How COBOL has stood the test of time part four

Who would go mountaineering in stiletto heels, or drive off-road in a Ferrari? Let’s face it, there are some tools that are just plain wrong for the task in hand. This is especially true in IT. Business applications need to be built in something that is robust and reliable. Who wants to face a user revolt when systems keep crashing or the wrath of the CFO when numbers don’t add up?

At the high end of enterprise computing there are key criteria that describe the technological requirements of the business systems.

The criteria can be summed up as: Robustness and validity, strong data manipulation, accuracy, speed and accessibility.

As you would expect from a Micro Focus blog, our assertion is that COBOL is the only language that meets all these criteria. It makes sense for us to take each one and show you how COBOL fits it.

Robustness and validity

The language used to create and support applications needs to be as low-risk and error-free as possible to support the business.

COBOL’s type-rich language allows data to be described accurately with explicit scope and limits. This richness means you can meet your corporate coding standards, ensuring consistency and accuracy across your organization and third parties, including partners and industry specific compliance requirements such as Basel II and (Insurance one). This applies to data management in the same way.

For example – a MOVE of number-a of PIC 999 to alpha-a of PIC AAA will invoke a warning.

The need to write robust code is addressed by type checking when you come to compile. This improves the effectiveness of the application creators, helping them avoid any unnecessary pitfalls and deliver more robust applications.

As you run the code, you can set switches to validate the running of the code, heading off any serious errors that may have crept in.

As the language lends itself to error-free coding there’s no need for you to write huge error checking routines.

Types are applicable to the business user, they reflect the concepts of the data the user needs, in the right format. So, numeric-edited types for even stronger formatting and type management, such as blank when zero, decimal point etc. This is taken care of by typing rules in the language so you don’t have to spend time formatting what gets displayed on the screen.

Here are a couple of examples:

Input Value Output Value
20100111 2010/01/11
-1234.5 -1234.50


With these output items defined as:

77           numeric-edited-date-field                           PIC 9999/99/99

77           numeric-edited-bwz-negative-field        PIC –ZZZ,ZZZ.99

Numeric arithmetic accuracy

Essential for robust business applications, COBOL delivers arithmetic accuracy to 38 digits – that’s more than any other language.

An 18 integer number is defined simply as number-1 PIC 9(18).

Micro Focus supports 38 significant digits (i.e. both sides of the decimal point) in a numeric field.

You’ll get an idea of how COBOL trounces Java when it comes to the accuracy needed in financial applications in this blog.

Strong data manipulation

COBOL comes equipped with a range of capabilities to deliver stronger data manipulation, these include:

  • Faster data access than any RDBMS
  • Data files of a variety of formats             �
    • RDBMS
    • Indexed
    • Sequential
    • Relative
  • File size limits set by the operating system. In fact, the Micro Focus file handler has no limit on what it can read (the OS limit is a sizeable 2 ^ 64)
  • Data manipulation and reporting built in to the language with the SORT capability. This uniquely enables you to SORT and filter within COBOL without having to engage another tool or any extra steps.
    • Any element of any definition in any record can be used as the SORT ‘key’
    • Multiple file merging and record-level manipulation (even re-arranging the order)
    • Multiple output data sets to automate complex data processing with simple language controls
    • Massively faster than the alternatives


Speed is a key criteria for any business applications, they need horsepower to deliver both computational speed and batch support.

Portable across a wide variety of platforms, COBOL offers deployment flexibility and can also be optimized for specific hardware, increasing performance and throughput. COBOL’s “code generator” exploits target platform technology to deliver optimal performance, at the same time the technology also enables the creation of fully portable executable code.


While the coding language has to deliver against all of these criteria, it has to be accessible and meet the demands of business. Programming languages don’t exist in isolation. They only deliver value in the hands of the coders, who in turn are only as good as their ability to align the application to a business need. To make a valuable business contribution, the language should also combine a state of the art environment for building robust apps, including latest features (Intellisense, rapid code/debug, UI builder) and be built on the latest frameworks (Visual Studio and Eclipse).

Figure 1- state of the art COBOL IDE based on industry-standard Eclipse and Visual Studio frameworks

Figure 2 – undefined items are automatically highlighted (red underline)

Figure 3 – Right-click to see options of likely statement or variable names (“Intellisense”)

Not only does this make the language more relevant to the business context, it makes it easier to learn and maintain. More discussion of which can be found in this blog post

In short, COBOL is the language of business because it is designed with business in mind. Business relies upon and trusts technology that most closely reflects and supports how it sees the world. COBOL has been consistently developing and evolving to meet the changing demands of business for the last fifty years. Investment in the technology by Micro Focus over the last thirty-six years has ensured that COBOL continues to deliver against the criteria that business applications require, and will continue to do so for decades to come.

The State of our Union

Written by Tod Tompkins

Apologies for the lack of content recently, I am just now getting back into the swing of things following my participation in the CES Government conference in Vegas – an event I highly recommend to my colleagues in the federal market. While onsite I was able to take in presentations and frank discussions from leaders in Congress, UK’s Parliament and the federal government. None of these presentations, however, were as highly anticipated as this week’s State of the Union address.

Were you tuned in? President Obama noted that “together, we’ve agreed to cut the deficit by more than $2 trillion” (referencing this twice in fact) and laid out a blueprint for an economy that’s “built to last.” He went on to describe this blueprint in more detail – focusing on things such as American manufacturing, limiting overseas outsourcing, providing better training/education, investing in innovation and research, repairing the nation’s infrastructure and reforming government. He also discussed consolidating federal agencies, reducing duplicate processes and cracking down on fraud. The President offered some thought-provoking ideas and made multiple references to the importance of the high-tech industry – very positive, indeed.

How can we help our nation meet our growth goals while helping to reduce the overwhelming deficit? Please share your thoughts below now, and throughout 2012. The State of our Union is strong, but by being more efficient and increasing government savings, we can make it even stronger.

2012: The Year of the Social Media Election

By Archie Roboostoff, director of the Borland Portfolio, Micro Focus

The 2012 presidential election brings an enormous amount of uncertainty: Who should I vote for? What are the primary issues that concern me? Which sweater vest will Rick Santorum wear next?

Yes, those questions are definitely hot topics in the race for the White House, but an additional election issue in this marathon – from a media perspective – is the extreme amount of social media buzz being generated this campaign season. Never before have we seen a political race propelled to the forefront of our daily lives by such a vast amount of social recognition, especially so early on in the season.

Looking at media coverage stemming from the Iowa Caucus and New Hampshire Primary, it’s apparent that major news outlets are leading the way in this socially-charged race to the White House and that citizens are looking to these web applications as their primary source to voice opinions and gather real-time electoral updates. For example:

  • ABC released a stock-market style ticker tracking the day-to-day popularity of candidates based on social media sentiment.

  • NBC released a new social tool where the candidates’ campaign teams check in on Foursquare, which highlights the states / cities in which the candidates concentrate their time.

  • Most importantly, Google launched, a powerful portal that provides insight into what’s being written and recorded about any major candidate or issue.

It’s obvious that 2012 is set to be the year of the ‘Social Media Election,’ As the pursuit for the Republican presidential nomination heats up, what would happen if the extreme influx of website traffic pursuing ‘campaign promises’ crashed or, causing a severe amount of downtime? Given that online applications have become such a critical resource for educating citizens on real-time political events, there is a real danger if and when these sites experience outages.

Whether you’re touting an application related to the election or not, conducting regular load testing prior to major events when you’ll likely experience an uptick in traffic is imperative. Monitoring applications ensures that platforms are prepared to handle the onslaught of users and confirms that they’re prepared to handle the weight of the nearly political advocates nationwide. You will reap the benefits:

  • Reliability assurance
  • Lower cost of provided services
  • Discovery and prevention of issues before problems arise

Testing is a vital step to take to guarantee that 2012 doesn’t turn into the year of ‘Downtime #fail’

#Winning with COBOL – The IT Debt Battle

Java, Objective-C, Python, Ruby, COBOL, PL/I, etc., etc., etc – there are enough language choices out there today to make an application developer’s head spin. What is truly the best option for enterprise business applications?

Post Author: Ed Airey

Java, Objective-C, Python, Ruby, COBOL, PL/I, etc., etc., etc – there are enough language choices out there today to make an application developer’s head spin.

What is truly the best option for enterprise business applications?

Some choose Java, others C#, while other developers continue to use more traditional choices such as COBOL or PL/I.  Is there a clear choice for business and which language choice fosters higher code quality? A recent study by Cast Software shows COBOL is the clear winner when it comes to application cost, quality and health. I, of course, agree (as seen in my recent video blog).

Cast did something interesting: they put a monetary value to code quality. Using the concept of IT debt and its growing impact on today’s business (technical debt is estimated at $500B and growing), Cast projected the average cost per line of code at $3.61.

Where does COBOL fall on the spectrum?


The cost to address Java quality issues, per line of code, was $5.42 compared to the cost of COBOL quality issues, which was $1.26. With respect to cost and impact to business application quality, Java was more than 4.3 times more expensive than COBOL.

The Bottom Line: Given the higher cost, should you shy away from Java?  The simple answer is no. Business clearly needs the continued flexibility of choice and freedom for application development and delivery.

There are application quality challenges ahead for all organizations.  Putting a solid action plan in place to address these issues will help your organization win the IT debt war. The question remains, how will you arm yourself to battle the cost of application health?

*The CRASH Report – 2011/12 (CAST Report on Application Software Health)

Micro Focus Teams with CSC to Deliver Comprehensive Software to Banking Industry

Micro Focus Server Enterprise Edition enables CSC Celeriti software to meet the needs of banks of all sizes.

Micro Focus (LSE:MCRO.L), the leading provider of enterprise application modernization, testing and management solutions, today announced that CSC (NYSE: CSC), a global leader in providing client business and technology-enabled solutions and services, is using Micro Focus technologies to offer end-to-end enterprise software for banking, cards, payments and lending across a broader range of platforms and operating systems.

CSC’s Celeriti suite makes use of Micro Focus Server Enterprise Edition, which allows customers to select fit for purpose operating platforms based on their particular total cost of ownership, security, high availability and transaction volume requirements.  Using Server Enterprise Edition, Celeriti is able to provide Linux, UNIX and Windows platforms for midsize and small banks, third-party processors, and global banks wanting multiple, in-country deployments using a single codebase.  This flexibility provides CSC customers with a competitive edge by decreasing time-to-market and reducing overall risk.

“Micro Focus solutions help us deliver configurable, top-tier software functionality to banks of all sizes on a cost- effective platform,” said Paul Leadbetter, CTO, CSC’s Banking and Credit Services Division.  “Our collaboration enables CSC to extend its offering to a broader range of platforms and meet varying banks’ cost, security and infrastructure requirements.”

“When banks decide to implement a new IT solution, it is critical that they exploit rich functionalities on a stable, cost-effective platform,” said Susan Drennan, Vice President of ISV Sales, North America, for Micro Focus.  “We have worked closely with CSC to develop solutions that enable small and mid-size banks to run their core business software on the platforms of their choice to support ongoing innovation and long-term growth.”

Celeriti features a number of technology innovations including a Web portal that extends Web 2.0 technologies to the front and back office and provides a richer end-user experience through dynamic content delivery and personalization.  Reusable SOA business processes and Web services enable easier integration and maintenance of systems, which allow banks to standardize their business processes across delivery channels to improve customer service.  Celeriti’s business intelligence component and data warehouse centralize data across the enterprise, allowing banks to drive business strategies based on actionable information.  Celeriti also includes business rules and parameters to rapidly launch new products and services, modify business processes and respond to regulatory and compliance mandates.

Micro Focus Server Enterprise Edition provides the deployment environment for applications that have traditionally functioned only in a mainframe environment to operate on a broader range of platforms.  This solution ensures that existing mainframe applications can be made available with little or no change to underlying code.

About CSC in Financial Services

More than 1,200 major banking, insurance, investment and wealth management, and securities firms rely on CSC’s global financial services team to turn their ambitions into realities. With a track record for delivering software, consulting, and IT and business process outsourcing and services at scale, CSC brings a deep understanding of the financial services business and a collaborative culture to one of the industry’s most engaged client communities. For more information, visit

About CSC

CSC is a global leader in providing technology-enabled business solutions and services. Headquartered in Falls Church, Va., CSC has approximately 97,000 employees and reported revenue of $16.2 billion for the 12 months ended September 30, 2011. For more information, visit the company’s website at

About Micro Focus

Micro Focus, a member of the FTSE 250, provides innovative software that allows companies to dramatically improve the business value of their enterprise applications. Micro Focus Enterprise Application Modernization, Testing and Management software enables customers’ business applications to respond rapidly to market changes and embrace modern architectures with reduced cost and risk. For additional information please visit

Media Contacts

Kim Karelis Laura Stiff
LEWIS PR Micro Focus
617-226-8840 650-691-3153

2012: what opportunities and challenges will the New Year bring for IT?

2011 was certainly a dynamic and challenging year for businesses and their IT departments. The rapid uptake of cloud computing solutions by many enterprises significantly altered the way that we think about and do business. Similarly the explosion in mobile technology, including smartphone and tablet usage, revolutionized the way that information and data is consumed and transmitted. IT has always been a game changer within businesses, and now it’s shaping global politics as well as how the global economy functions. With two-thirds of CEOs considering that IT will make a greater contribution to their industry in the next 10 years than in any other decade, no company can ignore the vitally important role that the IT department and the CIO now holds in affecting business performance. An up-to-date, efficient IT infrastructure achieved in a cost efficient manner could potentially offer the competitive advantage needed, in a difficult and sluggish economic climate.

Whilst Gartner suggests that companies will spend $2,700bn on IT products and services in 2012, many IT departments will see further budget constraints and the pressure to do more with less, as well as battling to avoid adding to an already mounting IT debt. For businesses to be able to survive in an austere economic environment, IT leaders must embrace the post modern business and ensure that growing IT debt – the cost of performing the maintenance back log required to get applications up to a reasonable standard of integrity – is brought under control and resources are used efficiently.

While tackling this challenge, many organizations will be looking at innovative ways to increase revenue and simultaneously pursuing further cost reductions. Fulfilling this revenue drive will increasingly see internal IT departments take on responsibility to come up with IT initiatives that will offer efficiency while retaining a competitive edge. Doing all this under budget constraints means that IT departments will have to focus on the application quality and efficiency that underpin the core business and provide a stable core systems environment (either mainframe or distributed systems, or any combination) to ensure business can respond rapidly to market changes.

What’s more, businesses must ready their mainframes and IT infrastructure for the consumerization of IT being brought about by an explosion in information, collaboration and mobility. IT directors need to make the necessary adjustments to maximize the competitive advantage that the rise of mobile will continue to offer. The number of mobile handsets will continue to rise and are steadily contributing to the data flood. IT directors must not miss out on the opportunities that mobile apps can bring to their businesses in 2012, including online shopping via smartphones.

In addition to the rise in mobile, 2012 is set to be the year of regulation. Regulators will continue to pursue businesses who do not comply to the numerous regulations that will be implemented such as Basel III and Solvency II, for example. Businesses will need to be able to provide the information required through efficient management of data and systems.

Finally, businesses will see greater choice available when it comes to IT infrastructure management. While the adoption of cloud computing has already begun in Europe, 2012 is likely to be the year that sees an upturn in adoption to meet the rate of the US, as businesses seek greater agility and the ability to cut costs. 2012 will see a focus on improved agility for IT infrastructures through cloud computing and a review of the modern environments available for businesses looking to improve core enterprise service provision, ultimately prompting fresh scrutiny over the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) and the value of outsourcing. IT agility was a hot topic in 2011 and will likely continue into 2012, enabling businesses to respond and act faster in an increasingly dynamic and challenging economic environment.

Ultimately, in order for successful IT innovation to be achieved in 2012, businesses will have to review all options, from application reuse to moving to new environments, assessing with caution and against risk, making sure that the pressure to cut costs does not negatively impact upon the business. While economic austerity continues, it will be the businesses with the most agile IT departments who think smartly about how best to meet both revenue and margin targets that will see the greatest success.

Video: COBOL Crystal Ballin’ – What will 2012 bring?

In this quick video post, Micro Focus’ Ed Airey takes a look forward at 2012 and shares this thoughts about what the year has in store for IT in the business setting. Above all, Ed predicts that with companies still battling economic pressures, many organizations will be forced to take a new approach to project management, which will by in large mean reusing existing business systems, many of them COBOL based, and reinventing them to meet developing customer needs.

2011: A Look Back

Written by Tod Tompkins

Happy New Year! As we begin 2012, a recent blog post by Washington Technology’s Editor-in-Chief, Nick Wakeman, caught my eye and inspired me to think about the year that was. In his post, Mr. Wakeman highlighted six stories that dominated the pages of his magazine and website in 2011. Is anybody surprised the budget fiasco was first on the list? Not me. Here’s what comes to mind:

  1. Continuing resolutions, or CRs – I lost count of how many potential government shutdowns and subsequent CRs were passed in 2011
  2. “Super Committee” FAIL – not even the government’s elite could figure out how to eliminate $1.5 trillion of the deficit
  3. Pay freezes and workforce reductions – didn’t government employment used to mean consistency and job security?
  4. Wasteful spending – The GAO reports on duplicative spending; Executive Orders were signed that focus on recovering funds from fraud, waste, and abuse; and Sen. Tom Coburn’s (R-Okla.) Wastebook 2011 documented everything from bridges to nowhere to the teaching of puppetry…enough said
  5. A new Federal CIO – Steven VanRoekel made headlines with his “Future First” initiatives – especially “Shared First” – a resolution to eliminate waste and duplication

Am I being too pessimistic? Maybe, but 2011 was not the most stellar year in the government market. Hopefully 2012 will be the “light at the end of the tunnel” that we are all looking for, and my year-end wrap-up will have more positive highlights. What does provide me optimism, however, is the feedback we are receiving on this blog…the fact that citizens are taking time to read and get involved. Let’s remain engaged, let’s share ideas, let’s try to help the government recover by providing real, thoughtful recommendations. To a successful new year…

End of term report, 2011. How did IT go?

So, farewell 2011. How was it for you? Austerity seemed to be the watchword. Continued economic turmoil on a global scale, monetary crisis in Europe, upheaval across the Middle East, uncertain political future in the US, continued volatility in financial markets: no wonder organizations face major operating challenges.

Expenditure controls, especially for major non-critical projects, have tightened further than ever before. Typically, many IT projects are considered back-office or non-critical – adding to the pressure on the CIO to demonstrate value, return on investment and provide guarantees of future success. And success isn’t an easy thing to guarantee. Both Standish and Gartner have issued a number of reports over the years[1] describing the risk of failure of major IT projects.

Over recent years there have been a number of well publicised IT horror stories:

  • Mainframe crash takes ATMs down. Four-hour outage remains unexplained[2]
  • Online ticketing system restored. Baseball team announces sales to resume after system crash at automated ticketing vendor[3]
  • Corrupt file brought down antiquated IT System. Fouled up the plans of thousands in more than 40 airports[4]

A glance at the 2011 school report shows that some lessons haven’t necessarily been learnt.

  • Web fright after system crash: Computer blunder saw [retailer] lose £15million on the busiest days of the year[5]
  • A report released by an Idaho state auditor showed that problems with a new Unisys developed system for processing Medicaid claims could lead to multi-million dollars losses[6]
  • Research In Motion (RIM) announced a $100 package of applications to each subscriber affected by the three-day outage of its Blackberry network in October 2011
  • Nurses in Nova Scotia reportedly suffered at least six months of faulty paychecks due to problems with an SAP system project led by IBM[7]
  • The UK Major Projects Authority cancelled a major UK public health project, as it was “not fit to provide the modern IT services” – despite a nine year and £12 billion (US$18.7 billion) investment.[8]

This would rate as “must do better” or “needs improvement” on anyone’s school report.

With economic conditions challenging across all sectors and geographies – and no sign of any change on the horizon – IT spending is “predicted to decline by 3.7%”[9]. So it’s unlikely that more money will be forthcoming to reinforce those important projects.

Grand plans to totally overhaul IT operations using major ERP implementations or massive system rewrites come with significant risk. What’s more, the changing vendor landscape witnessed in 2011 means that organizations are likely to have less confidence in these newly-formed vendor enterprises’. [10]

Improving overall operational efficiency and supporting new business initiatives is really IT’s raison d’etre. But this can’t be at the expense of introducing risk or unknown cost into the operation.  Basically, there has never been a worse time to take uncalculated business risks.

Modernization is the key. By helping organizations modernize what they already have – proven IT assets – Micro Focus’ fundamental approach removes risk from IT change, enabling improvements in operational efficiency, time to market and business alignment. We’re helping customers sensibly manage their way through these difficult times and avoid appearing in nasty headlines.

[1] 42% either never delivered, or more than 50% late – source: Gartner Group; Package projects: years to implement, canceled 35% of the time & rarely fully deployed – source: Standish Group

[2], January 2010

[3], October 2007

[4], August 2008

[5], January 2011




[9] National Computing Centre, ‘The Benchmark of IT Spending and Strategy 2011’, September 2011


Video: Addressing the IT Skills Gap

In two short clips, Micro Focus’ Ed Airey discusses the existence of the IT skills gap and how it can be bridged in the years to come.

In two short clips, Micro Focus’ Ed Airey discusses the existence of the IT skills gap and how it can be bridged in the years to come. Specifically, Ed cites a disconnect between what’s being taught in universities and what the markets demand. Amidst the extensive development language options today, COBOL is one that is often neglected in classrooms, and as the current workforce retires, organizations are left wondering if they’ll have the resources to operate COBOL based systems in the years to come, an issue which deserves the attention of both those in the development and education biz.

The Problems:

The Solutions: