When it comes to COBOL, Take Advantage

As the saying goes; ‘you don’t know what you have until it’s gone,’  and that’s an expensive lesson to learn in many cases. In the world of business, the same sentiment applies. We don’t have to look too hard for evidence of where an IT project has crashed on the rocks of a major overhaul or replacement system project.

Bad Credit

As recently as this week, the financial services industry bore witness to yet another IT system failure. As reported in Finextra, Customers of UK bank TSB reported issues with bank’s online and mobile channels as a result of migration from its so-called legacy IT platform (from former owners Lloyds) to the Proteo4 system from new owner Banco Sabadell. The TSB situation, which lasted for days, is a sobering example of the dangers of large scale IT system change.

Issues including missing payments, unexplained credits and views into the accounts of strangers were reported. This was after the bank warned its account holders that online services and funds transfers would not be available during the switchover weekend, during which time the final data migration would take place.
In fairness, TSB is not the only bank to have suffered an outage during an IT system change. RBS Barclays Lloyds and WestPac are among those who have been in the press for the wrong reasons.

Just The Banks?

The issue of poorly-planned change causing disruption of service is not the sole purview of financial services, of course.

Widely documented IT crashes across air traffic control systems, Federal agencies, government healthcare systems and retail online systems have recently found themselves on the wrong end of public scrutiny. In a recent blog I referred to a study uncovering a variety of failed IT package implementations at large brands including HP, Marin County, Hershey, and Miller Brewing.

A 7 year ERP implementation project at European grocery chain LIDL, a 500M Euro project, was only recently cancelled amid a torrent of controversy.

The point here is that there is no industry immune from an IT disaster. The question should be, therefore, what’s at fault? Is there an endemic problem or are these just, as they are so often labelled, glitches?

If it’s not just a glitch, what are we talking about?

As Micro Focus has commented before, it is disingenuous for major brands to blame major IT outages on a “glitch”. That’s a superficial, trivializing cover-up of a deeper cause. Based on recent evidence, such causes could include a security hack, a poorly planned upgrade, inadequate testing of a new release or infrastructure or an ill-conceived IT system overhaul. Oftentimes there is a simple, but usually well-hidden, technical explanation.

However, for all the diversity of technical cause, what seems to hold true in most cases is:

– The issue was caused as a result of a major IT change
– The changes in question were poorly planned
– There were a range of causes of failure and while technology is often cited, issues around skills, planning and management are almost always mentioned

Taking advantage of what works

What do these unfortunate situations have in common? Change. Changing IT in a significant way to help “improve” customer service.  Either through faster delivery or major new functionality, or often both, change is sought and delivered in the form of a “new” IT system.

Therein lies a major concern. The missing ingredient in many cases seems to have been the appreciation of, and protection of, what is already working. In the pursuit of something new, the planners have somehow overlooked the profound value of the existing system.

For many organizations what differentiates them from their competitors is hard-wired into the computer systems that run the business. In retail, banking, insurance and other industries, very little separates one brand from another. So it the nuanced, subtle “business rules” housed in the IT systems that make all the difference. As such, protecting that advantage, that intellectual property, is vital.

COBOL Programming

A Gift from the Past

Look up the term legacy in any dictionary and it will talk about a benign gift from the past. Yet somehow in IT legacy is used negatively: the label “legacy” is used to imply a system that is old, outdated and unfit for purpose. However, legacy systems are where that competitive advantage lives. Legacy systems have been providing business value for years if not decades. And indeed, in many cases the label “legacy” is misleading, because those systems have been actively maintained, and remain as valuable in 2018 as they were in, say, 1978.

Every Little Helps

Retailer Tesco faced exactly that challenge recently as they considered how to enter new geographical markets. Their large scale IT infrastructure, based in the UK, was the basis of their industry-leading stock management and ordering system. It was going to take a long time to replace that system with something equivalent that worked on their desired platform. The time to rewrite was even longer still. But worse than that, they could not guarantee anything would be as clever, and contain the core advantage, of their core IT system.

So they kept it.

They asked Micro Focus to provision that system on their chosen platform, without change, quickly.

So we did.

Customers worldwide are discovering the significant business value of modernizing systems through a reuse strategy. Another happy client reported, “Maintaining and carrying forward our business rules saved time and money; we estimate a cost saving of at least 85% over an application rewrite.”


Leveraging Competitive Advantage

By focusing on what matters most – which is often protecting the customer experience and providing incremental improvements of service, Micro Focus supported its customer’s primary objective. Ignoring the core advantage that already provides business value today is a risky business. It can be the difference in terms of what headlines some brands are making in tomorrow’s press. Is there a career in COBOL?

If you’d like to discuss any aspect of this blogpost feel free to leave me a comment below or find me on Twitter. And if you’ve enjoyed this blog you may wish to join Distinguised Micro Focus Engineer Gary Evans on May 10th to learn how the Micro Focus Blueprint for IBM Z Agile Software Development can help achieve mainframe agility by addressing the unique DevOps implementation challenges around software development, maintenance and testing.  Register for his webcast here. 

If you’d prefer we’d love to meet you in person us at our upcoming #DevDay events in Charlotte or Dallas. Follow the links for details and registration to these completely free events for Enterprise Developers……


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