When IT Professionals hear the term “Legacy application,” many will conjure up images of Tape Drives, Mainframe computers and coding languages such as COBOL, PL1, Assembler, and FORTRAN.  While many computer languages have come and gone, some endure and remain at the cornerstone of many major financial and logistical institutions, including many Agencies within the US Federal Government. Data shows us that 90% of the world’s financial transactions still run in, and rely on, COBOL. In fact, this $1.5 billion market conducts more transactions a day than Google and YouTube combined. But sticking with it, and modernizing a legacy application written in COBOL can be daunting.

Here are five of the challenges we see agencies and organizations face when running legacy COBOL applications, as well as our ideas on how they can face the challenges head on while sticking with a legacy coding language.

  1. Increased costs

It’s expensive to maintain legacy code. COBOL and other legacy code software professionals are expensive. Traditional mainframe computers are expensive to operate as well, carrying significant OS and third party licensing and leasing charges. So how do you stick with COBOL and save money at the same time? Change the environment in which the software applications operate. Many case-studies show it can be more than 60% less expensive to move legacy code away from a mainframe to a cloud-based service.

  1. Ability to change

Legacy code was often built in a fashion that can make it difficult to update, thus making revisions to software applications problematic. Agencies often struggle with a backlog of updates due to a lack of agility. Modernizing your environment will allow developers to make changes to programs more quickly and effectively. Move away from the monolithic environment of a mainframe toward a more dynamic system. 

  1. System is complex

The overall architecture of a legacy application was often designed over 20 years ago, and in many cases can be extremely complex. In most cases, that complexity grew from one good idea followed by the next as developers sought to add additional functionality and scale.  That can make them difficult to maintain and apply fixes to particular applications. At the same time, many of the people who maintain these systems are approaching retirement age, and the pool of talented legacy code programmers is declining. By shifting to a new Integrated Development Environment (IDE), you open the door for new, younger developers to step in and carry some of the load while retiring, refactoring, or replacing portions applications where new functionality is required.

  1. Business goals don’t align with computer applications

The world of business and government has changed significantly since COBOL and other legacy codes were developed. It can be difficult to align modern business and organizational requirements with legacy application code that has not been modernized. An organization needs to have a modern IT infrastructure that can easily mesh with its direction and goals, allowing for increased customer satisfaction and mission success.

  1. Slower adaptation to marketplace changes

Organizations must be agile and dynamic to compete today. Legacy code slows down this process and can keep an organization from adapting to changes in the marketplace quickly. This can lead to less customer satisfaction and loyalty, because organizations are not able to meet people’s ever-changing needs.  For Federal Agencies, the change in scope or focus of the organization’s mission creates a ripple effect on the wide variety of IT systems and the associated application portfolio.  As was seen with the rise of the Affordable Care Act, the strain on legacy applications and the associated IT stack limited the Administration’s ability to rapidly implement policy and ACA provisions.  Assessing the portfolio’s ability to meet the functional requirements of the Agency’s mission in the most cost effective, flexible, and stable manner will help leadership align budgets, skill sets, and performance metrics to meet the needs of the Citizens well into the future.

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