Selling ‘legacy’ COBOL applications in today and tomorrow’s market

Alexa Rutledge blogs about how Micro Focus helps our application provider partners maximize the lifetime value to the market with Modern COBOL.

It isn’t news to hear that a CIO’s daily challenge is to balance increasing demand from customers, while meeting boardroom expectations to control costs.  As an Independent Software Vendor (ISV), you get it—the task is becoming tougher.

The reality is that your business is to market and sell an application that is written in ‘legacy’ COBOL.   A dependable language known for its strengths of performance, accuracy, reliability and the speed in which it can be learned. Or, let’s be honest, you simply use it because you always have.

Either way, that doesn’t have to change.  Because this older, dependable language is also the ideal platform to take you – and your customers – forward.

The scene for an ISV

As an application provider, you are working in a fiercely competitive industry that offers your customers a growing range of alternative solutions. Technology changes have enabled your rivals to threaten your share of the market. But equally, the design and development advancements in COBOL provide you with enormous opportunity to surpass your competitor.

Modern COBOL is that genuine game changer.  It also happens to be more than 50 years old. So as an ISV, how can you be confident in the future of your application? And how much value does your invested IP really have? Consider this—

  1. The age and language is a non-issue. What counts are the platform and the delivery method. It’s the look and feel of the user interface and the competitive edge it creates. Consider also the cost base, legal compliance, efficiency and the ability to meet the needs and aspirations of your customers – and your ability to lead the market with innovation and agility – that count.
  2. Your IP is that of the highest quality code being able to handle 50-year old applications.  Integrating that longevity with new languages in modern development environments, such as Visual Studio, amounts to extreme value.
  3. COBOL continues to match today’s business needs and is one of the most portable languages around.  A program developed on one machine can, if no machine specific-instructions are included in the code, be run on a Windows, Unix or Linux platform.
  4. There are plenty of positive examples out there to make the case for COBOL. Both Aquilon Software and Spears boosted developer productivity to achieve faster application deployment.
  5. Opening up the channels of two-way communication through initiatives like Developer Days. These UK and US based events represent a great opportunity for us to truly see where your challenges are – an important first step towards refining the tools that will address them.

The vision for your application

Micro Focus has a clear plan for – and proven investment in – our ISVs.  We believe that we are partners united in delivering the right technology for the end user. If we are to help you realize your business goals, it is crucial that we focus on the following areas together:

Effective and Productive Development

  • Modern Integrated Development Environments (IDE) Visual Studio, Eclipse and  the Cloud
  • Cross-language, simple and efficient use of whatever languages the target application currently encompasses or should encompass going forward
  • Achieving the highest productivity levels for developers
  • The availability of a full range of application analysis and understanding tools
  • Creating the highest quality code, both ours and yours, through the growing range of tools in our portfolio
  • Industrializing the development processes to achieve efficiency and quality
  • It takes the highest level of application understanding to enable quick and agile development
  • Remote development, enables the full cycle of development, testing and deployment without the need to travel
  • Ensuring our tools offer a fast learning curve to enable quick results
  • Delivering portability: develop once, deploy anywhere


Supported and Reliable Deployment

We believe that you should be able to run your application on whatever platform the market demands and achieve the same levels of performance, accuracy and reliability whatever platform you choose. In addition, creating compelling new GUIs are important in winning new sales and increasing end-user satisfaction. Achieving mobile access is a key addition to your application and that Cloud and SaaS solutions will enable you to enter new geographies and markets.

Next Steps

Micro Focus can help our application provider partners maximize the lifetime value of their distinctive differentiation to the market. Your client base, requirement s and technological profile will be different to your rivals so engaging with us to discuss your specific requirements is key. And remember – your journey with COBOL is nowhere near over—it’s just about to take off.

Check out our screentest and Visual COBOL trial. We’ll be publishing a new, downloadable asset very soon. It considers COBOL from an ISV viewpoint, assesses its standing today and suitability for tomorrow, both from a marketplace and developer perspective. Finally, we take a look at our vision for COBOL through its next decade.

Can’t wait? Sign up for our value profile service. It’s where we take a look under the hood, check out what you have and see how we can help you get more value from your COBOL applications.

Alexa Rutledge

Account Manager, NA Channel Sales

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Will you SHARE with us?

Micro Focus products and solutions have complemented IBM systems for more than 30 years. We have been helping our customers extract maximum value from their mainframes for as long as we’ve been coming to SHARE. Ed Airey blogs about the upcoming Seattle event.

Another year, another SHARE conference – and this time, Micro Focus is really thinking big. Because it is a word we’re hearing a lot in our industry: big challenges – another big year for big iron –and so on. But this year, there is some big news to celebrate.

So – what’s the big idea?

Technology is changing the business landscape faster than ever, compelling the modern CIO to demand more from his or her enterprise technology. Delivering ‘business as usual’ and ‘lights on’ stability isn’t enough to create or maintain a business edge. Efficiency improvements and business innovation are just as important as reliability.

That is why the rollout of the z13 is the big story of the year. The latest generation mainframe –coupled with our dedicated development environment  – will be the enabler to deliver the new services and exceptional customer experience that IT organizations are looking for. And SHARE is where it all comes together.


In January, Micro Focus commented on the z13 launch: “As a long term IBM partner, Micro Focus has provided innovative enterprise development and test software for the IBM mainframe environment over many years. IBM z13 is the industry leading business execution environment for enterprise application workload where scalability, performance and extensibility are core requirements for successful IT service delivery. Micro Focus is delighted to support the latest generation of IBM mainframe technology innovation, the z13”.

Micro Focus products and solutions have complemented IBM systems for more than 30 years. We have been helping our customers extract maximum value from their mainframes for as long as we’ve been coming to SHARE.

And that commitment hasn’t gone unnoticed. In April 2013, Greg Lotko, former VP and business line executive, IBM, said, “We are continually working with our technology partners to help our clients maximise the value in their IBM mainframes and this latest innovation from Micro Focus is a great example of that commitment.”

And with the launch of the z13, this could be the year when class-leading enterprise hardware and software combine to enable the drive to a new breed of innovation, covering mobile, cloud and big data – and deliver all that potential.

This year we will be maximising our floor-time to meet more people than ever. So we’ve swapped standing and waiting for meeting and greeting. We will be seeing old friends and sharing new ideas.

We’re particularly looking forward to hooking up with Bob Thomas of Enterprise Systems,  Mark Wilson at RSM Partners , Cloud and Linux expert Steven Dickens, superheroes such as Jim Warnock, aka the Mainframe Man and Captain COBOL himself, Tom Ross. Elsewhere in the auditorium, we’ll be looking to buy the good people of Systems Magazine and Destination Z a coffee. When in Seattle…

So if you’re in Seattle on Friday, March 6th and want to hear our big ideas, then check out my presentation ‘The next 50 years of value: Micro Focus COBOL and the IBM Mainframe’ at 8:30am PT in the University meeting room at the Sheraton Seattle hotel. If you want to arrange time with us, contact @EdAirey and @DerekBrittonUK via Twitter. If you can’t make SHARE, then look out for news of our forthcoming webinar, Think Big – into the future with the IBM mainframe.

COBOL: The Pink Floyd of programming languages?

Has COBOL has gone the way of the gatefold LP and the next generation of developers should look elsewhere if they want a career in programming? Steve Moore from Micro Focus doesn’t think so – here’s why….

“In the last few decades, the two most understatedly popular bits of tech are COBOL and vinyl records”. Discuss.

For decades, just as COBOL was the go-to programming language, the 33 rpm vinyl LP reigned supreme. But as cassettes, CDs, DATs and latterly downloads appeared on the scene, the death of vinyl was duly recorded. All those 12” copies of Dark Side of the Moon were consigned to the attic.

Meanwhile, COBOL kept going in its quietly efficient and unfussy way. Curiously, this ‘stickability’ attracts negative press. 2015 has already produced this Mashable article using data from Experts Exchange to highlight the ‘most Tweeted’ programming languages. COBOL isn’t there. How Tweeting measures popularity isn’t clear, but COBOL also fails to make Mashable’s Top 10 languages to learn. COBOL also features very late in the piece of this programming language popularity list in eSchool News. The IEEE’s paid app lists the top 20 languages. Save your money. COBOL isn’t there, either.

This all contributes to a well-established narrative – COBOL has gone the way of the gatefold LP and the next generation of developers should look elsewhere if they want a career in programming.



But all of these articles miss a key point. COBOL will never be the sexiest of languages. But that is not what COBOL is for. COBOL is the language of business, of 81 of the Fortune 100 organizations. Ask mainframe owners, banking, insurance, logistics organizations – or anyone processing big volumes of data and running business-critical enterprise applications – if they want ‘sexy’, or just what works.

Sure, there are competitors. This Mashable map shows huge swaths of Java blue covering North America. But Java is more than 20 years old. So why is ‘COBOL/old equals bad’ for those who never think to challenge it?

Eclipse for Us and Them

Tellingly, the COBOL lynch mob never includes actual COBOL customers. Perhaps this is because the technology has, despite the received wisdom, moved with the times. The new generation of COBOL application developers have application innovation at their fingertips, whatever their platform. The powerful IDEs within Enterprise Developer and Visual COBOL integrate with Eclipse and Visual Studio to enable a new age of flexibility for COBOL developers working on IBM mainframes and distributed platforms respectively, but this, inconveniently, doesn’t fit ‘the COBOL is the progressive rock of programming languages’ script.

But the innovation running through this tech is music to the ears of developers and for those upstairs. Because with a little retuning, the future business value of these COBOL applications will fuel technology investment, including modernization. And these applications will remain as COBOL, because few CIOs want to risk the organization’s day-to-day, lifeblood processes. Applications need maintenance, so fuelling the search for developer talent to work in COBOL and PL/I. COBOL? Not a language choice for students?


In COBOL’s corner

Page 4 of the eSchool piece does reference COBOL for those students looking “to become a programmer in the business world”. And this blog from the SD Times also sets the case for learning COBOL as a good career move. You want Top 10 lists? Here are e-week’s reasons why COBOL is still kicking and, a little less objectively, we blogged about it too. The TIOBE index, a key barometer of usage and interest, puts COBOL at a lofty 13th position in their global language rankings for January 2015 – an all-time high, by our estimates.


See also Datamonitor who, as far back in 2008, were reporting that COBOL would continue to drive value in the next century – the same time as this piece in the NY Times detected a glimmer of life in vinyl records. A popular soundbite records that there are currently 200 more times COBOL transactions than Google searches worldwide just as Dark Side continues to clock up regular sales – 45 million and counting.


So aside from the fact that people still like COBOL, vinyl records and Pink Floyd’s masterpiece – the same demographic may well appreciate all three – what does all this tell us? For technology students launching or diversifying their programming career, it is that COBOL, PL/I and Java are all legitimate choices, because anything that isn’t as time-proven might be a little bit, well, DAT.

For CIOs, the lesson is that a mixed language skillset makes for a better candidate. We are supporting the next generation of COBOL developers through our Academic Program. Perhaps you should be, too? Your business model depends on the availability of developer talent. It is your own future you are investing in.

In 2014, the sales of vinyl records hit a resurgent high, underlining the fact that real value is only proved over time. That’s why, despite all the years of negative messaging around COBOL, Micro Focus are happy to continue to invest big money in our flagship product. Because with other programming languages – step forward Fortran and Pascal – already proving to be less resilient than COBOL, a pale imitation of the real deal.

Any colour you like?

In conclusion, I would extract a final metaphor from this story. Micro Focus was founded three years after the release of Dark Side of the Moon and like the Floyd, our success has been built on, and run in parallel with, one of our earliest releases.

We are proud of our flagship product and just as digital remasters, anniversary re-releases and hardcore Floyd fans bridge the old with the new by drawing new listeners to Clare Torry’s stunning vocal gymnastics on Great Gig in the Sky, Visual COBOL continues to attract new customers and impress current users alike with its flexibility and performance. Modernization never looked, or sounded, so good.

Waiting for someone or something to show you the way? Then visit the Visual COBOL page, book a Value Profile Service or talk to an expert about Visual COBOL. #COBOLrocks