An Application Modernization 101

The economic reality of the new decade means core business applications, the lifeblood of the organization, are more vital than ever. But can they meet needs of the new digital era too? Derek Britton looks at the enduring value of core applications, and how they can easily evolve in our latest modernization blog.


As we enter the new decade, in the heart of the digital era, the fundamental proposition facing today’s large organizations is how quickly they can transform the organization to support the continuing challenge of their respective marketplaces. That’s not an easy challenge to resolve.

In terms of how this is happening today, 72 percent of customer-facing applications are either completely or mostly reliant on mainframe processing. But whether running on IBM z or elsewhere, those core business applications may be years if not decades old. However, what has worked well for years, and might continue to be hugely valuable, might not line up with tomorrow’s requirements. Change is needed.

The question is what to do though.

From a Position of Strength

We’ve spoken before about the profound risk of opting to throw away “older” systems that might not do what is needed in the future, to be replaced by something that you hope will. Indeed, the industry is littered with stories where the hopes of a brighter digital future have come aground on the rocks of a failed IT replacement project.

Its little surprise that more than half of Micro Focus customers are looking to build on what already works and modernize core business applications to achieve their digital goals.  Our work with thousands of customers repeatedly encounters these three core avenues for modernization

Application Modernization – Extending critical application value with low-risk innovation
Process Modernization – Matching enterprise application delivery speed to today’s required pace of change
Infrastructure Modernization – Achieving flexibility, security, and cost efficiency by deploying applications across host, server, and cloud

Application Modernization – How?

Above, we use the term “Extending critical application value with low-risk innovation,” but what does that mean? After all, no two applications are the same, and the requirements for change are many and varied: functional improvements, new user experience, integration with other apps, new data feeds, new access points, new architectural or object/service models, new delivery toolchains… the list goes on.

When it comes to COBOL applications, whether mainframe or elsewhere, application modernization is the cornerstone of the Micro Focus solution, providing as it does a range of capabilities to support application change across a variety of forms. The list below is by no means exhaustive.

Learn more about Application Modernization

User Interface

New user experiences, and access methods, are a common requirement for trusted business systems. Does anyone not use mobile banking today? It is a commonly accepted aspect of IT evolution that a new front-end and improved user experience is a key part of a product or service. Micro Focus has been supportive of such modernization requirements for years. Whether it is improving mainframe green apps for operators, or offering a web or mobile-based self-service version of the same application.

In addition new UIs can be built using Micro Focus’ leading COBOL application development products as needs demand.

Reengineering or Re-architecting

One common requirement for COBOL application change is to decouple the business functions from the rest of the program logic. COBOL applications are often large, somewhat unwieldy, and difficult therefore to maintain in a modular, efficient manner. Breaking apart these monoliths, function by function, is potentially tricky, but is vital in the drive towards a more service-based delivery model.

Tackling that challenge head-on, Micro Focus has introduced ways of discovering, assessing, extracting and delivering discrete functions of “business rules” as part of a broad micro services or reengineering exercise. (This recent blog outlines how this can be done.)

Functional Improvements

Contemporary COBOL technology is available including developer productivity features to accelerate and simplify application change. Rapid application change is possible for the COBOL developer in exactly the same way as it is for other languages.

Take a look at some recent “Tech Tips” blogs on using application development features within the Micro Focus product range –

-Tech Tips: Debugging COBOL code in Visual Studio – Data Items
-Tech Tips: Debugging COBOL code in Visual Studio – Breakpoints and Watchpoints
-Tech Tips: What’s New in the IDEs – Visual COBOL and Enterprise Developer 5.0
-Tech Tips: Don’t know what’s been executed? Micro Focus has got you covered
-Tech Tips: Slick ways to accelerate COBOL code editing
-Tech Tips: Creating COBOL code snippets


Integration is another somewhat vague term to describe a broad range of requirements at different levels of abstraction, but ultimately it all aims to achieve connecting disparate elements of an IT infrastructure to provide a valuable new service. Either by provide functionality through a new channel via a service bus, or literally by enabling applications to connect together through an API or other mechanism.

Micro Focus offers a host integration solution (Verastream Host Integrator),  that enables mainframe applications to work in new ways—as mobile apps, cloud applications, desktop applications, web applications, and SOA web services for internal and cloud initiatives. This way existing development skills and familiar IT tools can be used to isolate business processes and move them beyond the current platform without disturbing integral code or daily operations.


And whether the function or service you are trying to connect to lives on a mainframe or elsewhere, facilities to isolate and expose the functions as callable service, as an API or via REST/JSON are available to the COBOL application team. For example, REST/JSON web services via COBOL is illustrated in the embedded video.

Modernization: build on strength

Change is a constant. What separates success from failure is choosing the right path to implement that change. The value of IT is often the application and data already built. They – after all – run the business today. The Micro Focus mantra of protecting, evolving and innovating from a position of strength, those core applications, covers a wide variety of requirements, which we support through our holistic application modernization technology. Is COBOL still relevant?

The power and choice remains with the IT team, but in each case protecting and innovating based on valuable existing IT investments.

What Next?

Talk to us. If you are planning an application modernization project, now is a great time to learn more about the smartest way to deliver. With >1,000 such projects under our belts, we have the technology and the know-how you need to succeed. Please feel free to come and see us in person at an upcoming #DevDay Event, SHARE, or event closer to your location and check our On-demand webinars.

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