I’ve blogged recently about how ever-present and always-available COBOL systems can integrate with and support digital transformation activities such as mobile apps, or brand new platforms such as Linux or Cloud or Windows10. But it’s not just devices and platforms that are evolving. Development systems are changing too which means another frontier remains for developers of COBOL-based core systems: managed code.
Can we manage this?
Managed code? A more familiar word might be .NET (if you are a Microsoft-oriented shop), or the Java Virtual Machine (if you are not a Microsoft-oriented shop). Managed code is, according to wiki, “computer program source code that requires and will execute only under the management of a Common Language Runtime virtual machine.”
In practical terms, what managed code offers is the framework for programming languages like C#, Java their contemporaries, which enables the organization to build modern applications faster, using a common environment. In many organizations, this is where the greatest availability of developer skills lies today.
But here’s the problem. The critical back-end systems that are the systems of record for your business do not follow the same model. If you need your newer managed code-based systems to access to the COBOL systems, then making that happen can be quite complex. In most cases, the COBOL team sits outside of this environment, and neither team is aware of each other’s technology or working practices. Getting these teams to communicate and work together to manage this misalignment is difficult. And, it follows, quite costly. Having this gulf between these two teams is a risky situation that can jeopardize the IT strategy.
Our customers report that there is much more investment in skills in this managed space, and there are fewer skills in areas outside of it. That includes COBOL skills.
Managing the Future for Business Applications
In our view, the most viable, efficient solution is elegantly simple: bring the COBOL environment inside this managed space. Micro Focus technology, in the form of Visual COBOL, enables applications to remain unchanged, but instead of being outside of this Managed code environment, they co‐exist with these other languages and applications, inside a managed code framework, with all the benefits this provides.
This makes the organizational application delivery environment simpler which means reduced risk to the business. Because of this reduced complexity, a safer environment is established and IT delivery costs are reduced.
It’s now easy for all developers to collaborate. The gulf is gone. Crucially for many organizations, modern managed-code developers, where the bulk of the skills are today, just see COBOL as another managed-code language, working in their normal day-to-day environment. They just need to pick up the easy‐to‐learn COBOL syntax. In our customer base, these people have picked COBOL up in a managed environment in a matter of hours. For the COBOL team, nothing changes except a more productive, feature rich toolset.
Unity is Strength
What helps resolve the skills challenges is the power of the modern development environment. Today’s IDE is a contemporary, powerful interface (Eclipse or Visual Studio), which awaits the COBOL developer, in exactly the same way as it would any other language developer.
More to the point, when building applications which comprise more than one language (as many now do), the same environment can be used to assess, build, compile and debug the whole application together. The benefits in terms of teamwork, software quality and speed of delivery are potentially immense. Clients report 30% faster delivery.
All the benefits of the IDE and managed code environment are immediately available to the COBOL application. Additional tooling to build industry standard interfaces, data connectors, API layers, are available as supporting libraries, tools and plug-ins. The peripheral tasks that used to require protracted engineering and testing efforts, often using different teams, are now much simpler to build out of the box.
Finally, Micro Focus’ unique technology design has ensured that a native, long-standing COBOL core application can be moved into, and complied as managed code (Java Byte or MSIL) without change. The move of COBOL to managed code is a simple step.
Manage your future
Where there was a gulf between technology, knowledge and skill, there is no such concern. Where there was a question mark over the future of core systems in a managed code world, the plan is now abundantly clear and, with Micro Focus technology, beautifully simple.