Breaking The Cycle Of Legacy IT Investment - InformationWeek
Breaking The Cycle Of Legacy IT Investment
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Lorna Garey
Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
3/6/2014 | 4:06:05 PM
Politics is problematic in enterprises, it must be worse in any GOV agency. We just did a survey on application consolidation, and 89% said they dealt with "user concern over consolidation, ranging from uneasiness to open resistance." No one wants to give up their secret-sauce application, it feels too much like ceding power.

Plus, users seem to view these efforts as arbitrary, and they may be right as 45% said there is no process for choosing which apps to cut — someone just makes a decision about what stays and what goes. (report is here.)

Do you have guidelines for how to overcome the political / perceived capriciousness problem?
User Rank: Author
3/6/2014 | 4:39:44 PM
Gen. Lord makes some great observations here on how hard and how costly it can be to modernize legacy systems. The amount of time and investment that it would take to overhaul some of the government's massive old systems -- and the difficulty of counting on Congressional funding -- would deter even the most determined CIO.  That "70% of business transactions are still processed in COBOL, a language designed in 1959 and patched in 2002" staggers the imagination.

User Rank: Apprentice
3/7/2014 | 1:00:38 AM
COBOL "update"
I believe that the "update" that was being spoken of in the article was the 2002 Standard for the language.  There is another release of the standard pending and should be finalized this year.  So we will have COBOL 2014.  COBOL as a language is evolving just as English as a language is evolving.  Perhaps, as it is so old, we should abandon English for a new language - like Esperanto (Well that's old compared to English like Java is old compared to COBOL).  Or how about Ebonics.  That's a relatively new language - we can abandon English for that.  


Different programming languages to tell computers what to do are like different spoken languages.  Just becaue a language definition is old doesn't mean it's dead or not doing it's job.  The points of the article make it clear that COBOL is doing the job.  And it's doing it well.   I create NEW COBOL code all the time, in modern systems not just legacy.  There is COBOL behind web sites.  COBOL running on PC's.  COBOL running on mid range and mainframe systems.  Even COBOL that runs on Linux, Unix and even OS/X.  


It all gets turned into machine instructions.  There's nothing "Wrong" with these systems that needs to be fixed.  A rewrite and replacement is really a costly - very costly mistake.  Rehosting might be more appropriate as the hardware at lower levels becomes more capable and I have helped many companies rehost their COBOL applications on other platforms.  The business logic is sound.  The programs are secure and bug free.  Don't let the fact that the language is "old" scare you.  There's nothing to be afraid of.  COBOL is very much like English.

User Rank: Apprentice
3/7/2014 | 1:24:12 PM
Re: Consolidate
Modernization is the world I live in every day, with customers both in the large government and corporate arenas.  This article is right on, as is your point above.  The only people really interested in keeping legacy systems in place are the ones either controlling or tied to them skillwise- or making money off them as a vendor.
User Rank: Apprentice
3/9/2014 | 11:51:22 AM
Re: COBOL "update"
Clearly Mr Lord is out of touch with the current state of the COBOL language.  A little time and research would have shown COBOL is alive and evolving on an annual basis as venords and standr committees continue to add new features and functionality.


User Rank: Apprentice
3/13/2014 | 6:00:43 PM
COBOL is not the problem!

The author reasoning is flawed regarding COBOL being legacy software. The age of software does not automatically mean it is outdated (i.e., legacy software).  Microsoft Word is over 30 years old.  Does this mean it is outdate and not useful.  Certainly not! The software has been routinely updated and improved and most businesses rely on it every day.  This is true with COBOL.  COBOL today is as powerful and robust as any other language.   It is fully supported in Microsoft .NET.   In fact, where other languages can only be considered 3rd generation languages COBOL has advance beyond this label.    4th Generation languages such a SQL adopted many of the attributes of COBOL such as writing code in plain English and not having end line punctuation.  No other language matches the simplicity and the self-documenting nature of SQL or the COBOL language.    Every time I introduce the COBOL language to programmers who were trained in other languages they often remark how simple and straight forward it is compared to the language they are currently using.  Some have even stated that the colleges are doing a disservice to the industry not teaching COBOL.  Some have said the many people drop out of programming because of the complexity of the languages they are teaching.  The real problem is our education system.  Our education system needs to develop curriculum that matches the needs of the industry. 
User Rank: Apprentice
3/14/2014 | 11:47:11 AM
Re: Consolidate
The 70% maintenance cost is a little misleading. It is better represented as the total cost of owning a software system. For any large software deployment, 70% or more of the total cost of the software is represented by maintenance costs. Think of it like buying a car. Once you have the car, in order to keep it running, you still need to put in fuel, buy new tires, etc. Over years or even decades the cost to maintain your car approaches or surpasses the initial cost to purchase it. For example, if you spend $50 per week on gas, over a decade you are approaching a 50/50 split based only on fuel costs ($26,000). Buying a completely new car might marginally improve your weekly outlay if -- and its a big if -- the car is more fuel efficient. Still, buying the new car means you're now putting gas (or hydrogen, or electricity) in a different car, not that you've removed the need for fuel. You can change the model by buying a new care every year, but that just adds to the acquisition cost, it doesn't really lower the maintenance costs. Software is the same. Replace it when the frame rusts, or the engine falls out, or there is a significantly better technology available; not because you're spending money on gas.

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