Cyber Monday

Big retailers have been planning ahead for up to 18 months for their share of approximately 2.6 billion dollars of revenue. Cyber Monday started in 2005 by Shop.org has become one of the biggest online traffic days of the year, Simon Puleo takes a look at the list of how some of our biggest customers have prepared.

‘Twas the night before Cyber Monday and all through the house

everyone was using touchscreens gone was the mouse.

While consumers checked their wish lists with care

in hopes that great savings soon would be there.

The children were watching screens in their beds

while visions of Pikachu danced in their heads.

And Mamma in her robe and I in my Cub’s hat

reviewed our bank accounts and decided that was that!’

Cyber Monday started in 2005 by Shop.org has become one of the biggest online traffic days of the year.  Black Friday may have started as early as 1951 and between the two shopping holidays generate over $70 BN!  Let’s take a look at the list of how some of our biggest customers have prepared:

1.)    Performance testing.  Did you know that our customers typically start performance testing for cyber-Monday in February, why would they start so early?  Customers are testing more than just peak load, they are testing that sites will render correctly across multiple configurations, bandwidths, devices, and sometimes in multiple regions of the world.  The goals of ecommerce is to enable as many shoppers as possible that includes my Dad on his iPad 2 on a rural carrier and my daughter on her Chromebook in an urban area.   Multiply that by thousands of users and you can see that unfortunately, retailers can’t hire enough of my relatives to help them out. What they do is use a combination of synthetic monitors and virtual users to simulate and assess how a website will perform when 10,000 of users are shopping at the same time.

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2.)    New Feature Testing.  Whether you consciously think about it or not you expect and gravitate towards websites that have the latest feature set and best user experience.  What does that mean?  Listing a photo and description is bare bones the best commerce websites not only have reviews, videos, links to social media and wish lists they may actually be responsive to your shopping habits, regional weather and personal interests.  They use big data sets to preclude what you are browsing for and offer you targeted deals too good to pass up!  While that is exciting, it also means that the complexity of code both rendering the browser and behind the scenes has grown exponentially over the years.  Ensuring that new features perform and old code works with legacy systems as well renders correctly over multiple devices is what functional and regression testing is all about.  While a team of testers may track multiple code changes they lean towards automation to ensure that code works on target configurations.

3.)    Offering Federated Access Management What? you’re thinking, user-login was solved ages ago. For sophisticated online retailers using Facebook, Google, Yahoo!, Twitter, LinkedIn or other credentials to gain access is first a method to gain trust, second opens up the potential opportunity for more customers and finally a road to valuable personal data.  Regardless of which advantage a retailer may prioritize developing the ability to enable millions of Facebook users to easily login and check-out with a credit-card equates to new customers and a leg up over legacy competitors.  And, for added amount of trust and security retailers can couple multi-factor authentication at key points of the conversion process.   Simple user login and password for each shopping site is quickly becoming a relic of the past as users opt for convenience over management of many user names and passwords.

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These are some of the top methods and solutions that big retailers have implemented for 2016.  The best online commerce professionals know what they are up against and what is at stake for example:

  • In 2014 there were over 18,000 different Android devices on the market according to OpenSignal, that is an overwhelming amount of devices to ensure.
  • At a minimum retailers lose $5600 per minute their websites are down
  • The market is huge a recent estimate put the global amount of digital buyers at 1.6 Billion, that is nearly 1/5 of the world’s population.  Converting even .1% of that number is 160,000 users!
  • Users are fickle and will leave a website if delayed just a few seconds
  • Last year Cyber Monday accounted for $3 billion in revenue, this year we expect even more!

Retailers like Mueller in Germany realize that no “downtime” is critical to keeping both the online and virtual shelving stocked.  Their holistic approach to managing software testing and performance helps them implement new features while keeping existing systems up and running.   It is never too late to get started for this year or preparing for next, consider how Micro Focus has helped major US and European Online Retailers with performance testing, automated functional and regression testing, access management and advanced authentication.

Micro Focus #DevDay doubles-down in Dallas

The #COBOL community roadshow continued recently as Micro Focus #DevDay landed in Dallas, TX. But this time was special – there were two events instead of one. Derek Britton went along to find out more.

A numbers game

Just as COBOL processes some of the most important numeric transactions globally, we learned of some telling statistics at the most recent #DevDay – held this month in Dallas.

Very interestingly, the show started with an award for Dallas – host of the most frequent #DevDay events. This was Micro Focus’ 4th time in Dallas in as many years hosting a COBOL community meeting. Over 200 delegates have attended our Dallas-hosted events in the last few years. Of course, Dallas is only part of a major global program – Micro Focus has hosted nearly forty #DevDay customer meetings since the program was started a few years ago.

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But these numbers are dwarfed by the next: thousands of customers use Micro Focus’ COBOL technology today. What do they have in common? They are all committed to using the right tools to build the next generation core business applications, to run wherever they need to be run. This community also includes over one thousand Independent Software Vendors who have chosen COBOL as their language platform for the scalability, performance and portability their commercial packages need.

Last year we asked that global community their thoughts of the language. An overwhelming 85% said COBOL remains strategic in their organization. However, two-thirds of the same group said they were looking to improve the efficiency of how they delivered those applications.

We also heard that this global COBOL community is supported by Micro Focus’ $60M investment each year, which it makes across a range of COBOL and related technology products. This week, we also saw where some of that investment is made. One way of explaining how is by product area, where our technology is split across two communities. It was those two communities who held separate #DevDay meetings in the same location.

Micro Focus #DevDay

The Micro Focus #DevDay event is no stranger to our blog site. It is designed with the Micro Focus customer community in mind – showcasing latest products such as Visual COBOL and Enterprise Developer to the traditional Micro Focus user base.

Highlights of the Dallas session included a major focus on key new technical innovations. The first of these explored building REST-based services in a managed-code world using COBOL. Our experts demonstrated the simple steps to build, for example, mobile payment systems, using trusted COBOL routines and a simple RESTful integration layer. They later demonstrated a newly available support for advanced CICS Web Services, connecting trusted mainframe systems with new digital devices with a seamless, modern interface.

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We also heard news of the latest product releases – with versions 2.3.2 of Enterprise Developer and Visual COBOL, which are newly available, including a range of major enhancements plus support for new environments such as Linux on IBM Power Systems and Windows 10. Some delegates got a chance to test drive the new version themselves in the hands-on lab.

The #DevDay event continues to be hugely successful and touches down next in December, in Chicago.

Acu #DevDay

The ACU COBOL technology is an established product line, acquired originally from AcuCorp, which joined the Micro Focus family just a little over a decade ago. The Acu range, known now as extend, boasts thousands of users.

Arguably the highlight of the day was the announcement of the brand-new Acu2Web capability.  Available to participating clients as part of the extend 10.1 product Beta program, Acu2Web demonstrates Micro Focus commitment to a digital future in its Acu COBOL technology, and solves a genuine market need. The challenge was a real one – a community one: access to the same core COBOL application system, from any device, with any interface, on any system, to behave the same way, using the same setup. In yesteryear, a limited albeit complex engineering task, the problem has been exacerbated beyond all recognition by the proliferation of new devices and platforms, all of which need to access trusted back-end systems.

This was the challenge we set ourselves – and that’s what we’ve built into our latest Acu extend technology – a seamless, transparent access mechanism to core Acu-built COBOL apps from any device.  The Acu2Web facility builds the wiring and plumbing for any access point, no matter where, as the access diagram below outlines.

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Acu2Web is one of the new exciting capabilities being made available in extend 10.1. The Beta program is underway to qualifying clients. The roadmap milestones outlined during the event give a 10.1 release date in early 2017.

A global community… supported globally

The focused customer technology event is an important community touch-point for Micro Focus – but it certainly isn’t the only one. The same community thrives online, not least at Community.microfocus.com. Available to all, this forum provides tips and tricks for technology usage including suggestions from technical staff, consultants and customers alike. Importantly, product areas such as Acu have their own dedicated pages (see below).

 

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Through the community, our social media site, and our academic program, Micro Focus continues to fly the flag for COBOL skills. Just shy of 400 higher education establishments are training their students to learn COBOL with Micro Focus COBOL products, building the next generation of COBOL talent.

In Summary

#DevDays are the perfect opportunity to witness the significant new product capabilities now available to our clients. Both product sets have undergone transformational updates to directly address real market demand.

I caught up with the host of the Micro Focus Developer Days, Ed Airey, who summarised Micro Focus’ approach “We are proud to host events that bring our entire COBOL development community together, to exchange ideas, learn new capabilities, and explore how to embrace future needs using modern technology. We remain committed to our community and look forward to more events of this nature in the future”.

Two product lines; one global COBOL community.

Find more about how our products can support you at www.microfocus.com

Latest updates to Micro Focus COBOL Development and Mainframe Solutions now available

Building a stronger sense of community–It’s a topic often discussed across many industries and technical professions and coincidentally, also a favorite topic at Micro Focus #DevDay events. Amie Johnson, Solutions Marketing strategist at Micro Focus digs deeper into this topic and uncovers some core reasons why community matters while also sharing some exciting product news for COBOL and Mainframe enthusiasts.

If you haven’t attended a Micro Focus #DevDay event in the past few months, let me recap that typical attendee experience for you.  It’s a day jam-packed will technology demonstrations, interactive Q&A sessions, hands on labs and much more.  Its eight hours of technology focused discussions designed for the COBOL and Mainframe developer. If you look closely though, you’ll also see something else, beyond the tech – community development.  I’m always pleased to see attending delegates in engaging conversation with other peers often sharing their ‘COBOL’ stories.  This sense of community both educates, and builds best practices while establishing long term relationships for all involved.  It also removes any perceived isolation that could occur if such conversations did not occur.  You’ll also see many of these experienced professionals talk shop, exchange stories from the past and seek answers to needed problems and questions. In many ways, #DevDay is the place where enterprise developers belong and where everyone knows your name.

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This week’s events in Dallas didn’t disappoint with a strong focus on COBOL application modernization, and performance, along with a desire to ‘sell that strategy’ upwards in the organization.  With thousands upon thousands of COBOL applications supporting everyday activities including banking, insurance, air travel, equities trading, government services and more; it’s no surprise that (for many attending) COBOL remains a solid choice for core business. Most acknowledge though that there are external pressures, though, to consider new solutions, perhaps even re-write or re-place those applications with new technologies. Underlying complexity and cost, however, often sideline those projects in favor of less risky approaches to modernization.  After all, these (COBOL) applications are essential to business success and the tolerance for business is often very low.  But there’s pressure to modernize with an eye to embracing new models, new tech and the future.

Micro Focus Continued Investment in COBOL and Mainframe Technologies

The goal of course, through event discussions is to ensure that all guest leave the event feeling it was valuable and delivered some practical skills which they could use when back at the office.  Yes, many attending are interested in the Micro Focus investment strategy for COBOL and Mainframe tech.  We cover that with ample detail and discussion ensuring all understand that COBOL is just as modern as the thousands of new programming languages available today—and they see it too through many demo examples.

This future proof strategy for COBOL ensures that applications, many of which support global enterprise, continue to function and support the business. Supporting this strategy are the following key data-points discussed while in Dallas:

  • 85% of surveyed customers believe their COBOL applications are strategic to the business
  • 2/3 of the survey respondents that maintain these COBOL applications are seeking new ways to improve efficiency and the software delivery process  while modernizing their applications to work with next gen technology including relational database management systems, Web services, APIs and integrate with Java and .Net code environments

These drivers underpin the continued Micro Focus commitment to support the widest variety of enterprise platforms.  Today, over 50+ application platforms are supported providing maximum choice, freedom and flexibility for anyone using COBOL. This capability coupled with a continued annual R&D investment of $60M reaffirms that COBOL is ready for innovation whether it be .NET, Java, mobile, cloud, or the Internet of Things. And this week brings even more exciting news as we released the latest updates to our COBOL Development and Mainframe technologies.

Mainframe Development Solution Updates

Versions 2.3.2 of Enterprise Developer, Enterprise Test Server, Enterprise Server, and Enterprise Server for .NET are now available.  The Micro Focus Enterprise product suite helps organizations build, test, and deploy business critical mainframe workloads with an eye toward future innovation and market change.

Highlights in this latest update include:

  • Latest platform support – including Linux on IBM Power Systems and Windows 10 – future-proofs applications.
  • Ability to extract COBOL and PL/I business rules to copybooks makes code re-use easier so developers can work smarter and faster.
  • Enhanced CICS Web Services support helps customers more easily meet the demand for web and mobile application interoperability.
  • Improved mainframe compatibility simplifies re-hosting and extends modernization options for customers deploying to .NET and Azure.

Examples of customers using these solutions include, B+S Banksysteme, City of Fort Worth, and City of Inglewood.

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COBOL Development Solution Updates

In COBOL development, the latest version of Visual COBOL 2.3 Update 2 includes the latest updates that helps you organize and manage core IT systems developed in COBOL, providing a pathway to new IT architecture and access to modern tools for enterprise application development.  This release includes over 100 customer requested enhancements and support for the latest enterprise platform updates and 3rd party software.

Highlights in this latest update include:

  • New support for the JBoss EAP platform
  • Updates for the latest releases of supported operating systems
  • Over 100 customer requested fixes and enhancements

Examples of customers using these solutions include Dexia Crediop, Heinsohn Business Technology, and The County of San Luis Obispo..

For Micro Focus customers on maintenance the latest updates can be downloaded via the Supportline portal

So check out these latest COBOL and Mainframe solutions.  Read how these customers are embracing next gen technology alongside their existing core business systems.  And for those interested in joining the COBOL community at the next Micro Focus #DevDay, check out our events calendar here.  Save your seat and join the conversation.

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The true cost of free

There always exists the low-cost vendor who offers something for free to win market share. In enterprise IT, it is worth examining what free really means. Derek Britton goes in search of a genuine bargain

Introduction

IT leaders want to help accelerate business growth by implementing technology to deliver value quickly. They usually stipulate in the same breath the need for value for money. The pursuit of the good value purchase is endless. No wonder then that vendors who offer “use our product for free” often get some attention. This blog looks at the true cost of ‘free’.

Measuring Value

We all use desktop or mobile apps which, if they stopped working – and let’s face it, they do from time to time – wouldn’t really matter to us. We would mutter something, roll our eyes, and re-start the app. That’s not to say that people aren’t annoyed if they’ve not saved some important work when their application stops, but typically the impact is nothing more than a briefly disgruntled user.

But if an application is doing something critical or stategically important for an organization, then it is higher up on value scale. For example, an ATM application, savings account, package or logistics, money transfer, credit check, insurance quote, travel booking, retail transaction.  What if it went wrong? What if you also needed it to run elsewhere? What value would you put on that? Vitally, what would happen to the organization if you couldn’t do those things?

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Get it for free

Application Development tooling and processes tend to incur a charge, as the link between the technology and the valuable application is easily determined. However, there is required additional technology to deploy and run the built applications. Here, the enticement of a “free” product is very tempting at this stage. After all, why should anyone pay to run an application that’s already been built? Many technology markets have commoditised to the point where the relative price has fallen significantly. Inevitably, some vendors are trying the “free” route to win market share.

But for enterprise-class systems, one has to consider the level of service being provided with a “free” product. Here’s what you can expect.

Deployment for free typically offers no responsibility if something goes wrong with that production system. Therefore internal IT teams must be prepared to respond to applications not working, or find an alternative means of insuring against that risk.

A free product means, inevitably, no revenue is generated by the vendor. Which means reinvestment in future innovations or customer requirements is squeezed. As an example, choice of platform may be limited, or some 3rd party software support or certification. Soon enough an enticing free product starts to look unfit for purpose due to missing capability, or missing platform support.

Another typical area of exposure is customer support, which is likely to be thin on the ground because there is insufficient funding for the emergency assistance provided by a customer support team.

In a nutshell, if the business relies on robust, core applications, what would happen if something goes wrong with a free product?

An Open and Shut Case?

Consider Open Source and UNIX. In a time when UNIX was a collection of vendor-specific variants, all tied to machinery (AIX, Solaris, HP/UX, Unixware/SCO), there was no true “open” version for UNIX, there was no standard. The stage was set for someone to break the mould. Linus Torvalds created a new, open source operating system kernel. Free to the world, many different people have contributed to it, technology hobbyists, college students, even major corporations.  Linux today represents a triumph of transparency, and Linux, and Open Source is here to stay.

However, that’s not the whole story. It still needed someone to recognize the market for a commercial service around this new environment. Without the support service offered by SUSE, Red Hat and others, Linux would not be the success it is today.

Today, major global organizations use Linux for core business systems. Linux now outsells other UNIX variants by some distance. Why? Not just because it was free or open source, but because the valuable service it provided organizations with was good value. But people opt to pay for additional support because their organizations must be able to rectify any problems, which is where organizations such as SUSE and Red Hat come in. Linus Torvalds was the father of the idea, but SUSE, Red Hat (and their competitors) made it a viable commercial technology.

Genuine return

Robust, valuable core applications will require certain characteristics to mitigate any risk of failure. Such risks will be unacceptable for higher-value core systems. Of course, many such systems are COBOL-based. Such criteria might include:

  • Access to a dedicated team of experts to resolve and prioritize any issues those systems encounter
  • Choice of platform – to be able to run applications wherever they are needed
  • Support for the IT environment today and in the future – certification against key 3rd party technology
  • A high-performance, robust and scalable deployment product, capable of supporting large-scale enterprise COBOL systems

The Price is Right

Robust and resilient applications are the lifeblood of the organization. With 4 decades of experience and thousands of customers, Micro Focus provides an award-winning 24/7 support service. We invest over $50M each year in our COBOL and related product research and development. You won’t find a more robust deployment environment for COBOL anywhere.

But cheap alternatives exist. The question one must pose, therefore, is what does free really cost? When core applications are meant to work around your business needs – not the other way around, any compromise on capability, functionality or support introduces risk to the business.

Micro Focus’ deployment technology ensures that business critical COBOL applications that must not fail work whenever and wherever needed, and will continue to work in the future;  and that if something ever goes wrong, the industry leader is just a mouse click away.

Anything that is free is certainly enticing, but does zero cost mean good value? As someone once said, “The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten”.

Give thanks… for Cyber Sunday

Black Friday and Cyber Monday now have a new playmate; Cyber Sunday opens its virtual doors for the first time this year. Derek Britton fires up the laptop, gets his credit cards out and asks how well it will perform on the day.

Black Friday for Dummies: enjoy your Thanksgiving break by going shopping. Public holidays have long been marked by a bout of retail therapy, and retailers are geared up to take advantage of our behaviour. Black Friday is now a key pre-Christmas spike in terms of retail revenue; in 2014, a staggering $47bn changed hands over this period.

But what are you going to do if you’re unable to go shopping on the Friday of Thanksgiving, or can’t imagine anything worse than grappling with strangers on the shop floor for the sake of a few bargains? After all, aren’t we all online now?

Say hello to Cyber Monday –a solution for those unwilling or unable to actually go shopping. Retailers have forensically targeted this demographic, and Cyber Monday offers similar sales incentives to those who prefer to hunt their bargains virtually.

But… on a Monday? Why can we only shop online on a Monday?

Perhaps the rationale is that Thanksgiving includes the whole weekend and the beginning of the following week is the best place for the virtual version. Alternatively, perhaps the retailers anticipate most buyers will be back online once they get back to work and likely to prefer a virtual shopping trip to actual work. Either way, the choice of the Monday seems arbitrary.

Why Wait?

That seems to have driven Wal-Mart to offer the same promotional campaigns via their websites this Sunday instead of waiting until Monday, as Reuters reported this week.

Their view, I assume, is that being online is a 24/7 existence.  The logic is irrefutable even if an invisible truce has been forever broken. Because Wal-Mart’s behaviour will reset the template for the US internet retail industry, this week and into the future. And we already have a name for this new phenomenon. Yes, Cyber Sunday is here. Probably to stay.

Variable Consumer Demand

This isn’t setting any precedents in the UK. For a long time, the post-Christmas promotions in the UK have crept incrementally earlier and earlier. Many bargains are available way before Christmas.

It’s no secret that this promotional activity is ultimately designed to boost sales. These peaks and troughs in retail internet traffic underpins what analysts call Variable Consumer Demand.

There are other examples. They include major dates in the retail world – Christmas, Superbowl Sunday – and, to a lesser extent, the seasonal stock clearance exercises we call ‘the sales’. The elasticity of these sales and promotional periods that it becomes something of a challenge to remember a point when paying full price was an option.

IT Peaks and Troughs

Business has long coped with peaks and troughs, but extending the rollercoaster of demand in terms of web traffic creates significant challenges for IT – namely, supporting regular business demand while meeting high demand with the same infrastructure. To put that in context, ‘peak’ demand may exceed the ‘normal’ traffic demand by some distance.

Many large retailers have suffered catastrophic problems by simply failing to predict the demand; their IT systems simply collapsed under the weight of web traffic. Loss of service, as described in Renato Quedas’ recent blog, can impact organizations to the tune of $300,000 per hour.

You need to perform on the day

Establishing an online promotion without preparing the underlying IT infrastructure to cope with demand is at best a risky approach and a gamble that many cannot afford to lose. Keeping out of the headlines for the wrong reasons is, however, well within the retailers’ grasp. It is a question of assessing the potential risk and using contemporary technology to meet it.

The Silk Performer™ and Silk Performer CloudBurst™ products from Borland enable software quality teams to rapidly launch any size peak-load performance tests without the burden of managing complex infrastructures. The Borland white paper Testing Times for e-Commerce is available now.

Want to find out more?

Wal-Mart has the confidence to expand their online promotion, and their actions will not go unnoticed by other retailers. Another period of peak consumer demand is upon us. See our Black Friday infographic and take a look at how smart organizations have tackled variable demand to ensure they grab their slice of the Thanksgiving pie.

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Trying different ways to make a difference to the days

Work Experience student Patrick Nield spent a week with different departments in the Newbury Headquarters. But what did he learn, who did he meet and was it better than school? Read on to find out.

Day 1 at Micro Focus: Exploring the server room

My day started with a talk from Oliver on all the products and different packages Micro Focus sells. He went on to explain how services have increased in popularity due to the recent merger with Attachmate. Afterwards, Oliver and I met Rachael who took me through Pivotal CRM for the first time. She taught me how to obtain different information from a set of data using pivot tables.

Later that day I spent some time with David and the developers, where I learned how the product managers manage them and how they would meet their deadlines. Then a different David showed me the online to-do list which he created with some of his team to track progress.

I was shown around the server rooms and learned what each server does before Richard showed me how Micro Focus’ software products are tested. I was even allowed to help install and test one of the products myself – wow!

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Day 2 at Micro Focus: The elephant in the room?

Today I began in account payable with Carrie who showed me how to sign-off payments. When Carrie had finished on the payment sign off I worked with my Mum for a bit who does actually do quite of lot of work here much to my surprise!I then helped Stephanie who started me on the working on fuel cards.

After that I spent my afternoon in operations with David, who took me on a tour around the building to places many people wouldn’t know existed. For example, there’s a room above the third floor where the air conditioning is controlled and there’s an entrance to the top of the atrium. David showed me photos of the installation of the elephant in the main atrium, and when the glass was repaired.

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Day 3 at Micro Focus: What’s in the safe?

I started off today in accounts receivable which is where payments from Micro Focus customers are processed.

In the afternoon I went to customer care. This department helps Micro Focus customers across the world and the team can speak many different languages including French, Italian and German.

I then moved on to HR where I leaned about the various forms and regulations that Micro Focus needs to deal with when a new person joins. I helped fill-out some of the forms which were then placed in an enormous safe.

Day 4: Putting my tech skills to the test at Micro Focus

I really enjoyed today. I spent it talking about computers with like-minded people! This is what I’m most passionate about and the Micro Focus IT team are a really friendly bunch. I helped mend some phones which were needed for new starters to the company.

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Day 5 at Micro Focus: The final task

I’d been really looking forward to my final day with marketing and social media department, but wasn’t quite sure what I would be tasked with. The other departments’ names made my work easier to predict. Marketing and social media covers such a wide range of topics I really could have been given anything to do.  First of all Mark talked me through Digital Marketing before I started on my blog and Tweeting

The main task was to write this blog which is apparently going to be published on the Corporate blog website. I am also trying to write as many tweets as I can to promote Micro Focus. The record I have to beat is 87. I fell slightly short of the target but I did spend an hour with Derek who explained how COBOL and Mainframe technology still powers the world’s IT.

It was a fantastic week – much more fun than school! Thanks to everyone who spent time with me…..

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The Markies. 1st the worst – 2nd the best…..

For someone whose personal motto is often along Yoda’s lines of ‘Do. Or Do Not. There is no try’ making it through the heats to the Markie finals again is an emotional experience. ‘What happens if I don’t win this time?’ ‘How can I make sure I win it now?’  mixes with commonly dished out paternal advice like ‘ it’s the taking part and having fun that really matters’ (thanks Dad – it’s still ingrained!)

Making it as a Markie finalist twice in successive years for ‘Best Social Campaign’  brings mixed feelings along with an overwhelming sense of pride. Social Media is a relatively new frontier for business, participating in it professionally is a sign that a company – however old – has recognised seismic shifts in the industrial landscape and grappled with the concept of going to market in a different way. Who wouldn’t want to win recognition?

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Modern marketing is digital

Sales, Marketing, Technical Support and IT departments are now brothers in arms – learning new digital skills daily as the increasingly Internet-savvy consumer educates themselves about our products and services. Modern marketers need to work hand in glove with other departments to create content that aligns to buyer journeys. Our inbound engines need to be firing on all eight cylinders to ensure people find that content. Outbound engines must be ‘oiled’ by fresh digital data which offers improved insight into what prospects and customers are interested in, which types of content work best – and when. Attaining that data is an increasingly complicated exchange with suppliers providing assets of increasingly significant value in order to get good email addresses. ‘Content is still king’ is bandied about with annoying frequency – but if that is the case then a digitally savvy consumer is an emperor.

Content and consumers of the content

Talking to customers and prospects in ways and places that they want to be spoken to is business critical, so it follows that digital performance over a variety of channels is fundamental for success. It doesn’t matter how old the product is as long as you can align that value with prospects and customers in an effective way. It’s a fairly sure bet that they are out there on Twitter or LinkedIn or YouTube or Slideshare (this list could almost stretch on forever these days). Investing in engaging with content consumers in the right place is the right thing to do.

The Micro Focus modern marketing journey and Markie hall of fame

Making the short-list twice is a sure sign in my mind that we are now addressing Social Media in a consistently excellent way. Great news for us on our journey to becoming truly modern marketers – a journey we started relatively recently.

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In 2014 it was our Mainframe 50 Campaign which cut the mustard and made the hall of fame, helping IBM celebrate 50 years of the Mainframe  and making some seriously positive waves along the way. This year it’s our COBOL Campaign that’s made the grade. The IT literate among you will realise that there’s nothing new about this technology apart from the ongoing product releases adding value for increasingly demanding modern technicians. It’s the way we are communicating the value that has changed. Now #COBOLRocks with a hashtag, and ‘millennials’ who are engaging with this fundamentally critical technology for the 1st time are no doubt mixing it up with the less youthful on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Is this community first phenomena on Social Media increasingly the key to solving what the industry has known as the Skills Crisis? I have a personal feeling that YouTube ‘how to’ videos are playing a bigger part in this resolution than any formal education or training courses. The proof will be in the pudding – timeless words of wisdom.

I’ve said it before – digital performance matters

What is abundantly clear without the need for formal proof or benchmarks or metrics is that your digital performance seriously matters. Not just the content either – content is vitally important but if your infrastructure is flaky, unreliable or your ‘legacy’ apps don’t go mobile  you may have a difficult ride ahead. To make it through the heats and start to compete against the winners you need to create better software faster and breathe new life into older technology.

In concluding it strikes me that my dad was right all those years ago, winning really isn’t everything,  taking part in ‘the game’ is fun and it does really matter. We won’t stop wanting to win a Markie anytime soon – but at least we know we are holding our own against the best in the industry as a team. A prize in itself. Sometimes words of advice and wisdom, just like technology can continue to add serious value for decades. The vehicles that carry the words will be evolving digitally for years, and modern businesses need to keep up.  If you’d like to learn more about modern marketing, register yourselves for the MME15 event and don’t forget to cheer Micro Focus on during the awards……

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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

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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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A Call Centre Christmas Carol

Helen Withington from Micro Focus emulates (pun intended) a classic seasonal tale. All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or Terminal, is purely coincidental. Call Center Managers and Operatives read on.

Stave 1: A yearning to modernize

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As heavy snow covers the streets of London, Steve Crooge dozes noisily in his office, brandy in hand, dreaming of outbound call targets and a happy boardroom. Crooge, the manager of a call center, built his business from the ground up, using the very latest mainframe system – at the time.

Despite his cold personality and solitary nature, Crooge is respected and even admired by his call center staff for his ‘no nonsense’ attitude. At least you know exactly where you stand, even if it means your ego ends up a little bruised…

Every year, his hopeful IT support engineer, Bob Cratchit, asks if he can modernize their user interfaces. They’re looking more and more outdated with the tired green and black display and more and more customers are ‘bearing’ with an increasingly bear like Caller squinting at the screen and switching between applications. Training costs are spiraling too and Cratchit has a bothersome IT backlog to deal with. He’d like to crack this modernization task easily without cutting any new code or breaking the bank. Unfortunately, this Christmas Eve is no different to any other. All Crooge does is yell at Bob (and the call center staff to work the phones and screens harder to meet those sales projections.)

That night, Crooge’s former business partner Jacob Marley visits him as a ghost. Marley’s spirit has been moping around the server room aimlessly as punishment for keeping the business the way it’s always been, and disagreeing that he should be providing his call center staff with what they really want and need by keeping up-to-date. With a cumbersome 3270 green-screen monitor chained to his ankle, Marley has come to warn Crooge and try to save him from the same fate. He tells him Three Spirits will come to him over the next three nights.

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Stave 2: Haunted by ‘change’

Crooge falls asleep and wakes up to find the Ghost of IT Past floating over him. He shows Crooge scenes from the past that his career from a happy young lad , to a cranky old-fashioned call center manager. “The only constant is change”, says the ghost of IT Past. “The way you do business has changed. Your application needs have changed. Your customers have changed. Even your staff have changed. Change is unavoidable, you either embrace it, or you fail.” Crooge had never been spoken to so bluntly before. He is used to doing the blunt talking.

The Ghost of IT Past tells Crooge that by embracing change, his ‘green screens’ can be invigorated to better suit the digital age. Outdated terminals are inefficient and new starters don’t stand a chance of learning the system quickly. These older technologies don’t readily integrate with the latest generation of devices and interfaces which today’s business users’ demand.

“Your staff want modern, clear interfaces which will improve customer service efficiency. ‘34% of senior IT leaders believe that green screen applications negatively affect staff retention’”, the ghost says. “So, easier navigation through a single screen view will improve speed, efficiency and productivity”.ChristmasCarol5

Stave 3: An important realization

Crooge nods off again only to be rudely awoken by a freezing snowball being thrown at his face. It’s the Ghost of IT Present.

Laughing insanely like a Grinch in a barrel of eggnog, the ghost shows him his call center staff, frantically fumbling with multiple screens and key stroke commands, meter-long telephone wires, and irritated customers. The Ghost informs Crooge that unless the future is changed, his crippled call center will be no more – and Crooge will be snowed under with an avalanche of backlog, chaos and complexity.

Finally, two ragged telesales trainees crawl out from the Ghost’s robes. The Ghost calls them Mr Price and Lacey Bones leaving Crooge with the warning that they will drag his company down, with poor productivity and customer service.

The ghost explains how modernization will help. “This is what happens when green screen apps meet smart, modern interfaces. Staff gain access to core business processes through a modernized user interface. In your call center, it’s all about efficiency, productivity and great customer service. Rumba+ reduces the need for multiple keystrokes across many screens eliminating clumsy look-up functionality to improve the efficiency of your teams. What I suggest you do is have a look at this demo to see what I mean.”

After a productive, pain-free demo day, without a single “bear with me one moment”, the call center staff happily leave work on time for the first time in months and decide to celebrate with a relaxing tipple or two of mulled wine.

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Stave 4: A better user interface for greater productivity

Interrupting his realization, a silent Ghost of IT Yet To Come replaces the other ghost. He shows Crooge several scenes of people discussing the company’s tragic downfall; no-one seems pained by it, and most are happy about it. However,  Crooge doesn’t know which company it is at first.

He foresees that the call center staff are all long gone, having moved on to more efficient, productive call centers which have embraced change and brought their systems right up-to-date. Crooge finally realises that it is his company which failed because he didn’t invest in the code-free modernization solution from Micro Focus that could have helped his staff handle more calls, reach desired targets and smile more.

Micro Focus Rumba+ is efficient. Instead of switching from screen to screen, staff are able to gain instant access to all the information they need in just one screen. This boosts productivity and improves customer service.

Rumba+ offers mobility. Users have the flexibility to work from home on the web, on their office desktop, or remotely with an iPad. They can easily gain web access through extending mainframe applications quickly and easily to web initiatives, just like Aviva has.

Finally, Rumba+ provides simplicity. With a wealth of functionality, it makes your business apps easier to use and understand. As it’s more intuitive, your staff will find it easier and quicker.”ChristmasCarol1

Stave 5: Green screen modernization – the core of happiness!

With a somewhat theatrical rush of enthusiasm, Crooge now realizes what he needs to do. Provide an intuitive interface for his staff, with single screens which are easy to navigate around. Applications are available 24/7 via web, mobile and desktop interfaces, for high operational flexibility.

Grinning like a snowman with a few too many pieces of coal for its mouth, he finally gives his team the gift they have longed for: modernization. Crooge’s deluge of happy customers speaks for itself – as does the immense improvement in his staff’s efficiency and customer service. With a glass of brandy in everyone’s hands, Crooge declares a toast: “To modernization!”

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Start your journey to better business efficiency now.

Rumba+

Developer Days: Applications and Andy Warhol

So, the current season of ten Developer Day events has just wound up, and now all the presentations are done and the prizes handed out – what are the take-outs for Micro Focus?

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Well, they can’t be measured in numbers alone. Industry statistics about COBOL’s continued popularity may be interesting, but nothing beats hearing first-hand about the value our customers’ COBOL applications are delivering to their businesses. And while case studies are valuable, anecdotal material is priceless.

At Developer Days, we’re hearing from people getting great results using Visual COBOL systems on new platforms, such as .NET, Java Virtual Machine (JVM) and the cloud, as well as UNIX, Windows and Linux, without changing a single line of code. It’s good for the business-critical applications users already have, and those they will need in the future. After all, building applications is what COBOL is for. And how many other programming languages can boast 50 years of service?

The DNA of Business Applications

At Micro Focus, we think COBOL is the most valuable application development option available to our customers, and that’s what we are hearing at our Developer Days. These are real people talking about real world applications. Some are focussed on getting more out of their current business-critical applications, others want to implement innovation for the future. We don’t call it the Agent of Change for nothing.

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Gartner confirms the ongoing resilience of COBOL. They estimated that about 80% of the 300bn lines of computer code currently in use are COBOL. People are still hiring COBOL developers to work on new projects, and we’re using our own initiatives to ensure they’ll be there, supporting future business initiatives.

But COBOL is just for financial services, right?

Wrong. Sure, COBOL supports much of the world’s banking and insurance vertical markets, but it is at play in many of our customers’ applications and they shared some of the details with us at the developer day events. We serve a diverse client base. To quote a few examples, they are using COBOL to create apps that manage livestock genetic information across US, and play-by-play editing software for sports coaches, to quote two examples. Need more proof? We heard all about how Micro Focus COBOL development innovation is at work in so many situations. They included…

  • An application that manages ingredient supply chain across a New York Kosher store chain
  • An application to drive footwear inventory and retail POS in Massachusetts.
  • A Private Mortgage Insurance system in Boston
  • A Hospital Material Supply Management and Tracking application in Atlanta
  • An application to provide Boat Insurance in Washington, DC
  • A Life, Property, Casualty Insurance system  in the North East
  • An outdoor and hunting Sport Accessories Wholesaler and Distributor in Canada
  • An application providing County Government Citizen Services in Texas
  • A Retail food manufacturer and wholesaler system
  • A range of back-office applications for a major ISP and Communications provider
  • A range of internal systems supporting a global Automotive manufacturer and retailer

The customer view – Neil Willby

The recent UK Developer Day event saw a customer showcase presentation from Neil Willby, managing director for Eurorealm Consultants, an ISV specializing in accountancy software. Neil demonstrated how Eurorealm have gone from green-screen to Cloud and mobile, keeping pace with industry trends for four decades using innovative COBOL technology from Micro Focus.

Guess the brand

Some big names dropped by to our Dev Days. These are contemporary brands that recognise how their future could be written in a language half a century old. They include a major urban shoe retailer, a ‘star’ of the German car market and a company whose product featured in one of Andy Warhol’s most iconic paintings. Hundreds of attending customers recognise the potential value that Visual COBOL could bring to their applications and, by extension, their business.

Developer Days are now also attracting non-COBOL people with differing job descriptions, all interested in the possibilities that COBOL applications and data handling could offer them. Because there are more similarities between COBOL and modern data processing systems than you might think.

Better performance for more people

Micro Focus Visual COBOL uses the very latest technology to deliver industry-leading development and deployment tools across a variety of platforms for different skillsets. From business analyst and IT manager right through to developers – who can’t use dramatically-reduced development costs and improved application and organizational performance?

Come along and see for yourself. Share your COBOL story and see the possibilities that COBOL could offer your organization going forwards. We’re pulling together our programme of the Developer Days for 2014 and we’d love to see you there. Discover more here

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Making the CIO a hero again

superCIOladySpare a thought for the CIO. Maybe that means you. There was a time when who the CIO was, and what they did, was clear. He or she was the person who used ‘IT alchemy’ to create business benefits from technology. They were tech people with business brains. Visionaries, futurists and fixers, the CIO was the IT presence in the boardroom. But that was then.

The dawning of the new era of IT – and all the innovation that comes with it – has changed the way people view the role. Now the CIO must harness the power these new advances theoretically bring while still delivering benefits to the business and managing the expectations of those who expect a magic wand, rather than a strategy.

The CIO must be a problem solver, with strategic and operational skills, expert in business-centred thinking with expertise in complex investment programs. In short, everyone expects CIOs to reinvent themselves to deliver the much-needed and widely anticipated value that the digital era is supposed to represent. And now, there is a new challenge that was perhaps harder to anticipate.

From heroes to…?

As recently as last year CIOs were being encouraged to escape the techie trap and become ‘business heroes’. CIOs failing to master this transformation were effectively resigning themselves to tactical, technical firefighting rather than retaining their status as a strategic board level player.

For CIOs, cementing hero status depends on becoming indispensible. After all, who else can evaluate, source and set up new technologies and systems while continuing  to deliver value from what is already there? Who is responsible for ensuring the current infrastructures integrate with the modern tooling – and all of this with fewer budget dollars and resources? And then there’s the new element – the Kryptonite that could threaten the survival of the IT superhero…

Say hello to the CDO

The  arrival of a Chief Digital Officer (CDO) in an organization could be problematic for the CIO. For here is a person whose job description overlaps with the CIO on many fronts. They will have a budget, and a clear strategy about how to take their organization into the digital age. So who gets to say what that future will look like? Clearly the beleaguered CIO faces challenges on all fronts – summarised here as 4 Ds:

1. Digitalization
Mobile, BYOD, big data, and the ever increasing demands of the end user are now must-haves. To quote one example, the British Bankers’ Association (BBA) claim that mobile phone banking transactions have doubled in a year. With customers using their devices to carry out 5.7 million transactions per day, the pressure is on to deliver a flawless – and fast – service.

2. Data
The proliferation of technical tooling for sales, marketing and corporate outreach has driven vast quantities of data – the lifeblood of companies chasing the revenue growth that underpins every strategy.  McKinsey estimates that most US companies of more than 1000 employees in the US economy were storing at least 200 terabytes of digital information. It’s not called ‘big’ data for nothing. To get the most from this massive resource, organizations must interrogate it for the key take-outs that will deliver the business advantage. While most of the data is held on mainframes, much of the newer material, ie that relating to social media behaviors, will be stored on more disparate platforms. Someone must co-ordinate this storage and deliver the business value.

3. Dissatisfaction
As company budgets become more focused on revenue-producing areas, rather than IT operations and infrastructure, the internal dynamic for IT will change. Marketing automation systems, enhanced Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems and Content Management Systems (CMS) will enjoy greater prominence. Their data must be accessible and usable to stakeholders, executives and incumbent systems. The gap between the end-user expectation and the ability to provide the required solution grows as – with each passing year – users grow ever more demanding, and vocal, in terms of timeframes and functionality.

4. Debt
Budgets and resources don’t always keep up with complexity. Equally, backlogs can increase in parallel with what Gartner call ‘IT debt’. There are many reasons for the staggering 29% increase IT debt: Poor investment, ill-advised prioritization, tooling, process, skills, architectural complexity, IT strategy are all in the mix. There is also the unfortunate perception that the platform, rather than the access mechanism, is a problem and that innovation can only be delivered by brand new technology, rather than by improving or augmenting current, business-critical applications with the right solution or products.

If a CIO finds themselves in an unwanted cycle of tackling ‘maintenance’ tasks and fire-fighting, their  first instinct, when faced with a fresh technology and/or business paradigm shift appears to be to schedule a ‘future overhaul/rewrite’ of technological assets. But rewriting or re-engineering working systems costs time, money and is fraught with risk. Just ask the UK NHS . A pragmatic, low-risk approach that resolves a chunk of these challenges in ‘one hit’ is needed here. A deeper understanding of the scope of the problem, coupled with a pragmatic approach to fixing processes, without jeopardizing existing services or adding to the backlog, is a great way of identifying that approach. So – what is the solution?

We can help

Finding smarter, innovative ways of implementing and delivering IT modernization, is part of our DNA. Micro Focus enables CIOs – and CDOs, for that matter – to keep up with the pace of technology and change, while maximizing the value of their core IT assets. Digitizing current frameworks brings innovation, enabling established technology to work efficiently with new. The key phrase here is modernization. It’s where what works – and most right-thinking IT managers would be loath to touch – is re-invented to deliver what the business needs today. Enterprise application modernization ensures the lights stay on today while organizations plan their tomorrows.

It’s what turns aging infrastructures into innovation-ready IT – and CIOs into heroes. If you’re ready to get more of what you need from what you already have, pay us a visit.

 

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Kishore Devarakonda

Micro Focus VP of Strategic Projects