Setting off on a COBOL Modernization Journey

03.01.2017

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The COBOL Market

We know the COBOL market continues to thrive. From two studies, one by Micro Focus and another by Forrester, we know the following: 85% of COBOL applications in production are considered strategic by the business; 81% of Micro Focus COBOL customers expect that their inventory of production COBOL applications will increase. Just under half of COBOL customers have plans to modernize their portfolio.

So, why is this? Competition perhaps? It’s becoming more true that from a customer perspective, a business is only as good as it’s on-line presence. Put another way, if, as a vendor, you aren’t on your customers’ devices, your competition probably is. But for customers I’ve spoken to, with sizable COBOL inventories, getting their business onto their customer’s devices, while keeping their IT estate and application inventory running smoothly are sometimes seen as conflicting priorities.

So perhaps you’re thinking about how to address this apparent dilemma: Get your business more in front of your customer, and still keep it running. Perhaps you’re thinking what would need to change in your application portfolio to achieve this? How much effort would this take? Do you have the resources necessary?

Starting your modernization journey

If you were about to set out on a road trip, what do you ask yourself first? Where am I? Where do I want to go? How do I get there?

Now think about your application portfolio. What do I have? What does it do? Where do I need to go with it to support evolving business requirements?

A key to a successful modernization is having complete and accurate answers to these questions, these help turn a wish list into a project plan. Without these answers a modernization project can become a nightmare of guesswork, uncertainty, delays, defects, and unplanned rework.

This knowledge is probably somewhere in your organization. Where? In a collection of binders gathering dust someplace? In someone’s memory? In a collection of online help files hastily thrown together at the last minute? Or, maybe it walked out of the door and is no longer available? With these considerations, now how confident are you that you have a complete and accurate picture of what is running your business? Put another way, how much does a defect or a delayed deployment cost your business? What is the cost to the business to find and repair a defect, one that perhaps could have been found earlier or prevented if the development team had known the application better? These are real risks: Risks to the bottom line, risks to the integrity and reputation of the business.

Introducing COBOL Analyzer

Micro Focus has recently released a new solution for the distributed COBOL market which addresses these risks. Like its companion product, Enterprise Analyzer, COBOL Analyzer scans your distributed COBOL applications and creates a live, visual map of the physical and logical structure, control flow and relationships between components. Our analyzer products include the ability to produce impact analysis reports, control flow diagrams and calling structures, (among many others. This is the kind of information that analysts, architects and programmers need to accurately scope, plan and deliver application updates. With COBOL Analyzer, just as with your mainframe portfolio, you can now easily see how your distributed COBOL applications are built, and how they work. You can make informed decisions about what has to change and the time and effort required to make them, and reduce the risk of relying on memory, outdated documentation and guesswork.

Once you know what to change, how will you do it? Perhaps you already have an online presence that you’d like to expand or exploit. You’re looking at your newly created maps of your trusted COBOL portfolio, and wondering if you have the capability and resources necessary to achieve this with applications that have been in production since the days of the “green screen” and if you can manage the risk?

Did any of us who were around in the 1980’s anticipate having a piece of glass and plastic in our pocket that could be used to book a flight or order a shirt? COBOL was in widespread use by then. Similarly, much of the foundational code that runs the internet is written in the C language, which dates to the early 1970’s, and was also in widespread use by the 1980’s.

Why was C used to create the internet? C was designed as a computer scientist’s language. It enables practitioners to directly manage low-level functions of computer hardware and the physical devices that perform the necessary communication functions. COBOL has always been about automating business logic and data manipulation, not about managing hardware.

Technology evolves

So, as technology evolved, engineers turned to the language they knew had the capability to manage it, C. This happened away from the COBOL business application world, where concerns over the integrity and security of business critical functions remain the priority.

But it became clear that these newer technologies could enable new business models to better connect the business to the customer. Vendors began to create solutions to support these options. Integrated Development Environments (IDE’s) and “managed code” environments are examples.

To meet the emerging internet-based opportunities, Microsoft created the Visual Studio IDE, the .NET managed code environment and extended the popular C language to create C#. C# includes built in methods (functions) and interfaces that enable programmers to create solutions for online business. SUN Microsystems created the java language from the ground up with a runtime environment (jre) and built-in methods (subroutines or procedures) that perform similar functions for non-Windows platforms like UNIX and Linux. The Eclipse IDE provides a work environment for java, like that provided by Visual Studio for C#.

The Micro Focus approach

Micro Focus took a similar approach, but we started with the prevalent business language, COBOL. We added capabilities analogous to those of java and C#. Micro Focus COBOL solutions are to COBOL as Visual Studio and C# is to C. Absent Micro Focus technology, COBOL solutions would continue to be perceived as locked away in the data center, accessible only through character based screens that look the same as they did in the 1980’s.

With Micro Focus COBOL solutions, trusted COBOL applications can be safely extended to support modern business models in the same way as java and C# solutions, using the same Visual Studio or Eclipse frameworks. With modern methods and Application Programming Interfaces (API’s), and the ability to create native binary code for most popular hardware platforms and managed environments, it is easier than ever to take the least risk, shortest time to value approach of modernizing and porting proven COBOL applications.

If you’re considering rewriting your COBOL applications instead of modernizing them, take a minute to ask yourself what is the real motivation? A dated or inadequate user interface? Lack of understanding of the solution? Inadequate tools? Inadequate skills or resources? Before you throw out the baby with the bathwater, you might well find that with Micro Focus COBOL solutions you can mitigate these risks, stick with your proven solutions and safely modernize them in a managed, controlled fashion.

Start your COBOL modernization journey today by visiting the COBOL Analyzer homepage, watching the launch webinar, or giving us a call directly.

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