuesday, Sep 20 at 16:00 -16:20 in the Moscone South Exhibition Hall to discuss modernization options further….

Ed

The Cloud: small step not quantum leap

Ed Airey, Solutions Marketing Director for our COBOL and mainframe products, looks at how the right technology can take the enterprise into the Cloud – and how one customer is already getting great results.

We have often used the Micro Focus blog to consider the next wave of disruptive technology; what it is and what it means for the enterprise.

We have looked at mobile technology and the far-reaching aspects of phenomena such as BYOD. Enterprise customers running mature, well-established tech have managed all of these with varying degrees of success.

The key to linking older, COBOL applications with more contemporary customer must-haves, such as web, mobile and Internet of Things apps, is using an enabling technology to help make that transition.

The Cloud is often thought of as synonymous with new companies running modern infrastructures. The default target profile would be a recent start-up using contemporary tech and delivery processes. They can set up in the Cloud and harness the power of on-demand infrastructure from the get-go.

But what about…

The enterprise, however, looks very different. Its business-critical business systems run on traditional, on-premise hardware and software environments – how can it adapt to Cloud computing? And what of business leaders concerned about cost, speed to market, or maximizing the benefits of SaaS? Where can developers looking to support business-critical applications alongside modern tech make the incremental step to virtual or Cloud environments?

Micro Focus technology can make this quantum leap a small step and help organizations running business-critical COBOL applications maximize the opportunity to improve flexibility and scale without adding cost.

Visual COBOL is the enabler

With the support of the right technology, COBOL applications can do more than the original developers ever thought possible. The advent of the mobile banking app proves that COBOL apps can adapt to new environments.

Visual COBOL is that technology and application virtualization is the first step for organizations making the move to the Cloud. A virtually-deployed application can help the enterprise take the step into the Cloud, improve flexibility and increase responsiveness to future demand. It can help even the most complex application profiles.

Modernization in action

Trasmediterranea Acciona is a leading Spanish corporation and operates in many verticals, including infrastructures, energy, water, and services, in more than 30 countries.

Their mainframe underpinned their ticketing and boarding application services, including COBOL batch processes and CICS transactions. Although efficient, increasing costs and wider economic concerns in Spain made the mainframe a costly option that prevented further investment in the applications and the adoption of new technologies.

Virtualization enables enterprises to prepare their applications for off-site hosted infrastructure environments, such as Microsoft Azure. It is a simple first stage of a modernization strategy that will harness smart technology, enabling organizations to leverage COBOL applications without rewriting current code.

Using the Micro Focus Visual COBOL solution certainly helped Acconia, who worked with Micro Focus technology partner Microsoft Consulting Services to port their core COBOL applications and business rules to .NET and Azure without having to rewrite their code.

As Acconia later commented, “We can reuse our critical COBOL application … [this was] the lowest risk route in taking this application to the Cloud. Making our core logistics application available under Microsoft Azure … has not only dramatically reduced our costs, but it also helps position our applications in a more agile, modern architecture for the future”.

And as the evidence grows that more enterprises than ever are looking at the Cloud, it is important that their ‘first steps’ do not leave you behind.

Find out more here www.microfocus.com/cloud

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Visual COBOL new release: Small point. Big deal

The latest iteration of Visual COBOL is a minor point release that could make a big difference to how our customers manage their business application portfolios. Solutions Marketing Director Ed Airey explains more

As my colleague Derek Britton recently pointed out, IT must adapt to help customers to meet the challenges of change. We get that. That is why every new iteration of Visual COBOL has enabled owners of COBOL applications to innovate.

They create new products from long-established IT assets and Visual COBOL 2.3.1 continues the narrative for those running COBOL on Windows or UNIX or Linux.

For Micro Focus it signals a further commitment to future-proofing the core applications that run the business. For our customers it offers more options to deliver the products their customers demand and dealing with change, both planned and unplanned. But what does that mean? And how does the new version help?

Platform alteration

The increasing pace of change is driving the need to innovate faster and IT is the key to delivering it. Whatever the end product, it must be delivered cost-effectively. For some organizations, that means changing operating systems and platforms. The freedom of open source, personified by Linux, offers new options and freedoms.

IBM recognize the new direction, hence their investment in Linux on Power and LinuxOne. These systems offer the robustness and performance of proven enterprise systems – up to 30bn transactions per day and 100 per cent uptime – and the option for continual innovation.

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A new version for a new profile

Visual COBOL now supports systems running Linux on Power (LOP). More details here.  This new Linux capability is an incremental move that for some organizations could represent a sea change.

It’s a step forward reflected in another Micro Focus product update for mainframers. As this latest blog explains, the mainframe solution is also now at Enterprise 2.3.1.  So great news for friends of Big Blue who can now access the same tools and capability.

Visual COBOL has been in the open systems space for some time. It already supports SUSE Linux, but the move to LOP represents a new opportunity for owners of COBOL applications to utilize the power of flexible platforms offering ‘new project’ innovation and modern development options. VC1

So why is this significant?

For the modern IT enterprise, this move further consolidates the alignment of important entities.

COBOL’s resilience is well-documented. Micro Focus continues to invest millions of R&D dollars and future educational support in COBOL. The developer-driven #COBOLrocks Tech cast series open the door to new opportunities for those at the front line of application development. Aligning that potential with the flexibility of Linux extends the potential for innovation through application modernization.

It also further consolidates the relationship between IBM and Micro Focus. Our customer share a similar profile–enterprise, large in scale, core business systems–and their investment in Linux on Power gives those organizations with COBOL applications, powerful options to embrace future change.

One solution for every environment

Micro Focus supports platform choice. Which is why the new incarnation of Visual COBOL means that any environment can be customized to offer future flexibility, whatever the profile.

While LOP enablement is the stand-out feature of 2.3.1, Visual COBOL brings the same level of innovation and modernization to other processors. Languages are the same–Java was recently called out as, potentially, sharing COBOL’s resilience. No problem. Visual COBOL delivers unrivaled flexibility across your choice of modern language, platform or architecture. .

See what this means for your business applications – discover the depth of potential for application innovation in your organization–check out the Visual COBOL solution brief to learn more about this unique, flexible technology.

Federal IT Modernization doesn’t have to be taxing

Ed Airey examines the recent and untimely IRS systems outage, the speedy recovery and the agency’s future aspirations of modernization– all just in time for tax season.

IRS Offline?

Did you catch the big IRS announcement? On 2 February and less than 12 weeks before the US tax filing deadline, a temporary but comprehensive computer systems outage took out many of its tax processing platforms. No 2015 tax returns could be filed electronically, a problem potentially impacting 27 million taxpayers. Additionally, refunds from 2015 returns would be delayed.

IRS tax payment processing systems are now back online and the agency has promised that the US taxpayer will feel minimal impact when they e-file their 2015 tax returns. While the delays amounted to no more than 24 hours, everyone is keen to find out what happened – and why?

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Who’s to blame?

The agency blamed an underlying hardware failure preventing the processing of electronically submitted, e-file returns. IRS commissioner John Koskinen indicated that all ‘other IRS services’ were available and most taxpayers would receive their refunds within the usual 21 day period after electronic submission.  Helpful comments for sure – less useful was the Where’s My Refund’ web inquiry feature that went offline when most needed.

But the outage still leaves many questions unanswered. Was this event preventable? Are older IT systems truly to blame?  How does the IRS avoid a similar event in the future?

Fact and Fiction

Fact: Hardware failures occur in every sector.  In many cases, mitigation rather than prevention is the watchword. So, did the IRS have no disaster recovery or failover systems? Not according to IRS officials; these systems continue run on isolated, older computing platforms running application programming languages such as COBOL. Funding cuts have delayed most application modernization projects and some media outlets and a few IRS officials have blamed the agency’s continued use of ‘older’ and ‘outdated’ technologies such as COBOL.

Unfortunately, their fact is mostly fiction. Take online or mobile banking. Most of us want to interact with our bank when we want on our preferred device.  But have normal banking practibces significantly changed your banking providers’ processes just because you’re interacting with them digitally?  Not really. Core banking processes are regulated and rarely change. While your bank has provided a new way for you to interact with their services, the backend processes are generally the same.

The same is true of booking an airline ticket.  Behind the mobile interfaces of Expedia, Travelocity, and Kayak is a core airline booking system that manages ticketing across the various airline carriers.  We experience the colourful overlay of a core system which has been in place for decades.

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And what do banking apps and airline booking systems have in common?  They both leverage core business applications written in that multi-decades old programming language, COBOL.

Yes, COBOL – the original programming language remains one of the most portable, flexible and scalable languages in the industry, particularly where high volume transaction and data processing is required at rapid speed. There are few viable alternatives. Perhaps this why the IRS continues to rely on its COBOL applications – they work, and work very well.

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The Move to Modernize

So, could COBOL, really be a contributing factor to the IRS’ system availability issues?  No. Blaming the programming language is as convenient as it is unhelpful What’s needed is a comprehensive modernization strategy that blends core strength, namely the current business rules and application logic, with next gen technology and platforms. This enables faster innovation with less risk. The IRS has a successful application portfolio – a suite of feature-rich, high performant transaction processing applications built for scale, speed and precision – to move into the future.

They could easily be ported to new platforms including distributed environments, .NET, the Java Virtual Machine or even the Cloud. This would provide new channels and enable a greater elasticity to meet increased future demand or negate unexpected IT failures. The IRS’ application investment could be extended for decades to come.

It’s been done before

Check out the COBOL modernization initiative at the US Small Business Administration, an agency now well positioned for future growth and leverage next gen technology. Or how about the City of Miami or Marin County, CA who have also undertaken similar COBOL application modernization projects? Modernizing core business systems is can be straightforward and almost risk-free and it all begins with a strategy geared towards leveraging past success and unique attributes.

Innovation Awaits

So, what’s next for the IRS?  With all systems now back online, its busy processing returns and issuing tax refund payments. But is the agency prepared for its next outage?  Will they have the modernization plan needed to mitigate foreseen and unexpected challenges?  There are many paths to modernization, but only one approach will truly enable the IRS and others to modernize core business systems while preparing for the future.

It’s time to turn yesterday’s investment into tomorrow’s new innovation.

Legacy Systems timebomb. What ‘timebomb’? Re-use and defuse…

A piece on the FCW site, calling out the supposed dangers of legacy IT caught the eye of Ed Airey, our Solutions Director. He responds below.

This article raises some interesting – and some very familiar – points. Many of them I agree with, some of them less so.

I certainly concur that putting the right people in the right places is just good business sense. For any forward-thinking organization, underpinning future business strategy depends on recruiting, retaining and developing the next generation of talent.

This is particularly true for enterprises with significant investment in legacy applications and it’s an area we have addressed ourselves. But this is where our paths diverge slightly.

To recap Mark Rockwell’s concerns, any business that allows IT staff with core business app knowledge to leave the business without being replaced by developers with the right skills is looking at the potential for organization-wide impact. For “legacy IT systems”, I read ‘COBOL applications’. And I disagree with the apocalyptic scenarios he is using.

For sure, a so-called ‘skills gap’ could affect business continuity and compromise future innovation prospects.  It is – or should be – a concern for many organizations, including the federal agencies that Mark calls out. But he quotes a CIO, speaking at the President’s Management Advisory Board who likens the potential, albeit more slow-burning impact to the Y2K bug.  The IT industry knows about the so-called skills crisis just as it knew about the Y2K bug. By preparing in the same diligent and focused fashion it’s highly likely that the crisis will fizzle out leaving the apocalyptic headlines high and dry.

Fewer people, more challenges

Now, safely into 2015, the modern CIO has plenty of other challenges. Addressing the IT Backlog, meeting tough compliance targets and developing a smarter outsourcing strategy all add to the In Tray. Meanwhile, organizations must support the evolving needs of the customer – that means delivering news web, mobile and Cloud-based services quickly and in response to new user requirements.

There always a right way to do things; the key is to distinguish it from the many alternatives. For owners of so-called legacy IT, modern development tooling offers many benefits. Modernization enables easier maintenance of well-established applications, and will support the business as it looks to innovate.

In addition, contemporary development environments (IDEs) make supporting core business systems easier.  With a wider array of development aids at their fingertips to accelerate the build, test and deploy process, more programmers than ever can support organizations in filling these skills shortfalls.

VC

Why rewrite – just re-use

These game-changing modern tools help organizations proactively develop their own future talent today and extract new value from older business applications, while providing a more contemporary toolset for next gen developers.

How ‘modern’ are these modern tools?  Next generation COBOL and PL/I development can be easily integrated within Visual Studio or Eclipse environments, reducing development complexity and delivery time.  The Visual Studio and Eclipse skillsets acquired through local universities are quickly applied to supporting those ‘archaic’ core business systems that have quietly supported processes for many decades yet are – suddenly – no longer fit for purpose.

But of course, they are perfectly able to support organizations meet future innovation challenges. The key is embracing new technology through modern development tooling. It is this ‘re-use’ policy that helps IT to confidently address skills concerns, build an innovation strategy – and support trusted business applications.

Late in the piece, the writer references the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act. For government agencies facing these multiple compliance challenges, the modern tooling approach offers a low risk, low cost and pragmatic process to delivering value through IT.

This stuff works

Micro Focus can point to a significant body of work and an order book full of happy customers. The Fire and Rescue Department of the City of Miami, for example – their modernization program halved their IT costs.  The Cypriot Ministry of Finance being another example where 25 year old COBOL-based Inland Revenue payment and collection system was given a new lease of life through Micro Focus technology.

So – can you hear a ticking sound? Me neither.

To learn more about modern development tooling in support of core business applications, visit: www.microfocus.com

extend 10 is here and ready for next gen development!

Ed Airey talk us through the ACUCOBOL extend 10 launch. This latest and major release of extend offers new and exciting capabilities designed to optimize ACU development and accelerate your move to new innovation

Take your first steps towards the future of ACU

As an ACUCOBOL-GT user, are you looking for a clear path forward? Maybe a future proof strategy to support, even modernize, your existing ACUCOBOL apps?  If you are, you’re in very good hands with Micro Focus and extend 10.

Check it out!  This latest and major release of extend offers new and exciting capabilities designed to optimize ACU development and accelerate your move to new innovation.  Whether you’re considering a new UI strategy, a move to the Cloud or adopting the latest deployment platform, extend 10 delivers an impressive line-up of new features that promises to excite any ACUCOBOL user.

What’s New?

Well, here are just a few highlights:

  • ACUCOBOL support for the latest technology platforms including Windows 10, Apache 2.4 and .NET 4.5
  • Single files over 2gb are now supported
  • ACUCOBOL-GT enhancements including AutoFill Entry-field
  • Relational database support is now included as a standard ‘feature’
  • Tracing and profiler enhancements
  • Plus many more including customer reported fixes

To learn more, check out the ‘What’s New’ in Extend 10 datasheet

Protect what you have

If your core business systems are built on ACUCOBOL technology, you’ll want to protect them and leverage them to your advantage.  In many ways, these systems represent your core company identity, your unique IP and it would difficult to imagine a business environment without them!

With extend 10, you protect what you have but also optimize it – effectively use what already works and innovate from there.  Re-use is the smarter play. Want proof?  Read how Rainer Obermeit chose Micro Focus to move into the future using ACUCOBOL technology.  The secret to application re-use success is to do this without adding significant cost or risk to the business.  Easier said than done, I know, but with the right tools (designed for this task) it’s simpler than you may think. extend 10 makes this process straightforward by giving you the foundational platform for new development capability –to quickly deliver the new business features that your customers are asking for!  The tools are here and they’re waiting for you.

Familiar faces

Why we are so confident in extend 10?  We’re reinvesting in ACUCOBOL in new ways including new feature roadmaps, new technology deliverables and new community events.  Plus, our ACUCOBOL community just got a lot stronger with the recent return of an ACUCOBOL legend – Drake Coker.  We’re very happy to have Drake back with us and focused on delivering new ACU capabilities for the extend product line.  So, with a renewed energy, a feature-rich roadmap and the addition of new (and familiar) ACU friends, we’re ready to go.

Join us and let’s take our ACUCOBOL apps into the future!

Don’t miss this opportunity to experience extend 10 for yourself.

ACUCOBOL usersLearn more about this exciting new release NOW!

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