Is ‘innovation’ this year’s ‘solution’?

When last week’s funky phrase becomes a corporate cliché, writing for technology can be a metaphorical minefield. Here our Senior Copywriter, Steve Moore, attempts to rescue ‘the Micro Focus word’ from buzzword bingo.

This post regards many of the words I use every day as clichés. That’s the nature of IT – the lexicon moves on as quickly as the technology. I have no problem with ditching many of the usual suspects, listed below. But as one of them underpins everything we do at Micro Focus, I must ringfence it – and fast.

Delivery, Passion and Solutions

Have you noticed how we all ‘deliver’ things now? What was once the exclusive domain of the postal service now also applies to most of the people reading this blog. Customers generally just download the software we make. Yet we must still deliver it. Go figure.

Remember when everyone had to be ‘passionate’ about what they did? Financial markets. Plumbing. Fish. This company is “passionate about roofing” when ‘adequately qualified and experienced’ would seem preferable. Not sure I want a passionate roofer prowling my property with a hammer.

Although satirical magazine Private Eye no longer runs a dedicated Solutions column, everything apparently still needs a solution. Shoelaces. Cricket. Wardrobes. Funeral Solutions apparently “know the industry from the ground up” when the bulk of their business is surely in the opposite direction.

What makes a cliché?

The problem with delivery, passion and solutions isn’t the word itself, but a lack of context around it. Too often, organisations spend buzzwords like cheap currency, believing they add value when the reverse is true. Overuse can reduce messaging to little more than a string of meaningless phrases.

These guys and these people are “passionate” about their “solutions” – notepaper and boilers, respectively – and this blogger spotted a van promising delivery, solutions and passion in one hit. Sounds good. But the solution being passionately delivered remains unclear. A lack of context is the problem.

Take ‘solution’. If I followed this blog and stopped using the word, describing the Micro Focus Mainframe Solutions would be problematic. But aside from the fact it’s a proper noun I can also contextualise the word by referencing the hundreds of customers who use it to resolve genuine business challenges. So it’s a solution, all right.

But as these words are banished to copywriting Palookaville, the marketplace, like nature, will fill the vacuum with something else. My fear is that ‘innovation’ is next. And that cannot stand.

Leave innovation in isolation

I’m just finishing off the Micro Focus Tone of Voice guide. We use plenty of verbs – especially ‘innovate’ – to describe our work. We cannot annex the word, because it feels different to all of us, but we can contextualise – and own – our version of it.

Innovation to most IT consumers is the next iPhone, Shazam, Cortana or any number of sexy, interactive products. Personally, I am still amazed at how Google Maps is digitizing the world and that’s practically old school.

The different flavours of innovation

But that isn’t innovation, Micro Focus style. Strategically and culturally we’re closer to this business directory definition; “In business, innovation is when ideas are applied to further satisfy the needs and expectations of the customers”.

So our innovative software enables our customers, many in the financial world, to innovate in their own way. Our version of innovation is retuning 20-year-old COBOL or PL/I to behave in a completely new way. It is giving long-established applications a flexibility the original coders couldn’t possibly have imagined, but our customers need to compete in a perpetually-evolving marketplace.

Micro Focus technology bridges old and new, unifying our customers’ IT investments with emerging technologies to achieve low-risk innovation and meet increasingly complex business demands.

What innovation means to us

Some find the idea of modernizing long-established applications pretty innovative. To other customers, innovation is creating a mobile banking app or moving from clunky green screen monitors to interactive interfaces without changing a line of code; plenty of Silk Performer users think that keeping the company website upright no matter how big the load is pretty remarkable, while other customers in other areas would point to being able to make sense of the data generated by 50m connected devices.

All these customers will remark that liberating developers to work on new and exciting products is innovative in itself. It’s all good innovation and makes us, indisputably, an innovative company. But only by taking the customer perspective can we contextualise the word and justify using it. The key is providing the meaning that saves innovation from being the next ‘solution’.

To some, innovation is a cliché. To Micro Focus it is simply a way of capturing the way we deliver products to fit a continually-evolving IT landscape in a single word.

And now I’ve got that off my chest, I’m off to enjoy a nice, cool glass of my favourite sobriety solution


COBOL – fuelling the FinTech explosion

How – and why – is COBOL, a decades-old technology, fuelling explosive growth in a new area? Our new blogger, Henning Luebberding, shares his thoughts….

FinTech investments more than doubled in 2015 and there are currently around 5000 to 6000 FinTech companies competing for market share – and billions of venture capital funding. Financial Technology is also a hypercompetitive, B2C marketplace set in a difficult, highly-regulated landscape with zero room for error.

Sensibly, most start-ups delegate managing the complex IT back-end to a more experienced partner in the banking sector. They concentrate on finding customers – and funding – while utilizing the power of their partner’s COBOL applications for the ‘heavy lifting’ of back-end IT.

Examples include Number26, who partner with Wirecard, while Fairr.de rely on Sutor Bank for IT support. So what’s in it for the more established banks? Plenty. Because unlike the unruly intrusion of challenger banks, this partnership enables older banks to become stakeholders in the disruptive innovation sweeping their marketplace.

But to meet their end of the bargain – to deliver the services FinTech start-ups need – banks must up their IT game. Arguably the definition of ‘fit for purpose’ banking technology must now include modern functionality, such as APIs for mobile and web applications, as standard.

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The challenge

This article predicts bank spending on new technologies in North America to reach $19.9 billion in 2017. Current IT must evolve. But ‘older’ COBOL is ubiquitous in this sector; the simple ‘00’ syntax was created for number crunching and COBOL has been the language of banking for 50 years.

COBOL is here for good. As recently as February of last year, COBOL’s durability, prevalence and reliability established it in the top 20 of the TIOBE Index and it continues to grow. But banks and other FS clients don’t need graphs. They want real-world answers to the business challenges their customers are giving them.

Some currently host their COBOL applications on mainframes, a technology never created for this level of flexibility. Others use distributed platforms. Few have a great appetite for the risks of rewrite or replacement. So how can the behemoths of banking offer the innovation that the more nimble FinTech start-ups demand?

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The solutions

Micro Focus enabling technologies regularly achieve modern flexibility for our financial services (FS) customers and other owners of mature COBOL and PL/I applications.

Mainframe clients exploit the contemporary Eclipse or Visual Studio technology of Enterprise Developer, a powerful integrated development environment (IDE) while Visual COBOL offers the same benefits on distributed platforms.

Visual COBOL, Enterprise Developer – and the Micro Focus Enterprise suite of application modernization tools – enable FS customers to realise a corporate FinTech strategy. They protect their IT infrastructure investments while improving application development to create the products their end-users – the bank customers – and partners demand.

Because as we noted in our recent blog on challenger banks. “Customers are trusting banks who possess good technology. And IT could well be the next major battlefield between established and challenger banks in a rapidly changing market.”

So whether banks are start-ups or just looking to keep going, a failure to innovate means being left behind…….

Share your thoughts in the comment section below

Taking an interest – the rise of the challenger bank

Recent reputational damage among market leaders has coincided with the arrival of so-called Challenger Banks. Derek Britton takes a look at the impact of IT and other factors on the competitive landscape.

Introduction

Most of us stay with the same bank forever. Business banking also follows a model of brand loyalty. It is almost diametrically different to the insurance market where, by comparison, the expectation is that the customer will proactively look for the “best” supplier at each annual renewal date. Yet somehow a market dominated for so long by major incumbents is being gradually eroded by new entrants. Indeed, high streets in the UK are greeting a brand new banking brand, Metro Bank, opening new branches.

A lot has changed in a short space of time. Building on from Challenger banks: on the lawns of retail banking?, this blog takes the Challenger Bank discussion further by examining this seismic shift in the banking sector and asks if this change is here to stay.

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Market Interest

Big players in the banking market enjoy significant market share. In the UK, the “Big Five” (HSBC, Barclays, Lloyds, RBS and Santander) account for 85% of the market, while in the US the much more fragmented marketplace still has big names, where “the largest five banks in the U.S. now control nearly 45 percent of the industry’s total assets.”

Yet retail banking is far from a static market. The banking crisis saw unprecedented levels of consolidation and attrition in the market during which household names such as Wachovia (formerly First Union), Merrill Lynch, Northern Rock, Alliance and Leicester and over two dozen Spanish banks ceased to exist. In 2009 alone, 140 US banking brands ceased trading.

But when there is ebb, there is flow. When Metro Bank opened in 2010, it was the first new company to be granted a banking licence in 150 years. Atom Bank followed suit, joined by other new entrants. “Challenger Banks” – as they are now often termed – comprise both established retail organizations that have moved into banking (e.g Tesco, M&S), and new banking start-ups.

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A Cutting Edge

What are these new banks offering that makes them attractive?

New UK banking start-ups including Atom and Starling offer an online-only service, and are passing on some of that cost efficiency with offer lower interest rates on loans and higher rates on savings.

Their focus on mobile apps and strong user experience, they are aiming to attract the growing demographic of technically savvy, online banking customers. The number of people using mobile banking, for example, is set to double in the next 4 years. And it seems to be working. Growth figures are outperforming the bigger banks and lending volumes have increased significantly.

Additionally, offering a “voice” to the customer community is part of the challenger proposition. German digital bank Fidor, which launched in the UK in September 2015, bases its banking model around its online community, offering customers a voice – through its social media platform – in how the bank is run.

Furthermore, the new brands have sustained none of the reputational damage[1] suffered by the major players in the wake of the banking crisis, including brand-damaging scandals around IT crashes, LIBOR, FOREX and PPI mis-selling, insider trading and data breaches. As recently as April 2015, an industry steering group implored banks to “raise their game” to improve their reputation. Yet regulatory violations are reported, and fines continue up to the present day.

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Too Big To Fail?

Surely the incumbent giants of retail banking have a response ready?

The first witness for the defence is, paradoxically perhaps, the issue of trust. Compared with a known banking brand, does a customer trust a bank with little or no experience? Despite a couple of banking giants losing the trust of some customers, others are still trusted more than newer entrants in terms of expertise and capability. People know what to expect from the long-established retail bank branch.

Related to this, was the issue of whether the bank could provide appropriate – by that read reliable – technology. Brand loyalty, according to research, hinges on banks providing good technology, said an overwhelming 80% of respondents to one survey. Whether for challengers it is too early to tell how good that technology is, is an interesting question.

The next issue concerns regulatory readiness in terms of funding. Chief executive of the British Banker’s association, Anthony Browne, commented:

“Challenger banks are obliged to hold more capital than more established banks, which have data stretching back decades, allowing them to show … they are less risky. Challengers do not have that track record. This can mean that…a challenger is obliged to hold eight times’ as much capital as a larger bank.

There is also a question of technology. And it is a big question. Customers might  see the mobile app as the face of the bank, but the core processing takes place away from the user’s screen, which requires a reliable, resilient infrastructure: a bank’s IT system is its business. By running long-standing reliable systems, retail banks possess both trusted technologies and are evolving quickly. For instance, the mobile banking apps on our phones are invariable supported by typically COBOL applications written many decades ago, and still running today, on mainframe machinery. This is technology which has a heritage of investment, value and uniqueness at the larger banks, but which clearly does not exist in the same way in the back office of the Challengers.

Finally there the thorny issue of the branch network. Despite significant closures, the established banks’ branch network far outnumbers[2] new incumbents. And while the question of the value of the branch itself in terms of day-to-day consume banking, the attitude to branches remains benign. According to the 2014 UK YouGov Poll for the British Banking Association “57% of banking customers themselves believe access to a branch is important, even if they choose not to use branches”.

Adding it all up

In the UK, the most disrupted banking market, those Challenger banks still only account for a small proportion of the market. Some way to go perhaps before a major dent appears.

Yet the changes are afoot.  The comprehensive banking results review published by KPMG in 2015 stated “The Challengers are outperforming the Big Five in terms of growth (compound annual growth rate 8.2% between 2012 and 2014 compared to a reduction of 2.9% for the Big Five).” While barely noticeable from a distance, the market continues to shift. A former Chief Executive of one major bank predicted branch numbers and employees in the sector “may decline by as much as 50% over the next ten years” in response to Challenger threats and the new digital economy. It is no great surprise that a significant investment in one Challenger Bank, Atom, was recently made by a major EMEA Banking giant, BBVA.

While the Challengers have some advantage – they can adapt to change quickly, enjoy a fairly benign reputation so far, and have fewer overheads, the major incumbents possess the systems, the skills and the deeper pockets, not to mention the major market share, to navigate the choppy waters of market change. The situation seems finely poised.

Many clients in the financial services sector choose Micro Focus to support their important enterprise application modernization strategy. Take Standard Chartered Bank, China for instance. As well as helping it meet regulatory requirements, Micro Focus technology improved performance and response times, reducing a 3 hour job to just 3 minutes, cutting time to market of new services by 25%.

Customers are trusting banks who possess good technology. And IT could well be the next major battlefield between established and challenger banks in a rapidly changing market.

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[1] A poll carried out by YouGov in April 2013 for the Public Trust in Banking symposium, found that 73% of respondents believed the reputation of banking was bad.

[2] According to the KPMG Report “The Game Changers”, 2015, the average branch network size for the “big 5” UK banks is over 1,400. The average branch network for smaller Challenger Banks (e.g. Metro. OneSavings) is 37.

Enterprise united – IBM TXSeries and Micro Focus Visual COBOL

Ed Airey from Micro Focus looks at the tighter integration between Micro Focus Visual COBOL and IBM TXSeries. Enterprise developers can now build, test and deploy enterprise COBOL applications using modern IDEs – Visual Studio or Eclipse – that are seamlessly integrated within Micro Focus Visual COBOL.

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Many global organizations rely on application portfolios and core systems written up to half a century ago to serve the needs of the business and support business- critical functions such as payroll, banking, retail services and logistics.

For the modern enterprise, re-using application logic and data technology is good business sense. With the right technology, companies can leverage these applications and create a bridge to new technology such as cloud, mobile and next generation architectures.

This way, companies with heritage IT can still be relevant in the new digital economy. The closer alignment between IBM middleware and our forward-thinking development environment offers new options for companies meeting that profile.

What are the products called and what do they do?

IBM® TXSeries® for Multiplatforms is distributed transaction processing middleware. It supports new and longer-established applications in both cloud environments and traditional data centers. It is a scalable and highly available platform for developing, deploying and hosting mission-critical applications that also integrates with mixed-language, multiplatform and service-oriented architecture (SOA) environments.

Micro Focus Visual COBOL

Visual COBOL is a powerful development environment for COBOL applications. By integrating with Eclipse and Visual Studio, Visual COBOL enables a new age of application innovation, with unrivalled portability and performance for distributed COBOL applications. Smart editing features, multi-platform compilation and advanced debugging tools ensure that modernizing your COBOL applications through Visual COBOL is simple and straightforward. It supports a wide range of the latest environments including Cloud, mobile, .NET and JVM.

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How do they work together?

Modern enterprises deploying these two solutions together will be enabling their application developers to leverage long-established and unique business logic and data while bridging the gap between old and the new.  Business-critical applications written in C, C++, COBOL, Java and PL/I can be deployed across an array of on premise, virtual and cloud platforms. Enterprise organizations will be able to develop mission-critical applications with high scalability, fast performance and 24×7 availability.

What does it all mean?

Because the IBM TXSeries for Multiplatforms V8.2 now supports Micro Focus Visual COBOL, developers can now build, test and deploy enterprise COBOL applications using modern IDEs – Visual Studio or Eclipse – that are seamlessly integrated within Micro Focus Visual COBOL.

The tighter integration between Micro Focus Visual COBOL and IBM TXSeries is highly streamlined and validated through a simple ‘single step command’ within the Install Verification Programs (IVP) process. Adoption is further streamlined by providing CICS and COBOL sample applications ‘out-of-the-box’ for easy reference and integration.

Perhaps more significantly, internal test simulations suggest this tighter alignment will deliver a powerful 40% improvement in COBOL application performance. Application developers are more enabled than ever before to optimize application services for business users.

So, good news, right?

Right. “We’re very excited about this new integration capability between IBM and Micro Focus.  This new solution further demonstrates our shared partner commitment to the ongoing support of enterprise business applications.  Visual COBOL’s certification with IBM TXSeries provides our mutual customers with new development capability, a wide array of platform options and unrivaled performance.” (me! That’s Ed Airey, Micro Focus and you can find me on Twitter)

Right. “It is always our priority to bring together the best in class experience for our application development and management teams. With support for Visual COBOL we have taken our user experience to the next level by providing a well-integrated, seamless development and deployment of COBOL apps to our enterprise-grade platform. ” (Kasturi Mohan, IBM)

Learn more about IBM TXSeries for Multiplatforms V8.2 here and start your journey to innovation with Micro Focus Visual COBOL from here.

Ed

Taking COBOL mobile

Organizations without mobile capabilities – or a strategy to achieve them – are standing still. But with the right technology, even older COBOL applications have the potential to go mobile. COBOL has a long, rich history of innovation and is adding to it every day…

Hands up if you have a drawer full of old mobile phones that you will probably never use again? That’s a lot of hands. Sure, we all need a spare, but if you are likely to swap your touch-screen smartphone for your Nokia 6310 then keep your hands up … thought so.

My point is that the increasing consumer adoption of all things mobile, namely phones, devices, apps and services – even our exploration of the Internet of Things – represents an irreversible trend.

The mobile arena is the battleground for today’s digital business. Gartner predicts that by 2017, mobile consumers will download or access mobile apps and services more than 268 billion times. That’s – potentially – a cool $77bn in mobile revenues. The key word is potentially. Any modern business wishing to ride that wave must offer their customers the opportunity to experience their business services digitally or surrender that business to the competitors that can.

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Balancing act

That is fine in principle. But any businesses must exercise cost control and maintain a ‘balance’ of new innovations and the BAU, ‘lights-on’ work. Essentially, anything leveraging modern tech must deliver a fast return to the business to pay its way – and that means giving the customer what they want sooner than other players in this marketplace.

Typically, organizations with large customer bases that need to deliver applications and data via consumer friendly services – think banks, insurance companies, airlines – are likely to have substantial investments in COBOL. Clearly, these systems were not built with mobile or the cloud in mind and the original developers will not have built in the requisite flex to create digital experiences through mobile applications. Yet the imperative to deliver them remains, so success depends on access to customer data and the ability to leverage core IP and business logic within these COBOL systems.

As has been noted – replacing time-proven COBOL code for an unknown commodity makes little business sense, particularly as COBOL has the inherent capabilities to deliver what the business – and crucially, the customer – needs.

 Portability: the foundation of COBOL’s legacy

For more than 50 years COBOL has embraced continuous innovation. Remember when ATMs were a novelty? Think about how technology has driven the advancement of logistics, banking, equity trading systems – all thanks to COBOL. Ask the Treasury of the Republic of Cyprus about how they have streamlined efficiency and achieved real savings with the language of the future.

Right now, COBOL is connecting more than 500,000,000 mobile customers. So the potential is there. The challenge for the developer is in bridging the gap between the existing technology and the modern capabilities required to take COBOL companies into the future.

The solution to that challenge could be easier than you think. As our ‘fast path to COBOL’ journey explains, re-use is the new ‘start from scratch’. Take your data and applications – your core business logic and competitive advantage – and create something new and exciting from it. Modern tools, such as the Visual Studio and Eclipse are the launchpad for delivering new mobile services faster and the workspace for folding modern languages such as Java, Objective C and C# into current COBOL systems.COBOLallaround

Micro Focus – taking COBOL mobile

COBOL has been our core business for nearly 40 years and bridging the gap between older and new technologies remains our primary mission. If you’re ready to derive more business value from your business applications, take a look at our COBOL to Mobile solutions.

Developers: Take advantage of these free resources.  Get started today with our handy demo code, video and ‘how to guide.

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Back to our original point; those old Nokia mobile phones in your drawer might be old, but they still work. The technology has simply evolved and with our help, so can yours.

But don’t bother swapping your laptop for a ZX Spectrum. With only 16KB of RAM to play with, your chances of reading this blog are pretty slim.

MelBurns

Challenger bank or retail bank?

Challenger banks introduce competition to the world of the retail bank. Focusing on the challenger bank and its online/mobile appeal, this blog series explores the pros and cons of both bank types.

The challenger bank and its fresh appeal

Showing interest

When it comes to banks, the customer community has many questions. As well as the obvious things like, which bank offers the lowest interest rates, direct customers and institutions will want to know which one has the most user-friendly mobile app and whether any of them offer customer service that stands out. In addition, reputation and long-term health of a bank can be an important factor in how the market chooses a banking partner.

Initially it seems as if we have a catch-22 situation. While challenger banks like Atom Bank may offer an online-only service with a focus on keeping up with the latest technologies, retail banks such as Barclays have years of experience behind them of what works and what doesn’t work.

Taking inspiration from Challenger banks: on the lawns of retail banking?, this 2-part blog explores the pros and cons of challenger banks and retail banks.

The challenger bank: Bring on the competition

There’s nothing like a bit of healthy competition. Up until now customers have only really had the option to hop around from retail bank to retail bank, basically to get the same kind of services, in different colours and slightly different ways. Seeing big banks like RBS suffering downtime probably doesn’t instil much confidence in the customer, and branches still seem to follow the Bank Holiday ‘tradition’ from 1871. Online banking solves this for at least some of its customers.

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Challenger banks are introducing some long overdue competition, giving people the opportunity to try something different. When Metro Bank opened in 2010, it was the first new company to be granted a banking licence in 150 years.

Other new banks have followed suit and are now rocking the retail banking boat with a whole new world of options, such as online-only banking.

Online banking pays off?

The advantage of this is that there are no branch networks or call centers which cost a little extra to run. New start-ups including Atom and Starling offer an online-only service, which means as well as sustaining low operating costs, they are choosing to offer lower interest rates on loans and higher rates on savings. Online-only means no complex IT platforms needing constant attention. The influx in mobile banking suggests that mobile banking is the way to go, with the number of people using it set to double in the next 4 years.

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What you want is what you get?

Other digital-only banks bring social media to the mix. German digital bank Fidor, which launched in the UK in September 2015, bases its banking model around its online community, offering customers a voice in how the bank is run. Seen by some as a challenger bank to the challenger banks, this ‘disruptive innovator’ which prides itself on this modern banking technique uses its own propriety technology called Fidor Operating System, which is free of older source code and build. With newer, less familiar technologies, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, which is great if you don’t mind a little risk.

So despite all these intriguing new challengers dangling carrots before our eyes, the ‘Big Four’ remain largely unflustered. And, like the corner shop versus the supermarket, challenger banks have very big shoes to fill if they’re going to stand against the retail banks. Why? Let’s investigate.

Is mobile a temporary influx?

The question is, ‘do customers trust a bank with little or no experience as a bank?’ Only if they have good technology, 80% of Brits say. The online-only bank’s service relies entirely on the quality of its app. And if the Big Banks can get it wrong, others can get it wrong too. As well as this, what happens when a bank’s site goes down? The convenience of an online-only banking service may turn into an inconvenience when the customer least wants it. With access to money being so reliant on Wi-Fi or mobile network signal, customers could get into difficulties quite easily. With this in mind, could challenger banks be proof of Britain’s banking system mess?

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Are we giving more credit than the digital challenger bank deserves?

While many of us take to new technology like a mathematician takes to numbers, there are also some technophobes among us. Around 89% of the UK uses the internet, which means 11% don’t. The percentage is lower in the USA with 87% using the internet. What’s more, only 53% of the UK accessed their bank accounts online last year. In this case online-only banks have a limited audience of only those with online access, which is barely more than half of the UK.

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New horizons or same old scene?

We’ve now had a few days to settle into the new year, but as we take down the festive decorations and look at our business imperatives for 2015, is anything different in enterprise IT? This blog glances at the current picture of global technology, where so much seems like it is changing, but a lot appears to remain the same.

So is that the case? Well, yes and no. While the world appears to rotate ever faster each year and the pace of change in technology is at unprecedented levels, organizations the world over continue to rely on tried and trusted technology to run their most cherished business systems. Yet, the notion that ’tried and trusted‘ equates to ’staid and unchanging‘ is far from reality.

We’ve now had a few days to settle into the new year, but as we take down the festive decorations and look at our business imperatives for 2015, is anything different in enterprise IT? This blog glances at the current picture of global technology, where so much seems like it is changing, but a lot appears to remain the same.

So is that the case? Well, yes and no. While the world appears to rotate ever faster each year and the pace of change in technology is at unprecedented levels, organizations the world over continue to rely on tried and trusted technology to run their most cherished business systems. Yet, the notion that ’tried and trusted‘ equates to ’staid and unchanging‘ is far from reality.

The Mainframe is New?

IBM will shortly be unveiling a new product range, illustrating once again the continued investment and commitment to mainframe technology and their enterprise customers. Forrester’s Richard Fichera suggests to readers that their “current large mainframe workloads will be with [them] for the long-term”, reflecting the findings of the ninth annual mainframe survey from BMC, “2014 Annual Mainframe Research Results: Bringing IT to Life Through Digital Transformation”. The findings were clear: the mainframe remains part of the long-term business strategy and continues to shape the future of IT, according to 91% of respondents.

COBOL: Practically Popular

Underpinning all this is the enterprise application technology of choice, COBOL.  Yes, COBOL. One of the key barometers of usage and interest, the TIOBE index shows COBOL at a lofty 13th position in their global language rankings for January 2015 – an all-time high, by our estimates. It certainly represents a rise as a key “indicator of the popularity” of the COBOL language, now in its 56th year. We at Micro Focus are delighted, but not surprised: our own experience tells us that COBOL remains the language of choice for critical enterprise applications the world over. It is as suited for core business systems today as when it was first conceived.

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Looking Ahead

Back to thoughts of the year ahead. Industry analysts typically can’t resist the temptation to predict how the IT world will look in the year ahead. 2015 is no different. Many commentators agree on the continued rise of the Internet of Things (IoT) and its potential to impact on our daily lives; the continued expansion and proliferation of mobile technologies and the rising belief that, in a maturing digital market, this is now the ‘age of the application”.

One industry observer, IDC, predicts the following trends in disruptive technology for 2015:

  • Nearly one third of total spending will be focused on new technologies such as mobile, cloud and big data
  • Wireless data will be the largest ($536bn) and fastest growing (13%) segment of telecom spending
  • Spending on the greater cloud ecosystem (public, private, enabling IT and services) will reach $118bn (almost $200bn in 2018), $70bn ($126bn in 2018) of which will be spent on public clouds
  • Worldwide spending on big data-related software, hardware, and services will reach $125bn.

While none of these are new phenomena, the scale of their predicted rise certainly is. Indeed, these volumes of expenditure only serve to cement the belief in the enormous market potential of what is still relatively new technology. The revolution is upon us.

We’re all socialites now

As of 2014, around 1.8bn internet users have accessed social networks; 170 million from the United States. Social media seems to reach beyond the trivialities of consumer use. Perhaps more interestingly, big business seems to be embracing it as a genuine business tool, too. Organizations including the Bank of England are using Twitter and Facebook to help test the market. Similarly, a Facebook application, ‘Link, Like, Love’, enables American Express cardholders to link their cards to a dashboard of deals from the likes of Whole Foods, Dunkin’ Donuts and Virgin America. Five million ‘Likes’ suggest that other companies may follow this route.

The CIO is dead, long live the CIO

The jury is still out on who IT leadership will collaborate with, and behave, in supporting the business. As Ian Cox explains on CIO.com this month, “CEOs are under pressure to move their business into the digital world” and that “more of them will look to their CIO for help in leading the transformation. And that will need to be a different type of CIO if they are to make a success of digital”.

In his particularly lucid piece, What can the CIO expect?, he goes on to mention the continued challenge of CIO and CMO teamwork, but offers a positive conclusion “There is no war between the CIO and CMO”.

Hear, hear. Instead, the right technology can deliver for all parties. It doesn’t even have to be brand new…

Find out for yourself how Micro Focus supports innovation through smart technology by dropping us a line, and discover for yourself why COBOL remains the enterprise application language of choice at a forthcoming Developer Day event, soon.

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www.microfocus.com

ps. The definition of the TIOBE index can be found here.

Low-risk Modernization – an Insurers best policy?

Big business faces big challenges and embracing future needs and customer demand is no easy thing, especially with so much complexity within IT. A recent article in the insurance industry press introduced the possibility that organizations should consider abandoning current core IT systems and starting again. Derek Britton on the risks and alternatives.

Information Week’s Insurance and Technology ezine carries “The Rocky Road of Modernization” a thought-provoking piece from Kelly Sheridan which discusses some important considerations around systems renewal or modernization in the insurance sector. Sheridan’s view of customer focus and operational efficiency doubtlessly represent the cornerstone elements of an effective, modern IT strategy for many insurance firms.

The article then attempts to outline possible IT strategies for effective change, including the assertion that “systems produced today” are “better able to handle the modern … environment”. This is unsurprising, as old IT systems are much derided. After all, how can decades-old systems serve today’s organizational needs? Even the taxonomy “legacy systems” is viewed within IT as a largely pejorative term. When organizations set out to replace their so-called legacy applications, removing a decades-old working system can be difficult. Even if the effort succeeds, a lot of money is being spent for very little in return. What replaces it is – fundamentally – merely a like-for-like equivalent. Yet extensive budget, resource and upheaval is consumed on this venture.

Replacement: Too risky for insurance companies?

And in reality, the viability of system-wide replacement carries considerable risks. Swapping out one system for another compels the organization to cope with significant changes, including functional equivalence, data integrity, user acceptance, training, hardware and software commissioning, among others.

The new system is untested, the system being replaced is undocumented – and the possibilities for error are huge. Studies undertaken by industry commentators and analysts talk about “failure” rates of between 40% and 70%, depending on the nature of the project, where implementations are excessively late, over budget or just never delivered. The IT press is littered with examples – just Google the words “IT failure”. The vast majority of these are new implementations.

Furthermore, a question arises around the article’s assertion that older systems are “expensive to operate” and rely on “outdated” skills, such as COBOL programming. This attempts to capture a nuanced argument in a general statement and should be challenged. Core systems such as COBOL are, from a maintenance perspective, easier to understand and manage than more equivalent languages. In terms of available skills, interestingly most developers in 2014, with their knowledge of IDEs such as Eclipse or Visual Studio, can easily pick up COBOL, the latest versions of which also work within these environments.

Keep it COBOL

Any concerns around the availability of current, incumbent skills, are also worth closer scrutiny. COBOL, the building block of most insurance applications, has gained an undeserved reputation as uncool and outdated relative to where high-paying developer jobs are trending – a perception that might explain why only 27 percent of Universities teach COBOL.

However, demand creates supply and greater dialogue between employers and academia can help correct the issue. Furthermore, Micro Focus is working with over 300 universities and colleges today to provide up-to-date COBOL training and technology to support both industry and universities alike and give tomorrow’s developers a future-proof career. After all, who else will maintain the applications that underpin the insurance houses’ core processes?

Another assertion made here that systems produced today are “less expensive to maintain” is, again, not necessarily the case. Take Java, for example. While it performs well for mobility requirements, it can lead to higher “technical debt” – the Gartner-coined term that defines the eventual consequences of poor system design, software architecture, or software development within a codebase. That’s a lot more than COBOL. According to CAST Software’s CRASH report, the estimated technical debt of Java is $5.42 per line of code, compared to $1.26 per line of COBOL.

Anyone planning to implement a modernization project should assess risk, cost, competitive advantage and time to implement as key considerations. Reusing current, working, trusted systems, then defining appropriate strategies to modify them, requires lower-scale change which delivers value improvements quickly but without undue risk. Interestingly, the same reuse strategy helps tackle issues around compliance and IT Backlog, concerns which also beset the insurance sector.

Newspaper Headlines

Many well-known insurance brands, including Nationwide, Aviva, Allianz, HCL, SCFBMIC and United Life have successfully repurposed older systems and interfaces by reusing core COBOL applications, saving time and effort which can then be devoted to other customer-facing initiatives. Meanwhile, similarly risk-averse organizations in the banking sector have also recently chosen Micro Focus technology to support their core IT modernization strategies.

In conclusion

The market expects insurers be cost-efficient and – naturally – risk-averse. Embarking on a modernization strategy based on reuse is a low-risk route to better customer service and operational efficiency. Sticking with the programming language that has successfully underpinned the core application since it was created is not “outdated”, but common sense.

As we have discussed, with a little fine-tuning, these applications can deliver the future innovation required to meet the requirements of tomorrow without compromising what is there today. Micro Focus technology protects the intellectual property of core applications, and enables the system transformation needed to embrace new technology and meet new market requirements. We believe that for our insurance clients it really is the best policy.

 

Godfrey

Micro Focus DevDays: A window into the future of COBOL

Jackie Anglin from Micro Focus invites you to come and see more about what Micro Focus mainframe and COBOL products can do. At a North American #DevDay near you

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So, what could Developer Days do for you?

These sessions  are an opportunity for our North American partners and customers to see for themselves the opportunities that new, enabling technologies could bring to long-established COBOL applications. You’ll have to see it to believe it…

This year our ‘A Team’ of tech guys have a plan (and yes, they do love it when it comes together) to help our customers and partners make more of their mainframes. Because by hitching all that power to Visual COBOL, the rich development environment that delivers true innovation, they can help you make more of your application estate.

With the right approach – and a little insight – your organization’s current mainframe, Windows, Unix and Linux-based COBOL business systems can support tomorrow’s technologies including mobile, cloud, .NET and JVM. And if you want to see innovation in action….

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See for yourself

We’re always pleased and proud to have our partners stand up to explain and demonstrate how Visual COBOL has breathed new life into their COBOL applications and this year will be no different.

In our most recent DevDays we heard from application knowledge experts Transvive, while IBM walked us through the possibilities that the zOS operating system brings to the contemporary mainframe. Sammons Financial and Empire Life insurance have already shown us what their version of the future looks like so want to contribute with a presentation of your own, then let us know.

For the forthcoming shows we can confirm that, among others, technology consultants Select Computing and infotech firm Information Analysis Incorporated will be demonstrating how they have given their COBOL apps a new lease of life, as will Spears Software and marine insurance specialists Boat US.

And this year’s show-and-tell has a main event that proves just how versatile Visual COBOL can be in taking old-school COBOL apps into real world, right-now situations. The demonstration from our partners at Astadia is a walk-through of how insurance claims advisors use Google Glasses connected to COBOL applications when making claim assessment site visits to their clients.

Exciting innovation from trusted applications

So these DevDays are all about taking you into tomorrow with what you have today. About not risking core processes in attempting to create a genuine business advantage through innovation. It’s about supporting good ideas with the COBOL technology that still drives more than 70% of today’s business transaction processing systems.

We created Developer Days to demonstrate how enterprise application developers can quickly and easily modernize their COBOL systems using the very latest in COBOL development technology and with innovations such as the Astadia presentation we have walking, talking proof that it really works.

Book today. Innovate tomorrow

Developer Days are all about seeing the potential. Everyone takes home something different, whether it is a how-to of achieving best practice or the inspiration to try something new. So come along to a Dev Day near you soon (and stay tuned for updates and additions to the schedule available here)

Aside from seeing Micro Focus mainframe development technology at work, you will learn how to:

  • Accelerate time to delivery on mainframes and distributed platforms
  • Enable greater focus on new innovation
  • Leverage modern COBOL development tools to maximize current development resources
  • Attract the next generation of developer talent

While demonstrations and presentations from our tech team will explain the potential, it is the real-world testimonials from Micro Focus’ partner and customer community that bring it to life.

Who else should attend? 

  • Essentially any organization thinking about – or in the process of – modernizing their COBOL applications.
  • Anyone wanting to extend them to the Cloud, mobile and managed code (.NET or JVM) environments
  • Anyone with the inspiration to do more with their application portfolio but without the how-to knowledge.

 

Godfrey

 

Are you trapped by your legacy system?

Let’s start with the basics…

How many of you reading this, feel trapped by a system that was created in the 1980s or earlier? How many of you feel that it is a necessary evil that you have to deal with day in and day out?

Here’s my next question: why? Why do you feel trapped by your legacy system? This is always the first question to my federal clients and their answer is always the same: “Our business runs on this system and without it we would not be in business.” This answer always surprises me because there are life rafts out there that can rescue you from what seems like an endless battle for survival.

Legendary. Not Legacy.

First of all, I would like to take the time to explain that here at Micro Focus, we do not view our customers’ ‘legacy’ systems as legacy. Personally, I feel this word has an extremely negative connotation and that it’s an incorrect term for the system. I would challenge you to think of it as legendary, in the sense that it maintains a company’s code that enables them to have a competitive advantage over other companies within that business sector. These legendary systems are “the core of my business,” as most North American clients would adamantly state.

COBOL is the predominant language within these complicated and intricately woven applications that are the lifeblood of many major corporations, government agencies, and numerous other companies ranging in a variety of sizes. COBOL seems to have acquired a negative connotation, which I think is because the maintenance of this vital system is often so overwhelming that organizations cannot even begin to think about innovation. Think about it: we’re talking about government systems that decipher what your taxes are, what your Medicaid payout is, social security benefits, etc. But really, how can you even begin to think of innovation when you spend all of your time just maintaining a static system?

Make the change.

This is where the thinking needs to change. COBOL, in case you didn’t know, processes more transactions daily than there are Google searches. It’s an important language that supports many mission critical applications. COBOL, for many industries, was seen as a highly portable, agile, readable, and robust language that could create a secure application. However, with advances in technology and the creation of new languages, COBOL has now taken a back seat and is seen as a far less popular language to develop in. Sometimes, businesses even choose to take on a rewrite (75% of these fail) or choose to buy a commercial off-the-shelf package that gives some, but not all the functionality they had with their homegrown COBOL application.

COBOL Infographic
COBOL Infographic

Shake things up.

Breathe. You can get back your freedom. What if there was a solution in which you could repurpose your COBOL code and integrate it with a modern language? Hard to imagine, right?

The truth is, Visual COBOL can enable you to do just that. You no longer have to struggle using an old hard-to-read system. Visual COBOL delivers the next generation of developer tools for the COBOL developer. In using industry standard IDEs, Visual Studio and Eclipse, you can now repurpose your COBOL application and integrate it with your choice of Java or .NET. However, what I find to be more remarkable about the solution is the ability to not only increase a developer’s efficiency when coding but the fact that it can help tear down the walls between different teams of developers. I mean how many times have you seen the COBOL developers sit in a different section from the Java guys or the C# guys? Well that no longer has to happen. You can all sit together and use the modern IDEs to gain better team collaboration and communication.

COBOL cuts costs

Cost is often another driving factor that keeps the legacy system as is. However, through modernization of these COBOL applications, Visual COBOL helps you to deploy your application to a wide variety of more cost effective platforms such as UNIX, Linux, and the Cloud. Instead of going through a rewrite, Visual COBOL enables you to retain your business logic and create a more modern application without losing the competitive edge the business logic provides. This cuts out the extensive cost of a rewrite or a package solution.

To conclude, I’d like to challenge you to think about your options. I challenge you to see the vitality in these legendary core government applications and the ways you can repurpose them into a modern and agile application of the 21st century. Do you want to keep maintaining a legendary system that you feel you have to deal with? Or, do you want to transform a system that has been running your business since the 1980s into a system that will continue to help grow your business and innovation far into the future?

kadigbeach

Beating the Backlog – Great idea #2 Reduce time spent on development

Often applied generically instead of case-specifically, the phrase ’IT Debt‘ is as widely-used as it is misunderstood. We prefer the term ‘IT Backlog’ but by any definition this represents a major operational challenge and, according to a recent study, an $11m hole in the IT budget of many organizations.

As we discussed in our previous blog, you can’t have innovation without adding to it and only innovation can address it. But what does that innovation look like?

Any solution, innovative or otherwise, is only as good as the people working at the coalface of IT – the development team. Because the reality is that although the format of a developers’ working day seems far removed from that of the company CIO, the development environment reflects many of the challenges of the wider organization. So, meet the daily challenges and you address the wider issue. Sounds good. But how does that argument stack up?

From a developers’ perspective….

For example, the developer firing up their computer every morning is faced with many strategic, rather just task-based challenges to overcome. These may include:

–          Heavy workload – including ‘keeping the lights on’ activities

–          Frequent internal change driving regular redirection

–          Old and outdated technology and environment

–          Limited budget and resource

While these are fundamentally boardroom agenda items and genuine strategic, long term challenges, the developer is only concerned with the day’s tasks – and the tight deadlines dictating their delivery.  And, naturally, development is laden with its own unique complexities. Developers will readily explain how there is much more to their craft than just edit, compile, debug and test. So who sees the bigger picture?

The development manager’s view

He or she will be looking beyond the molehill of the day’s workload and peering up at the backlog mountain. It’s big, continually growing and the best efforts of the development team are never enough.  While limited resources and a complex IT environment are not just development problems, they represent major obstacles in this environment. Especially when adding in the challenges of inflexible architectures and the pressure of not returning value to the business fast enough …

The key, then, is to optimise the developers’ working environment. Because the less time projects spend in development, the more teams can focus on addressing the backlog. The problem is that ‘lights on’ work isn’t as sexy as, say, BYOD, ‘going mobile’ and the like, so securing additional budget for simply maintaining what the organization already has is a problem. So what’s the solution?

Nine pages. One answer

Our whitepaper, A step change in development efficiency, called out many of the benefits and solution points that developers, development managers and beyond are looking for. The Micro Focus Enterprise Solution has all the tools needed to achieve them.

If Step One for improving efficiency and productivity is choosing a contemporary development environment, such as Eclipse, then Step Two is to leverage the power of Micro Focus Enterprise Developer.

This robust and unrivalled technology will boost development efficiency, blending contemporary tooling with current mainframe processes and third party tools. Incomplete integration can mean inadequate developer adoption and lost productivity gains, which is why Enterprise Developer majors on ensuring all the hooks are in place between the developer and the trusted, working mainframe processes and technology, but all from a more modern, efficient IDE.

So use the Application Workflow Manager, pre-loaded with the software, to create a user interface and directly integrate current tools, such as source control, either on the mainframe or the workstation. This customization matches the development environment you want with the development workflows you have giving you full control over customization without incurring any costly plugin development.

This is where you start to mine the benefits of application modernization.

Supporting mainframe workflow is just one example though, Enterprise Developer’s 3rd party integration, it’s flexible approach to developing off or on the mainframe, it’s unrivalled support of the z/OS and subsystem environments, and it’s use of the latest Eclipse capabilities ensures that developers will be up and running quickly with a the very best mainframe application technology, as a result productivity and efficiency gains will be realized sooner.

IDECustom

Customizing the IDE to develop on and off the mainframe

This is where you start to mine the benefits of using the best in mainframe application development technology from Micro Focus. The benefits to the development team include:

–          Full control over customization

–          Better mainframe integration

–          Swift development acceptance

–          Faster productivity gains

Big talk. Any small print?

No. These are achievable benefits and we have the case studies to prove it.  One customer achieved a 40% cost reduction and improved development efficiency by 25%.

Enterprise Developer, as part of the Enterprise Solution, increases productivity and improves efficiency to achieve a faster time to market and free up more time to work through that backlog, or work on that innovation project that will ultimately deliver real value to your business.

Because in almost every organisation, from the coalface to the top floor, everyone is affected by the IT Backlog – it’s just that not everyone knows it. But add the right tools to the right part of the process and you’ve found the solution. See how for yourself.