Trump, Kushner, COBOL

March 29th, 2017

Not 3 words you’d immediately assemble together, but that’s exactly what Senior ComputerWorld Editor, Patrick Thibodeau, did yesterday.

His article was prompted by a White House announcement of an “Office of American Innovation” to oversee the modernization of federal IT.

The article then goes on to give Compuware a platform to launch a somewhat bizarre defense of COBOL, as if somehow, wrapping COBOL applications up in DevOps methodologies makes them agile, and consequently, the mainframe can be seen as (according to Chris O’Malley, Compuware’s President/CEO) “… a working environment that looks exactly like Amazon (Web Services)”.

No. It’s not. There’s no amount of makeup that you can apply to my face to make me look like Brad Pitt. Fundamentally, all the required structures for that transformation just do not exist.

There’s much to applaud with Compuware’s mission to modernize and retool the application development lifecycle on the mainframe and impart valuable new skill sets to a workforce that has been largely isolated from considering different approaches to the art of application development. However, beyond that DevOps veneer, you are still working with COBOL. If that’s where you want to be, go for it.

As Shawn McCarthy, an analyst at IDC said later in the article: “… the challenge with older COBOL systems is that many were not designed to be extensible and everything that needs to be done has to rely on custom code”.

And that’s essentially why no matter how much makeup you apply, COBOL systems on the mainframe will never be truly agile. Instead, for as long as they persist, they will continue to be an increasingly burdensome anchor that will slowly but surely impinge on an enterprise’s ability to compete.