All about the app?

So many options are available to today’s IT organization. It is therefore something of a surprise how much we agree on; especially when it comes to core systems of record. Derek Britton (Editor – from our good friends at MicroFocus) explains some customer insights from a few recent discussions.

Today’s platforms offer unprecedented power, performance and choice. Whether organizations are opting to embrace the power of Linux on z through SUSE or Redhat, build a heterogeneous array of environments based on Power and Intel that map onto the variety of internal operational needs, continue to rely upon and derive more value from z/OS in the guise of z13, or leverage elements of all of these, today’s cost-efficient and reliable enterprise class platforms represent an almost mind-boggling seismic change in value and capability.

Yet today’s IT world is anything but straightforward. At the recent Micro Focus Developer Day events, heads nodded firmly in assent when I posed the question “is IT more complex today?” Further violent agreement from the assembled IT application experts met the query “are you being asked to deliver more than ever?” And to make matters worse nearly everyone affirmed with a knowing wince to my question “is budget tighter this year?”

The thing everyone else agreed on, across the events held recently in Detroit, Washington DC, Atlanta and Boston, was that the value of the core applications being built for those aforementioned environments, were also more important than ever.

The application is, after all, what matters. (Ed: for a hardware guy this statement is hard to take… but largely true)

When an organization considers its competitive positions, internal IT systems often act as a major differentiator. In key industries, the operational backbone of the business is encapsulated in the systems of record that are as old as the organizations themselves, and have buried within them the very fabric, the very DNA, of the business. These remain heralded as the truly valuable, critical applications.

Swapping out those systems of record would be not only unthinkably difficult, but also astonishingly foolhardy from a business risk perspective.

Of course, choices of how to support the business in terms of enterprise systems of record are wide and varied. Whether part or all of the backend has been kept as home-grown applications, or given over to be supported by commercial ERP or CRM packages, or whether some aspects have been re-engineered to exploit new languages, platforms or a more abstract paradigm such as object orientation or SOA, core systems of record continue to evolve and provide must-not-fail business value.

And nowadays as the lines between systems of record and systems of engagement become more and more blurred, the levels of complexity in terms of integration between an ever growing array of technologies makes the task of keeping systems of record ‘current’ anything but simple.

What was interesting in our customer meetings, despite the almost limitless permutations of technology and platforms at their disposal, across hundreds organizations, was that a single common denominator sat at the heart of everyone’s core systems. There was a single unifying technology that continued to act as the pulse for the rest of the IT operation, and the wider business beyond, in for each customer we questioned. The technology of choice for this sample of North American organizations, the only single thing everyone agreed on, for the most important applications in their organization, was the COBOL programming language.

Yep – you heard it. Read it again if you need to: COBOL.

But how? This is a language conceived in 1959. It has a reputation in some quarters as being a little outdated. So how is this possible? Simple really. Bomb-proof for decades, easy to maintain, terrific at major data and number crunching, COBOL is the original language for business (the clue is in the name!) and supports the demands of the application estate in 2015 as well as it did decades ago.

The IT world faces growing challenges in the digital age, and a bewildering array of choices to tackle these challenges. Regardless, COBOL interleaves seamlessly with today’s modern environments and is constantly being pushed towards future technology innovations. Grace Hopper’s lasting gift continues to outlast them all. So, the one thing everyone managed to agree on was clear. When the applications mean business – world leaders still turn to COBOL.

Editors Note: Derek Britton works at Micro Focus and is a massive supporter of IBM’s mainframe and the key role it plays in his clients IT plans. Derek happens to be a Brit, so of course based on this fact alone is worthy of following on Twitter  @derekbrittonuk

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