Federal Times published a commentary that makes a strong case for saving money by modernizing—rather than replacing—aging mainframe systems. Penned by Bob Suda, a former federal CIO and CFO who spent time at both GSA and USDA, the article provides a behind-the-scenes look at the challenges facing federal decision-makers.
First, Suda highlights the problem: continuing resolutions, sequestration and furloughs threaten federal leaders at every turn. He predicts that “no matter what budget Congress enacts to extend the CR [continuing budget resolution] set to expire September 30 —if anything — the focus for agency CIOs will remain on cutting costs.” He then turns his attention to a seldom-discussed budget issue: funding of technology for operating expenditures (OpEx) is greater than that for capital expenditures (CapEx). What this means in practice is that the majority of funding goes to keeping existing technology running, rather than investing in new technologies that can deliver improvements in efficiency. How did it get this way?
Suda points to mainframe systems that operate on COBOL. As many of our readers know, COBOL is completely engrained in business operations both inside and outside of government. In fact, he points to statistics that show how the average American interacts with COBOL-based programs 13 times a day, such as using an ATM or managing health care records. Although it is considered a legacy program language, COBOL is still incredibly effective—it’s just become costly to maintain. Rewriting it, he says, would be risky and costly, taking years to complete. He suggests a third option: modernization.
Doing so could cut operations and maintenance (O&M) costs and could be achieved in months, rather than years, as would be the case if replacing these systems. Modernization would also help to balance the OpEx issue, with the investment leading to real value, rather than simply maintaining the status quo.
It’s this kind of clear-headed thinking that is needed in times like these—when budgets are tight and everyone seems either averse to change or ready to start over from scratch. Rather than taking the extreme position, Suda shows how a measured approach can save real money in the short term while delivering actual value in the long term. Read the full article here and let me know what you think in the comments below or on Twitter .