Language school: getting COBOL back in the classroom

This blog deconstructs the misconceptions around COBOL and addresses the ‘University Challenge’ of getting COBOL on the curriculum. The Micro Focus Academic Program is on a mission to create enough COBOL-savvy developers and programmers to serve the big businesses that still use COBOL to drive 70% of all business data processing.

This blog deconstructs the misconceptions around COBOL and addresses the ‘University Challenge’ of getting COBOL on the curriculum. The Micro Focus Academic Program is on a mission to create enough COBOL-savvy developers and programmers to serve the big businesses that still use COBOL to drive 70% of all business data processing.

Mali principii malus finis. This Latin proverb translates as ‘bad beginnings lead to bad results’ and students looking for careers in development or programming will already be thinking along these lines. Because choosing the wrong language will put them on a road to nowhere. And unfortunately for COBOL, many students regard it as irrelevant as Classical Latin.

Indeed, some people seem surprised that COBOL is still being written at all. COBOL’s longevity is both its biggest asset and its worst enemy. ‘Why’ the student will doubtless be thinking, ‘should I invest my time learning a language from the late 1950’s when I could be studying newer, more popular languages like Java, C# or .NET?’

As our infographic illustrates, 65% of students at UK colleges and universities currently have this opinion and with only 5% of our academic institutions producing more than 30 COBOL developers every year, clearly the concern about ‘bad beginnings’ goes further up the chain. But where does this misconception about COBOL come from?

COBOL Infographic
COBOL Infographic

Introduction: The Forgotten Technology?

Even if the majority of students – at least 65% – think COBOL is dead and outdated, this is simply not true. COBOL is the lifeblood of big business and supports the majority of major business transactions globally. COBOL is everywhere, every day – it’s just that people don’t realise it. People reading the IT press, or research technology, are being bombarded by news of all manner of innovative technology. Much of it new, exciting and set to change the way we use technology forever. Meanwhile, the tried and trusted tech that already provides valuable business services is all but hidden from view.

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And the result? Little or no perception of COBOL’s importance. Indifference, apathy even. COBOL? Oh yeah… um… is that still going? See here how students at UCL saw it.

A possible reason for this misconception could be the current lack of COBOL adoption in the classroom. Because while 58% of universities believe COBOL should be on their curriculum, only one in four institutions actually teach it. And this matters. Because COBOL makes up 240 billion of the estimated 310 billion lines of code in place globally and with five billion new lines of COBOL being developed annually, how will the current graduate output support the applications we rely on every day? With COBOL not being taught at sustainable levels, this may be why students and aspiring developers are focusing their attention elsewhere. What can be done to change this?

The perception challenge

The problem goes beyond the academic environment. There’s an industry perception that COBOL is tied into the days of ZX81, green screen terminals and clunky keystrokes. In a world obsessed with what is coming next, the move to mobile, must-have gadgets and the like, anything associated with the noughties – let alone the 1950’s, when COBOL first came to prominence – is going to suffer by association. The perception of the COBOL programmer is linked with the systems they help to maintain. It’s not the career that any would-be programmer wants for themselves. So, what can be done to close the gap between the perception and reality?

Step forward the Micro Focus Academic Program

Micro Focus has invested in an Academic Program to get COBOL back in the classroom and support our universities, businesses and students.  We have partnered with more than 300 universities in more than 20 countries, including the University of Maryland, Texas A&M, Iowa State and HEC Paris. We have given them the tools and technologies they need to help create the next generation of COBOL developers. Students and aspiring developers have been offered the Micro Focus Visual COBOL Personal Edition to help them fine-tune their skills and gain experience. Working with their preferred IDE, they can take full advantage of the new capabilities available within this innovative development environment and make the best of their studies. But why should they learn COBOL?

Because COBOL is still relevant and that isn’t going to change. COBOL still drives 70% of all business transaction processing systems. It has a huge impact on our day-to-day lives. For example, most Americans will interact with a COBOL program 13 times a day. Driving to work, doing the shopping, getting cash from an ATM, using your smartphone, all involve interacting with COBOL. It works both on a domestic level and in the marketplace, supporting 90% of Fortune 500 companies. Yet young people don’t know that it’s there. Is this why students are not embracing COBOL in their studies?

Visual COBOL is COBOL for the future generation. It bridges the gap between long-established applications and future innovation by re-energizing enterprise COBOL applications. It also addresses a number of key business challenges, including the perceived shortfall in programming talent, while improving productivity, lowering costs and taking core applications into the future. Recent initiatives, including the COBOL Code Contest Challenge, have helped to introduce COBOL to a younger audience and position it as a contemporary language worth learning.

Conclusion – resetting perceptions

A belief system born of ignorance is unfortunate but it is easily fixed by knowledge. Students, academia and the wider industry can benefit from the academic programs and technology investment being made by Micro Focus to support the creation of the next generation of COBOL developers.

We are doing all this because we believe that COBOL is time-proven technology with one foot in the future. To maintain the momentum we’ll need to get the next generation of developers and programmers on board – and give them the means to forge an exciting career in COBOL. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Or Aut viam inveniam aut faciam, to quote a language that hasn’t evolved nearly as well…!

To learn more about the Micro Focus Academic Program and get the latest news and updates on the Micro Focus Academic Program follow this link

Core Values – Why We Need to Act Fast

Amid concerns over its ability to provide what the business needs, IT must tackle significant operational challenges to deliver more, and deliver it faster. This blog explores the current IT leadership predicament, and discusses how to streamline complex IT processes by discovering smarter ways of extracting value.

The here and now

IT supports the business and plays a critical role in its performance. Important long-standing core applications provide the fundamental backbone of business operations – and over many years an irreplaceable, comprehensive IT environment has evolved.

However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t concerns. For many, IT budgets remain stagnant, yet the organization has a growth strategy. For most organizations the majority of budget is spent on the day-to-day running of the business, referred to as ‘keeping the lights on’. Why? An array of innovative systems and processes has made the business what it is today. But such innovation has come at a cost – a recent study states around $11M per organization is required to address the backlog. And with more innovation, comes more backlog.

The backlog continues to grow, complexity of the IT environment follows suit, and future agility diminishes. The downward spiral continues. Even armed with the very latest zEnterprise mainframe technology, IT leaders faced unprecedented challenges in continuing to support business growth.

Oh, sounds bad.

Actually, it’s worse than that. There’s an abundance of other challenges to deal with – the forever growing IT backlog, continuous changes in compliance regulations and numerous outsourcing challenges. Additionally, organizations continually must widen and improve their skills pool. Let’s consider each of these concerns:

Consider compliance

Regulatory compliance is a pressing concern for many IT departments, but far too often it gets pushed to the bottom of the list. It takes time, effort and prioritization. And on top of all that, it takes focus away from delivering what really matters back to the business.

Governance, risk and compliance projects are unplanned, non-negotiable IT milestones with far reaching consequences. Meeting regulations with finite IT resources is a challenge that limits the ability to focus on innovation.

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Keeping the lights on – the true costs

Gartner reveal upwards of 70% of an organization’s IT budget is for ‘lights-on’ activities only. This is referred to as ‘dead money’ as it isn’t directly contributing to business growth or enhancing competitive advantage. This figure of 70% is only expected to grow, with CIOs estimating a 29% rise in ‘IT debt’ over the last 18 months.

The high percentage of ‘lights on’ budget means very little is left, and consequently, placement of remaining resources is more critical than ever and ultimately affects the ability to deliver, grow and maintain competitive advantage.

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Outsourcing – a global panacea?  

Application outsourcing accounts for a major proportion of global application maintenance activities. A recent study suggests that 48% of CIOs outsource all testing and development projects.

Implementing the best possible technical infrastructure is a challenge and carries many considerations: Is it cost effective? Will it affect quality? Can more be achieved? Can coherent system integration be achieved? For some, a move towards outsourcing is often associated with a loss of control, hidden costs, security and confidentiality intrusion as well as additional concerns. Meanwhile for many others, it’s a way forward – access to skilled staff, increased operational efficiency and improved flexibility. However, establishing and controlling an effective outsourcing strategy remains a significant operational challenge.

Perceived resourcing concern

As businesses evolve, so must core systems, and critical COBOL applications must do more than ever. Keeping pace with that evolution can be a significant resourcing challenge, as new skill requirements emerge. Outsourcing, as mentioned above, could be an option but it might not be considered the appropriate strategy. Either way, organizations now require a more specific skill set than ever before, which has consequently created questions around development skills.

Timing is everything

There’s no respite in the operational challenges facing IT – these enterprise environments are highly complex, innovation capacity is limited and delivering business value – quickly – is severely compromised. The time to find a way to manage the current, while delivering the new, can’t come soon enough.

Delivering fast enterprise time to value

In a recent BBC report, the UK Banking industry is “puzzled” at productivity levels that remain below those prior to the 2008 financial crisis. From an IT perspective, when one considers the issues above, and the difficultly in delivering against such a kaleidoscope of internal concerns, it may be less surprising than at first glance: poor internal efficiency can only hamper large organizations’ ability to deliver the volume and quality of services those business need.

What if there was a technology that could enable organizations to efficiently tackle the day-to-day operational challenges, freeing up time, and putting the control back in your hands? What if the power of the mainframe estate could be harnessed yet further?

Imagine unrivaled technology that helps tackle the challenges of compliance, IT backlog, outsourcing and skills. Technology that makes the CIO a hero once again – and delivers value back to the business quickly.

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With Micro Focus there is a way.

The Micro Focus Enterprise Solution leverages the power of the mainframe to further streamline business processes and transform enterprise
application delivery. Using industry-standard technology including Eclipse and zEnterprise, it helps tackle regulatory compliance challenges head-on, identifies and mitigates factors contributing to the backlog, supports outsourcing strategy, and addresses internal application resource concerns. Micro Focus provides solutions for all phases in enterprise application delivery cycle, including improved application intelligence, user access, application change and development, unit and system testing and workload optimization, offering a 50% improvement in application delivery

Learn more!

Watch the introduction video and read ‘The 10 ways to transform time to value’ and ‘Quick Reference’.

When Applications Mean Business – Visual COBOL 2.2.1

 

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Changing a complex IT estate for the better can be anything but easy – but the value of those applications, and smarter ways of extracting that value, can make this a sound business bet, as Ed Airey explores.

For many organizations, the IT function has provided incalculable value over the years, through innovation in support of the business. The result of this tremendous effort is untold, enduring business value. One executive we know proudly boasts that his IT strategy “is the reason we are still in business today”.

However, a natural by-product of such investment is a very complex IT environment.  In any organization of any size, regardless of technical strategy or bias, the IT estate is typically a wide array of disparate, heterogeneous systems, tied together by a delicate fabric of dependencies and relationships. It makes the understanding, prioritization, resourcing and change of enterprise applications extremely difficult.

“How did it get like this?” one CIO is quoted to have said to another. “It got like this one good decision at a time.” Reality in IT, more often than not, is that demand for change takes place against a backdrop of complexity, cost and very likely, confusion.

Barriers to Change

The difficulty for many organizations is that it is hard to focus, amid a landscape of changing priorities and strategic goals.  For most organizations: the majority of budget is spent on “keeping the lights on” – the day-to-day running of the organization. Recent research by Vanson Bourne (2013) puts the dollar figure for resolving the backlog – or IT debt – at an average of $11M per organization, an average which has grown by nearly 30% in less than two years.

While the IT backlog is getting larger, unprecedented levels of regulatory scrutiny in many industries is producing an array of compliance measures and controls – with fixed deadlines, all adding to the IT burden. Failure to comply is not an option.

With the majority of IT focus on ‘keeping the lights on’ and adding compliance controls, this provides very little time and budget for new innovation – innovation required to remain competitive and keep one’s competitive advantage. Innovation such as mobile computing initiatives, better customer management, social media, big data and Cloud, as examples, are left untouched by these organizations focused on day-to-day operational tasks.   How does that organization keep pace with this need for change and need for new technology adoption?

The Application is Key

The solution starts with a return to first principles, a return to what has worked in the past and has served that organization well to date – its applications.   Sure, language choices, tooling, skills, and processes are all important, but fundamentally the APPLICATIONS you have today, and the data they connect to are the very cornerstone of business success.

If it were only that simple!  As we’ve already mentioned, every day IT faces new challenges, as new business initiatives surface requiring an ever increasing level of functionality and agility.  Aligning existing applications to new requirements is often anything but easy. So how can IT continue to deliver value as quickly as it needs while protecting the investment in competitive advantage that its core applications represent?

Building Bridges

What if there was a technology that could enable organizations to tackle the day-to-day challenges of IT, but also embrace the constant wave of modern technology – bridging the old with the new?  After all, with the core apps written in COBOL, but the new world of IT in managed code, running on mobile devices, deployed into the cloud… where would we begin?

What if there was a way?

Enter stage left Visual COBOL.  An unrivalled technology that helps IT tackle the everyday challenges of skills, resourcing, and development efficiency, while creating a bridge to mobile, cloud and new architecture innovations.  Bridging the two worlds together, allowing the organization to drive more value from existing core assets and delivering a new era of innovation.

Getting Better Every Year

Micro Focus is the only vendor continually investing tens of millions of dollars each year in COBOL application development technology. The result is a consistent stream of new capabilities to help our customers innovate faster. The latest incarnation, Visual COBOL 2.2.1, is now available.  For our Net Express and Server Express customers, this Visual COBOL update provides even further compatibility to accelerate their transition, and delivers new capabilities to address the IT challenges of today while embracing the innovative technologies of tomorrow.  See what all the excitement is about – take the Visual COBOL Screen Test.  See why people are saying Visual COBOL is the Future of COBOL. Interested in a test drive?

 

Download a Free Visual COBOL 2.2.1 trial today.

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