If you can program in Cobol, the state of California might like to talk to you.
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger recently signed an order recommending temporary pay cuts for some 200,000 state workers. But state controller John Chiang says such a move simply isn't possible now, owing to the state's antiquated payroll accounting software.
According to an article in the Sacramento Bee, Chiang testified before the state Senate Committee on Governmental Organization that the software updates needed to facilitate the 200,000 cuts would take at least 6 months. Furthermore, Chiang said, when the pay cuts are eventually reversed, rolling back the changes and delivering back pay to those workers would take another 9 to 10 months.
Obviously, there's more going on here than meets the eye. Now 38 days into its new fiscal year, California remains without a budget as legislators debate how best to reduce the state's $15 billion deficit. A Democrat, Chiang's true motive for refusing to comply with the Republican governor's order is not hard to deduce.
But politics aside, Chiang has a point. Maintaining aging software of the size and scope of California's payroll system can be harrowing. As Michael Cohen of the California Legislative Analyst's Office told the Bee, the payroll system is "an example of a number of computer systems in which the state made a large investment decades ago and has been keeping it going the last few years with duct tape."
Cobol programmers are increasingly hard to come by -- find me a college that teaches it -- and InfoWorld recently ranked "legacy systems archaeologist" as the seventh dirtiest job in IT. Maybe it's time for California to ditch the existing system altogether and start over afresh?
As it turns out, there is such a plan in place. Aptly named the 21st Century Project, the modernization effort is scheduled to kick off next year. Unfortunately, the estimated cost of the project has ballooned to $177 million -- not an easy pill to swallow for a state without a budget.
But hold on. Is this trip really necessary? If we read between the lines of a recent IDC study, sometimes "duct tape" can have advantages.
The study, which was commissioned by software quality management vendor Coverity, looked at the overall effects of software defects on business performance. Of the 139 companies surveyed, 41 percent said they had found up to 10 critical bugs in their code within 12 months of deploying it. For medium and large-sized companies, IDC estimated the cost of fixing such defects at between $5 million and $22 million per year.