Lean start-up meets COBOL

Many thanks to Transvive for this guest blog. You can meet Sam and other colleagues from Transvive at next week’s Developer Conference in San Francisco or the week after in New York, where they will be speaking in more detail about ‘Making the move to Visual COBOL’.

Author: Sam Malek, Transvive

The lean start-up movement has changed the way we look at software development. It is widely adopted by many start-ups, however its author – Eric Ries *- advocates that it can apply to well established corporation in the same way it applies to start-ups.

When it comes to applications written in COBOL, it is sometimes perceived that it is very difficult to apply lean start-up techniques for application development because of a tools rigidity or lack of contemporary COBOL development workflow. However, the availability of a new tool such as Visual COBOL can easily bridge that gap and bring lean start-up methodology to COBOL development.

Here are three key features in Visual COBOL where we see Lean startup meets COBOL Development:

  • As we have seen with many customers, with Visual COBOL, development teams can easily leverage existing code base to modernize user interface and extend the capabilities of existing applications into the .NET and Java worlds, leading to a faster time to market;
  • Another key advantage of Visual COBOL is its IDE interface, where developers are able to use their IDE of choice (Visual Studio or Eclipse) to develop, maintain and extend the capabilities of the existing COBOL code, and fully integrate COBOL development into existing modern development workflows. This modern IDE interface breaks the barrier to learn and adopt COBOL development , which can result in attracting new talent to learn COBOL as a development language;
  • And lastly, Visual COBOL brings the COBOL language into the discussions around Cloud deployment, Mobile applications and Big Data by leveraging valuable business logic developed in COBOL in these discussions. Where the main discussion becomes “What can be done” vs. “How to”.

Lean start-up as a methodology is not about a specific development language, it is about a framework that validates assumptions and integrates end user feedback rapidly. When it comes to COBOL development, Visual COBOL can be a tool that enables development teams to adopt lean start-up.

What do you think of Visual COBOL? Join the discussion on Twitter – #DevCon2013 , and we look forward to seeing you at the Micro Focus DevCon2013 .

About Transvive

Transvive helps organizations preserve their investment in legacy assets with low-cost, low-risk and high-return alternatives to application rewrites and package purchases.  Transvive has been providing solutions to significantly reduce operating costs and risks and increase efficiency and speed to market.
Transvive stands for Transform and Revive , a privately held corporation headquartered in Toronto, Ontario.

*Eric Ries  is the creator of the Lean Startup methodology and the author of the popular entrepreneurship blog Startup Lessons Learned. He previously co-founded and served as Chief Technology Officer of IMVU. In 2007, BusinessWeek named Ries one of the Best Young Entrepreneurs of Tech and in 2009 he was honored with a TechFellow award in the category of Engineering Leadership. He serves on the advisory board of a number of technology startups, and has worked as a consultant to a number of startups, companies, and venture capital firms. In 2010, he became an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Harvard Business School.

One Month…and Counting

March 15 just came and went and that means one thing…taxes are due in less than a month. For millions of Americans that have delayed the inevitable, these last four weeks will be filled with anxiety, uneasiness and stress. They are not the only ones that will be feeling stress, however. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) website will be inundated with traffic of individuals looking for information, asking questions or downloading forms.

Spikes in web traffic present one of the biggest challenges for federal networks. Adding another factor, the emergence of apps and ever-increasing mobile users place an additional and oftentimes unpredictable burden on agency networks. In fact, smartphone and tablet computers are expected to increase web traffic by more than 26 times in the next three years. This is not simply an IRS tax time issue; it affects every agency and will continue to do so as the use bandwidth-heavy mobile platforms continue to rise. How will you make sure that your organization is ready?

One option is to wait and see what happens. But when it comes to critical citizen services, failure is not an option. Instead, agencies need to turn to advanced performance testing – a method that recognizes that not all users tax the system in the same way. Today’s websites are more complex than ever; no longer can federal agencies rely on outdated testing and performance methods.

For federal agencies, this influx of traffic will provide new opportunities to interact and deliver excellent service to the citizen. It will also provide the challenge of ensuring reliability. Advanced performance testing not only offers the ability to quickly scale to test the largest peak loads on a multitude of platforms, it does so in a way that helps save money.

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Eclipse and z13: the Innovation Combination

The rapid pace of change in IT is one of the biggest challenges confronting IT leaders in mainframe organizations. Recent innovative solutions supporting a changing IT landscape include a contemporary development framework called Eclipse and a ground-breaking flexible enterprise environment called z13. What are the advantages of using Eclipse and z13, and how can these enable organizations with maturing core systems to keep up, and embrace innovation?

Solving a familiar problem
One of the problems large development organizations face is a lack of communication between developers who know the original so-called “legacy” languages and those who are building other applications, using other languages on other environments. These two separate groups often use different tools, processes, skills and deadlines. The obvious solution to this problem is to use a development environment which caters for both communities.

Eclipse is the multi-language, industry standard Integrated Development Environment (IDE). It is used widely for developing applications in Java and a variety of other languages. Eclipse provides a familiar environment for developers used to modern usability and functionality, as it consists of the same tooling, functions and features as they are used to. It allows all languages to be “plugged” into its framework, so everyone can use the same tooling and environment, regardless of language choice. Eclipse promises to improve application development right across the enterprise.

Smart choice
IBM’s high performance mainframe, z13, offers a flexible choice of platforms enabling workload to be built and deployed according to a fit for purpose model. Customers can take advantage of the latest z/OS mainframe environment, or choose to exploit z/Linux, AIX and even Windows environments for certain tasks. Optimized processes and capacity will then allow for a better focus on developing new services to push growth and innovation. Offering a lower Total Cost of Ownership and faster performance, z13 is a platform which makes the most business sense for many enterprises today.

Bringing it all together
As the IT world is providing innovative technology that sets to unify both development processes on the one hand (Eclipse) and provides effective platform consolidation options on the other (z13), customers are now looking to ensure these environments support the continuation of existing, core applications.

To solve this, the requirement is for an Eclipse-based solution to allow you to build core z13 apps using the most prevalent and fit for purpose business language of all: COBOL.

Smarter teamwork
Micro Focus Enterprise Developer’s ability to work hand-in-hand with z13 to bring both mature and new languages together under one roof directly addresses the problematic gap in developer skills. This forms a strong bridge across all development teams and effectively widens the available resource pool.

The benefits of Enterprise Developer for the z13 environment are numerous. First it enables teams to develop directly on the mainframe through the Eclipse IDE. This allows for a fast adoption of the technology as it presents the mainframe and its processes in a contemporary view. However, the reliance on the mainframe and its heavily demanded resources can be removed by editing, compiling, debugging and running applications with zero waiting time, directly in Windows.

Mainframe-based application processes – such as Source Management systems, batch job queue, or output views – can be simply integrated into the Enterprise Developer Eclipse interface. Furthermore, the familiarity of the Eclipse development environment will allow Java programmers to readily contribute to COBOL application build and maintenance projects in a matter of hours. This fosters closer collaboration, yielding higher code quality and 40% faster delivery of robust, z13 applications.

The innovation path
Enterprise Developer’s contemporary, robust development environment for z13, enables costs to be driven down, bottlenecks to be removed and innovation accelerated, enabling customers to build truly fit for purpose z13 applications faster than ever before. It is this combination of strengths which may enable organizations with mature core systems to keep up with business demands and embrace innovation.

The latest update of Micro Focus Enterprise Developer for z13 will be available in spring 2013. For more information see www.microfocus.com

Try Your Hand at Editing COBOL in the Browser

Have you ever wondered what software development might be like in 10 years and what tools you might be using? With much of the IT world moving to HTML5 and browser based delivery, we may find our development tools following a similar path sooner than we thought.

Developing COBOL applications has, until now, been largely constrained to the desktop environment. One of the latest projects from the Eclipse Foundation is an online code editor named Orion. The Orion project aims to provide an environment for web based development tools. This means producing a platform that can be extended by developers, like us, to enable users to edit their code on the web.

The aim is to have something that feels more natural to people familiar to the web rather than to try porting the Eclipse IDE to the web, an approach which we have tried to maintain in our extension to the project we created over the summer. We set out to change the limitations of developing COBOL applications on the desktop environment, with a team of interns from Southampton and Cambridge Universities.

We created an extension, which is a prototype that allows you to edit COBOL files in your browser. The extension supports a number of great features:

  • Error marking –the server will warn you about any syntax errors when you are editing code
  • Code formatting – your code will be automatically formatted to make it cleaner and easier to read
  • Syntax highlighting – variable syntax highlighting is available for a range of dialects
  • Copybook support – allows you to open copybooks side by side or in a new window

To get a feel for it we recommend that you follow the ‘Getting Started’ steps on the first page of the demo:  http://orion.microfocus.com. You can also try out an online samples browser we built using the same technology: http://orion.microfocus.com/cobolPlugin/sampleBrowser.html

There are a number of advantages to editing COBOL online. A significant one is that you can edit your code from anywhere and share it more easily between team members. The only software you need to access it is a browser. This makes it very accessible from different platforms and also means that there are no significant hardware requirements, as the vast majority of processing happens remotely.

There are no plans to turn the prototype into a product offering but we would love to hear your feedback via this thread: http://community.microfocus.com/microfocus/cobol/f/42/t/9139.aspx

The Micro Focus Internship Program

Are you interested in using your programming and problem solving skills to build innovative solutions like these this summer? Are you looking to enhance your résumé and leap ahead of others with some hands-on experience? If so, apply for an internship at Micro Focus for an opportunity to work alongside our friendly software development team: https://microfocuscareers.silkroad.com/microfocusext/Home/Intern_Vacancies.html

We look forward to sharing some skills with you.

UK Trip Report: Modernization – How the Industry Must Innovate

Micro Focus had the opportunity to attend two fascinating industry events in the UK in late February 2013. The first was the meeting of the Northern Ireland SOCITM public sector IT forum, the second was an IT leadership and innovation forum in Edinburgh, organized by the Chief Wine Officer events group. Both meetings comprised a combination of presentations, discussions and networking.

As the main sponsor for both events, Micro Focus provided the keynote presentation for both meetings. In both cases, the keynote concentrated on the unprecedented levels of change affecting IT organizations today, driven by a combination of economic, operational and technological pressures.

Economic and industry pressure

Our keynote started with a broad snapshot of the economic status for 2013 – specifically one of adverse market conditions, evidenced by the contraction in economic output at the end of 2012, and the February announcement by ratings agency Moody’s to reduce the UK’s score from AAA to AA1[1]. Furthermore, against this backdrop of uncertainty, various vertical industries and sectors face significant challenges in meeting industry compliance and legislation measures as well as managing operations more efficiently. In the wake of further public sector spending cuts and compliance fines, cost pressures remain significant across public and private sectors.

The IT Scorecard

The question then presented is whether IT is coping with the situation today. Which can be examined on two major fronts: first how cost-management is faring, and secondly the efficiency of delivering value to the organization. On both fronts significant challenges remain. From a cost perspective, according to Gartner figures, spending is likely to remain essentially flat or even reduce, depending on the industry; yet figures show IT remains a very high proportion of revenue, especially in financial services (over 7.3%, according to a Deutsche Bank report). Meanwhile statistics show that while most IT staff might think they are doing a reasonable job, barely a quarter their non-IT business counterparts agree, as reported in Information Week[2].

Polarized Pressure

This concern over IT performance is put into sharp relief when one considers the polarization of demands being placed on it.  On one end of the scale sits the unsolved backlog of IT plans and projects, yet to be addressed, despite over 70% of all IT budget going on existing projects[3] – a term often called “IT Debt”[4]. At the other end of a wide spectrum sit the new and exciting possibilities and slew of unprecedented customer demands focused around disruptive technology (mobile, cloud, social media), where such activities are seen as vital for business, but for which appropriate skills, technology and processes are not yet aligned to support.

Smart Innovation

Finding ways to satisfy both ends of the spectrum has all but evaded IT leaders. Their quest is for a smarter way to solve these polar-opposite IT requirements. Studies suggest that the most efficient and low-risk approach to innovation may lie in the process of modernizing existing systems to support new business initiatives. It holds true that building on something that already works is likely to be lower-cost and lower-risk than starting from scratch, and studies from Gartner, the Standish Group[5] and from Micro Focus’ own customers reinforce this, indicating that “Modernization” is more likely to yield a faster delivery time, with greater competitive advantage, than any other approach.

In each event time was given over after the presentation to allow a healthy and insightful discussion to ensue around the topics of innovation and modernization.

Conclusion

We were delighted to spend time talking and listening to a variety of major organizations, as always. What was very clear is that the present situation of economic adversity demands smart, cost-conscious, risk-averse and yet innovative IT decision making. Micro Focus believes it can bridge the gap between IT Debt and Disruptive Technology, such that smart IT decision makers can justifiably look at modernization as their route to innovation.


[1] http://www.businessinsider.com/moodys-strips-the-uk-of-its-aaa-rating-2013-2

[2] http://www.informationweek.com/global-cio/interviews/6-ways-it-still-fails-the-business/240144288

[3] Source: Forrester

[4] Source: Gartner

[5] “Modernization – Clearing a Pathway to Success”, Standish Group