Brain drain: Where Cobol systems go from here

When the last Cobol programmers walk out the door, 50 years of business processes encapsulated in the software they created may follow.

1 2 3 4 5 6 Page 3
Page 3 of 6

Rightsizing Cobol

For BNY Mellon, those Cobol batch and transaction processing programs on the mainframe represent an enormous investment. And while Gartner says it's technically possible to move mainframe workloads of up to 3,000 MIPS, the workload at the bank, which relies heavily on Cobol, consumes 52,000 MIPS of processing horsepower, spans nine mainframes and is growing at a rate of 10% each year.

"The business wants us to make investments in programming that buy them new revenue. Rewriting an application doesn't buy them any value-add," Brown says.

Instead, the strategy is to "rightsize" some noncore applications off the mainframe where there's a business benefit, try to keep mainframe MIPS growth under 5%, and stay the course with the bank's core Cobol applications by passing on the business knowledge to younger programmers the bank will need to recruit and train. (See "Closing the Cobol Talent Gap.")

Other functions, such as general ledger and reporting, are moving onto distributed computing platforms, where they are either replaced by packaged software or re-engineered into Java or .Net applications.

But Brown still needs Cobol programmers to replace those expected to retire, and the learning curve can last a year or more. That means adding staff and having a period of overlap as Cobol's secrets get passed on to the next generation. "I'm trying to get those people on board and do the knowledge transfer sooner rather than later," Brown says.

But that kind of proactive approach, and the extra costs it incurs, can be a hard sell. "We haven't gotten to the point of feeling the pain yet. When we do, it will happen," he says.

Brown wouldn't specify the number of people he's hoping to hire, but he says that the "real heavy need" will happen in the next five to 10 years, when the original mainframe programmers are expected to retire en force. BNY Mellon currently has "a few hundred" Cobol programmers on staff, Brown says.

Brown's concerns are well placed, says David Garza, president and CEO of Trinity Millennium Group, a software engineering firm that has handled code transformations for large businesses and government organizations. "Almost every job we get has Cobol in it," he says, and most of the calls come from organizations that have already lost their collective knowledge of the business logic. At that point, he says, a migration is "a big risk."

1 2 3 4 5 6 Page 3
Page 3 of 6
  
Shop Tech Products at Amazon