Well the festive season is over, and with many of us making and breaking resolutions for the New Year, I thought I would make January “Modernization Prediction Month” at Neomotus. I have reached out to my friends and colleagues in the modernization and migration world and asked them to let me have their predictions for market trends and modernization strategies for the coming 12 months. If any predictions come in I will post them here.
2009 is code conversion time To get the ball rolling here is one of my modernization strategy predictions for the next 12 months. I think 2009 is going to be the year that COBOL and RPG application owners get serious about converting their application code base to either Java or C#.
What, this can’t be, Paul Holland telling people to convert COBOL to Java! Anyone who has worked with me will know that I have spent the last 10 years advocating strongly against such a strategy, but times they are a changing.
For the last couple of years I have been involved with several DEC VMS migration projects. In many cases the applications were written in PASCAL or FORTRAN. Naturally, no one wanted to preserve the PASCAL or FORTRAN source code during the modernization project. In fact the goals were not only to migrate the application functionality, but to convert the code base to a more modern language. No argument from me. The lack of skilled PASCAL and FORTRAN resources meant that the systems were becoming impossible to maintain, the application cost of ownership was increasing as scarce resources became more expensive and difficult to recruit, and the lack of standards compliance and development flexibility became a risk to the business. I believe that we are now seeing the same factors starting to apply to RPG and COBOL applications.
In my mind there is no doubt that these issues would have even higher profile if the offshore outsourcing industry hadn’t started in the Y2K boom. Indian outsourcing firms built up large numbers of young COBOL and RPG programmers at that time, and it is largely this resource pool that has postponed a more rapid reduction in these legacy programming skills.
I am not saying that the lack of COBOL skills has reached a crisis level, although I certainly do think that there is an accute lack of RPG skills. What I am saying is that CIOs must anticipate that RPG and COBOL programming resources are going to be increasingly difficult to find and good ones are going to be expensive. How long is it going to be before COBOL and RPG have the same issues as PASCAL and FORTRAN? In 2007 Micro Focus, the open systems COBOL giant, did a survey of its customers and found that 75% of CIOs expected to need more COBOL resource over the next 5 years and 73% were already having a hard time finding trained COBOL professionals. As for RPG the availability of skilled resources is even more of an issue and the conversion exodus may have already started. This is even being recognized by IBM with some of its recent announcements.
But conversion doesn’t work
Reading from the old Paul Holland hymn book – "if you try to convert COBOL to Java you get JOBOL". It’s true I have yet to see a COBOL conversion tool that produces object oriented, non-verbose, well structured Java or C# code. However, if you accept the premise that you need to get away from where you are, automated conversion into a code base that can be maintained by Java and C# programmers, even if they complain about its structure, is a far less expensive and less risky route than rewriting. Once you have made the change then you can chip away at structure during the on-going maintenance of the application. However, for automated conversion to be viable it must ensure that the applications functionality is at least preserved and where possible improved.
Furthermore, I think the market is currently getting the conversion tools it deserves. I have no doubt that with more market demand, conversion tool vendors will produce better products. Ceratinly there are more players in the market. Look at the work my good friend Thomas Sykora is doing with his ML-iMPACT RPG conversion product, or Steve Heffner’s XTRAN converter. Veryant have already developed a COBOL to Java converter, they just choose to market it as a COBOL compiler. How long before it's positioned as a viable COBOL conversion solution? Vendors such as Software Mining and Jazillian have been working on converters for years, and TSRI has had a history of successful code convresion projects. Who knows, even Micro Focus might be working on the ultimate COBOL to Java converter. They certainly have all the pieces they the need to produce such a product. After all wouldn’t that be a bit like Exxon working on developing alternative energy sources?