How to avoid getting caught out by mobile

Mobile is one of the revolutionary forces changing how IT is requested and delivered in today’s commercial world. The advent of the savvy end-user and the trend towards BYOD has changed immeasurably the way in which services must be provided by IT. As smartphone capabilities further develop, so does the level of expectations for added functionality.

Businesses will find it impossible to ignore mobile if they wish to remain competitive in the next few years and must consider the most effective way to develop and adapt business applications to the needs of the mobile user.

It comes as no surprise that a new study from Forrester Research predicts that the take-up of mobile technology will have “dramatic effect” on back-office IT systems, as reported in Computer Weekly. Modern users expect 24/7 mobile access to all the applications and online services that they would use on their desktop or laptop computer, visiting e-commerce sites, accessing their bank online, and more recently, loading their work applications. Yet, according to Forrester, “hidden costs and disruptions” are set to plague organizations that do not make appropriate pre-emptive action.

The Forrester Report suggests that mobile projects hide a variety of potential pitfalls as a result of infrastructure that is ill-prepared for exploding activity volumes. However, organizations need not think that embracing mobile will require a costly and complete overhaul of existing IT infrastructure to resolve these issues.

Businesses should consider re-using as much of their existing business applications and processes as possible in order to guarantee integrity, continuity and security of service for the future. Potential threats to the infrastructure of exploding activity volumes can be mitigated by making smart choices about application provision and workload management, to relieve pressure and offer a more cost- effective and viable solution to adopt mobile.

So what should businesses be doing to embrace mobile in a cost- efficient fashion?

There are several steps that businesses can take to ensure that their IT infrastructures are prepared for the mobile explosion:

Re-use and adapt: All too often businesses approach mobile by developing new applications when in fact they could simply re-use and adapting existing, core back-end applications. The benefit of this approach is that costs are reduced and the existing infrastructure is not compromised.

While many may not consider COBOL for adapting business applications to support mobile use, its simplicity and therefore adaptability, makes this programming language, which accounts for approximately 70% of all critical business processes, the perfect candidate to take IT into the mobile era.  With tools such as Visual Studio or Eclipse, developers are able to modernize applications to support new mobile applications across a wide number of technical platforms. COBOL can be used in each instance to efficiently deliver business services and their supporting data from the back-end to the user. The benefits of re-using COBOL systems rather than re-writing them are numerous and include a faster delivery of IT service, at lower cost and risk, while retaining intellectual property and competitive advantage.

Thoroughly test your mobile apps: When undertaking a considerable project such as adapting to mobile, testing is one area that cannot afford to be compromised. However traditional testing practices can mean that projects can overrun on time as well as budget. By moving application testing for mobile, web and related back-end systems to a more cost- effective environment that is easy to use, testing phases are able to be completed much faster and more thoroughly without eating into mainframe power. These environments also lend themselves better to supporting test automation and performance testing needs.

Review your workload deployment strategy: In order to cope with potential spikes in activity that mobile may bring, many businesses may look to add extra back-office capacity. However, this can be a costly solution. For example mainframe system capacity may be in the region of approximately £2,500 per MIPS. Instead, IT can look to optimize workload deployment and seize advantage of server choice (for example IBM zEnterprise allows workload to be shared across Windows, Power, Linux and z/OS partitions) to free up precious capacity to support mobile application needs.

Adapting your IT processes to mobile, if approached in a strategic and efficient fashion does not have to be the costly and disruptive burden that Forrester Research suggests. Much can be done with existing IT infrastructures and core assets to improve efficiency without requiring complete overhauls or re-builds that ensure that the IT infrastructure is able to take businesses in to the future as cost-efficiently as possible.

Micro Focus’ Mainframe, COBOL and Borland solutions fully support the modernization, testing and deployment of core business applications to mobile and other platforms. www.microfocus.com

The Sequestration Threat is not to be Taken Lightly

Written by Tod Tompkins

The “Defense Watch” column in the August issue of National Defense immediately caught my attention. Editor Sandra Erwin tackles the defense budget debate in the article, “War Over Defense Jobs Diverts Attention From Bloated Spending.” Although generally expected, especially in a major election year, it seems like the conversation has moved away from how to create meaningful cost savings while enabling the mission, to a focus on who can create the most noise and pass the buck. Ms. Erwin sums up the current environment as, “The looming ‘sequester’ has, for now, derailed any attempt at rational downsizing at the Defense Department.” From what I’m hearing from my peers and partners in the federal technology community, it appears this stance is not limited to the DoD.

As industry partners, we need to serve as a resource to help agencies meet their missions, especially in these challenging times. We must help government find solutions to the budget crisis, allowing agencies the financial freedom to implement modernization efforts such as mobile and big data analytics, while preserving mission critical functions and systems. For example, Micro Focus Federal provides support for the lifecycle of the mainframe. One of our core focus areas is helping COBOL-based legacy systems migrate to new platforms, enabling development on less expensive platforms and coding in newer languages – ultimately creating significant cost savings, often in year one.

Ms. Erwin’s article also notes that, “Some of the rhetoric about sequestration has been melodramatic. But if the ax does come down as the law prescribes and chops $50 billion from next year’s defense budget, industry will take the brunt of the pain.” We need to work together not only to help government, but also to maintain the private sector job force in this economic time. Do you have ideas to help Congress or federal leaders slim the budget while maintaining the mission? Let me know your ideas for helping the government create cost savings. Connect with us in the comments section below, on Facebook or Twitter.

Steps to find and reduce IT Debt

Our recent global survey with Vanson Bourne found that 46% of IT decision makers admitted they did not know the true value of their IT debt and it is estimated to grow on average by nine percent over the next five years. It found that IT debt is poorly understood and that those responsible for mainframe management are not regularly reviewing their corporate application portfolio.

The true cost of the IT debt has been illustrated by recent spectacular financial industry failures[1]. In March 2012, a USA electronic exchange pulled its IPO because of problems with its own trading systems. During the Facebook IPO in May, NASDAQ was unable to confirm orders for hours. A leading Swiss bank lost more than $350 million that day when its systems kept re-sending buy orders, eventually adding up to 40 million shares that it would later sell at a loss. And in August 2012, a securities trading firm lost hundreds of millions when its systems accidentally bought too much stock that it had to unload at a loss.

To address this hidden balance sheet liability, it is imperative to implement an application portfolio management process (APM). Understanding how applications deliver business requirements and identifying the gaps between current and required capabilities, the surplus can then be revealed.  As such, it is vital to implement an effective APM practice when building an application information database. The business case for tool adoption is straightforward: IT will be able to deliver on its requirements in a more cost effective, timely and accurate fashion.

Enterprise Analyzer from Micro Focus on Vimeo.

Here are the steps businesses need to take to reduce their IT debt:

1)  Build an inventory of the applications, using a solution like Enterprise Analyzer that offers a central repository with multiple user access and ability to scale to enterprise requirements.

2) Survey business and technical stakeholders to populate the repository with additional metrics to be overlaid on the “pure” application information captured through static source code analysis. The result will be dashboard views helping decision makers to determine where modernization activity is most required and where it will yield the highest benefit to the business

3) Analyze the applications targeted for modernization to map architectural dependencies and assist developers in their task of modifying them without impacting operations.

4) Create an initial set of reports to understand the application inventory and the system dependencies. Use visual analytical tools to create diagrams depicting application relationships and map the business role of each technical object.

5) Apply querying and impact analysis tools to provide in-depth views of programs and the impact changes will have on dependent objects like data fields passing or receiving values from an item of interest.

6)  Document program logic as represented by the source code, in order to retain information for business analysts and future developers. This will also help identify the critical portions of an application to be re-written or transferred to another platform (packaged or otherwise).


[1] Source: Atlantic Magazine, Software Runs the World: How Scared Should We Be That So Much of It Is So Bad?

What’s Your #COBOLRocks Story?

Whether you’ve been programming since the summer of ’69 or just started last year, you’ve probably heard of COBOL. As one of the most reliable programming languages, COBOL is at the heart of the world’s business applications. Which is why it is no surprise that 75% of the world’s business data, and 90% of financial transactions, are processed in COBOL.

COBOL is a language that has repeatedly proven its reliability, ease-of-use and value. This explains how it continues to stand the test of time with around 5 billion new lines of COBOL code added to live systems every year. Programmers around the world continue to gain experience with the language while building and growing their business.  Globally, there are nearly 2 million developers working with around 200 billion lines of COBOL code in live operation! To help COBOL evolve and meet the future needs of business, Micro Focus Visual COBOL delivers the next generation of COBOL tools for the 21st century. With Visual COBOL, users are able to develop and modernize mission-critical applications using platforms that best fit particular business needs – ensuring that their organization remains on a path of growth and innovation.

There is a wealth of multi-faceted stories and personal experiences that accompany the COBOL language and its developer. We captured just a few of them at our Developer Conference back in April. Watch passionate programmers reflect on their experiences with COBOL in the video below.

What’s your fondest COBOL memory? Let us know by commenting here or tweet at us @MicroFocus using #COBOLrocks.

Catch up with the Visual COBOL webinar series

The visual COBOL webinar series launched back in January of this year, and with almost one webinar a month we’re just over halfway through the series.  The webinar series introduces the Visual COBOL product line, its capabilities and the benefits it can bring to your application development team and your business organization.

We’re taking a break from the webinars in August, so there’s no time like the present to catch up with the series before the next webinar takes place in September.

Catch up with these webinar recordings

Each webinar covers a unique topic that will help get you up and running with Visual COBOL and accelerate the innovation of your COBOL applications to new and emerging technologies such as the cloud and mobile, or embracing modern architectures such as .NET and the JVM.

  1. Understanding Visual COBOL
  2. Getting started with Visual Studio 2010
  3. Getting started with Eclipse
  4. A developer’s perspective – Windows & .NET
  5. A developer’s perspective – Eclipse & JVM
  6. Visual COBOL deployment and licensing systems

Coming soon

You can keep up to date with all the webinars in the series, including registration for future webinars by visiting the Visual COBOL webinar calendar.

Join the webinars and WIN.

When you attend a webinar you’ll be entered into a draw to win a $100 Amazon voucher. If you attend the whole series you’ll also be in with a chance to win an Amazon Kindle Fire.

Turning your platform into a launchpad

Under ever-increasing business pressure to innovate, IT decision-makers are asking ‘Can our core enterprise applications help us pursue new opportunities?’ Too frequently, the answer is no.

Under ever-increasing business pressure to innovate, IT decision-makers are asking ‘Can our core enterprise applications help us pursue new opportunities?’ Too frequently, the answer is no.

A company’s core business applications are often proven and valuable information assets. But they can be viewed as old, inflexible, and one-dimensional, only delivering specific functions for an organization. These applications are subject to more scrutiny than ever before: Are they strategic for the business?  Do they open new doors of opportunity for the business? Can they embrace modern technology, deliver new services, and improve their operational efficiency?

This applies to many of today’s core enterprise applications. Mission-critical, they continue to offer high value services to their users but are no longer considered strategic, innovative, or market-changing.  With millions of lines of code invested in these enterprise applications, discarding them is just not an option – it is too expensive, too risky.

Platform alteration

Often, the major impediment for these applications is their platform. Many of these applications are ‘locked’ into a proprietary platform architecture, hugely expensive to maintain and inflexible to change.  If the applications – and the intellectual property that resides within them – rather than the platforms are giving your organization a strategic edge against your competition, it makes sense to salvage these core applications when moving away from the platform.

Application re-platforming has liberated enterprise applications that were once locked into proprietary systems – and Micro Focus Visual COBOL® should be at the heart of your application re-platform strategy.  Visual COBOL is the next generation of COBOL development and deployment solutions for today’s critical business applications. It represents evolution, not revolution and can bridge the gap between your existing systems and the next generation of contemporary applications. By using subject matter expertise from our specialty partners, organizations can re-purpose their core application assets for new business initiatives.

As Scot Nielsen explained in ‘Platforms, Platforms, Platforms’, today’s IT organizations demand contemporary choice and platform freedom.  This ‘platform independence’ increases agility and improves responsiveness to change.  Micro Focus has successfully worked with our specialty delivery partners in delivering more than 500 re-platform projects, taking them from proprietary platforms such as Unisys, HP, Bull and others and on to more flexible, modern architecture.

This really works

For example, the City of Miami cut their IT costs by more than 50% and their government operations enjoyed more freedom to innovate. Similarly successful re-hosting projects at Scottish Life and Express Newspapers took Unisys-based application assets to more contemporary platforms with consequent cost savings and improved openness and freedom to future-proof their core business applications.

Exploiting application reuse through platform rehosting can deliver greater business agility as well as significant budget savings.  Re-platforming your business applications allows them to respond to changing technology trends, embrace modern architectures such as .NET JVM, Cloud and make more of mobile computing. It’s your chance to take your applications into tomorrow.

A successful application re-platforming strategy can meet a legacy platform challenge, deliver immediate – and significant – value and empower innovation and opportunity.

Modernization Part 3 – Making modernization a reality

With cost and quality pressures as high as ever, reusing trusted technology is a smart move for many IT leaders. In this blog post we discuss the enabling technology available to help modernize your chosen application subset(s).

In this series, we have outlined the journey of IT modernization to align the IT estate closer to business needs, while reducing costs and risk. Earlier blogs focused on the key first steps of looking at the entire IT application landscape and determine key metrics around cost, value, complexity and risk. The reason for this is simply because, if the IT department has the ability to understand its current application portfolio, the business can then be confident that the modernization strategy proposed by the IT team is accurate. This prioritizes the applications to be modernized and in what order.

In this blog post we discuss the enabling technology available to help modernize your chosen application subset(s).

The use of technology will be driven by the issues discovered during your application portfolio assessment and the modernization activities proposed, whether that is accomplished by transforming your development, testing, or application workload deployment strategy and technology.

Modernizing your development practices can dramatically improve throughput of application deliveries as well as saving a lot of operating costs. By exploiting best-in-class IDE technology running under Windows, you can very quickly expand CPU capacity for each developer, eliminating resource contention and improving delivery times. Concerns over skills for COBOL because of the difficulty in attracting new staff to an old development environment can be addressed by using best of breed IDE tech such as Eclipse/Visual Studio. These environments bring a new level of collaboration into the teams, and improve quality of core and composite enterprise applications.

Modernizing your testing practices can break down existing capacity barriers and help QA teams and developers meet schedules on time and in budget. Capacity and throughput is a challenge and quality is a constant concern – moving application testing to a more accessible and cost-effective environment makes it possible to complete testing phases faster and with higher quality because test cycles are not constrained by scarce mainframe processing power. In addition, the test environment can be expanded beyond traditional test teams to include business users and front-end (Java, C#) developers providing an unprecedented level of application assurance.

Modernizing your application workload deployment strategy to embrace the emerging, broader choice platforms, can deliver rapid cost savings in terms of mainframe MIPS or software costs, as well as provide much-needed flexibility for the remainder of the mainframe environment. Price performance of Windows UNIX or Linux, possibly as part of a consolidated zEnterprise system, coupled with significant investment in mainframe support from Micro Focus makes reviewing deployment options a genuine opportunity for improvement, one which is already exploited by hundreds of clients. Tens of thousands of MIPS are already happily running in production on contemporary platforms.

Smart technology choices enable organizations to renew and even improve the value of mainframes and how quickly and cost-effectively systems can be delivered by and for them. Cost savings and improvements in capacity achieved through modernization release time and resources for IT innovations, as they aim to tackle emerging requirements of social, mobile, cloud and big data. By helping organizations re-use what they already have – proven and valuable IT assets – the modernization approach removes the degree of risk caused by IT change and enable improvements in operational efficiency, time to market and business alignment.

Micro Focus supports the evolution of the IBM mainframe and zEnterprise platforms, and the latest Micro Focus Mainframe Solution offerings enable organizations to exploit and harness the real value provided by the new IBM environment, and also provide unprecedented improvements to the processes and technology to maximize the value of the mainframe world. For more information, see http://www.microfocus.com/solutions/mainframesolution/

Programming – Show me the money

Computing recently published the Computing IT skills survey 2012. The survey looked to uncover how IT operatives should adapt their skills in an environment where outsourcing and cost cutting characterizes the state of play.

The research cemented some industry trends; it found that skills around mobile technologies are the way things are going, with Android and iOS skills featuring highly. It also found that competitive advantage is sought through better serving the customer, and by analyzing the many streams of data flowing through the organization in order to gain insight and inform decisions.

However, looking at the results from a business IT decision maker’s perspective, it’s not a true reflection of their worries. For example, the results showed that Android, HTML5 and Java programming skills will be prevalent in the next two years for IT operatives, which is true as the industry is shifting toward mobile and apps. However, from a business point of view, mainframe and other enterprise server system skills are more important than ever. A recent global survey by Vanson Bourne found that the UK has the largest number of CIOs (12%) that believe 25% of their mainframe skilled staff will retire in the next five years, leaving them with a gaping hole in staff with key skills in languages such as COBOL and PL/I.

Further to that, the research found that the very reason why many IT decision makers are going down the less effective route of buying off the shelf application was due to issues with the availability of mainframe/COBOL skill staff – which was highlighted by 42% of the respondents.

While COBOL may not be considered in the first instance for adapting business applications for mobile use, it is in fact its simplicity, pervasiveness and adaptability that make this the perfect candidate to take businesses from the present into the future. With IDEs such as Visual Studio or Eclipse, developers are able to build applications for mobile across a wide number of technology platforms. COBOL can be exploited in each instance to help deliver proven business services and supporting data efficiently from the mainframe and other enterprise server systems, to the user. The benefits of re-using COBOL applications rather than re-writing them are numerous: time-to-delivery and costs are much lower, with negligible risk, while data integrity and security are protected as all information remains on the mainframe or current enterprise server system.

Moreover, the likelihood that an existing reusable service is based on COBOL is extremely high: COBOL runs over 70% of the world’s businesses, over 200 times more transactions are processed daily by COBOL business applications than there are Google and You Tube searches made, and the average individual interacts with a COBOL based business application at least seven times every day. Evolving constantly to keep pace with technological developments and integrating with the modern technologies in use across enterprises worldwide, COBOL’s relevance even in newer generation IT world remains undiminished.

Thus, if prospective software developers are looking to the future and driven to increase their marketability, learning business languages such as COBOL and PL/I offer a broader choice of employment opportunities.

Platforms! Platforms! Platforms!

In this blog Scot Nielsen, Product Manager for the COBOL Solution at Micro Focus, talks about one of the key reasons for the success of COBOL applications and in doing so, highlights some of the new features coming in the next release of Visual COBOL 2.1.

COBOL applications have formed the nucleus of core IT systems for several decades, providing the basis for new systems and central to innovation. How have COBOL applications been able to offer such enduring value to the businesses that rely on them when so many technologies have failed to live up to expectation?

Those of us in the know need little in the way of reassurance about the continued relevance COBOL systems play on the global IT stage. The industry at large has perhaps had a slightly harder time accepting this but the evidence is indisputable and even the most vocal disbelievers have finally come to terms with this simple fact, COBOL is at the heart of most of the world’s business systems.

How this has come to be has been blogged by Derek Britton in his series of articles about key traits of COBOL, traits that have made COBOL the most successful programming language of all time. One of these traits is portability, discussed here in Derek’s blog on this topic.

To understand the significance that the portability of COBOL applications has played for business applications, one need only review the list of platforms Micro Focus has supported COBOL application deployment:

Operating systems, manufacturers, processors – a union that defines the medium of deployment.

For business with COBOL systems, this portability helps secure investments made years ago, continue to pay dividends many years hence; as COBOL applications once created on the mainframe, now find themselves powering .NET, JVM and Cloud deployment.

Arguably, the language of COBOL is in itself inherently portable with data types and structures that enable developers to write applications that can be ported to new platforms with minimal or indeed, no change; with this, minimal cost to the business and accelerated delivery cycles. Underpinning this portability has always been the Micro Focus COBOL runtime system, the technology that delivers a common execution environment for COBOL applications, irrespective of platform.

Whilst the picture above for today’s platforms may look a little less chaotic, platforms continue to evolve and will always remain fundamentally important to the service Micro Focus provides you, giving you freedom and choice of deployment. That’s why in Visual COBOL 2.1, we’ve added support for new platforms, Oracle Linux, Redhat and Suse linux on z/Series and Solaris 11 on Intel and SPARC processors – just part of our commitment to the future success of your IT systems.

Visual COBOL 2.1 will be released later this year.