Cobol may not make headlines much these days, with technologies such as Java and .Net viewed as the glamorous, contemporary platforms and Cobol seen as legacy code. But Cobol remains pervasive throughout enterprises, notes Stephen Kelly, CEO of Micro Focus, which specializes in application modernization with an emphasis on Cobol. The company also is making a play in the application portfolio management space with its recent acquisition of Hal Knowledge Solutions. InfoWorld Editor-at-Large Paul Krill this week interviewed Kelly, who took the CEO reins in May, about the importance of Cobol and the role of Micro Focus.
InfoWorld: I know that Micro Focus focuses a lot on Cobol and application modernization and things of that nature, but when I read the online Micro Focus introduction that explained what the company is about, there’s no mention of Cobol there. Why is that being obscured?
Kelly: Yes, that’s a good question. I think in terms of what we tend to be doing a lot now for some of the big companies we work for, and we’re deployed across about 90 percent of the Fortune 100 companies in the world, a lot of that historically has been Cobol. But more recently, in the last year or so, particularly, there’s a lot of interest in our application modernization and towards modernization solutions. [We have been modernizing applications for use in] more contemporary architectures.
IW: How important is Cobol? I know it’s all over the place. It’s been around for years and we just don’t hear a lot about it. We hear about Java, we hear about .Net and Visual Basic, but we just don’t hear a lot about Cobol. What’s going on there? How pervasive is Cobol and how important is it still these days?
Kelly: There was a big wave probably after Y2K where a lot of CIOs thought they’d switch their Cobol systems off, and there was kind of a bit of a rush for a year or two towards things like Java. But what we’ve found, certainly in the last three years, is there’s a lot of pressure both from the CFO office and the CIO office to say -- we’ve got to get a lot more value out of the applications that were already built and we’ve got to get a lot more value out of the business processes and business rules that are embedded within these applications. The reality is, about 70 percent of the transaction systems around the world in corporate America and corporate Europe run on Cobol. So a huge amount of code base is based around the Cobol language. And there’s some compelling reasons why we could take those applications forward, put them into contemporary architectures, Web-enable them, embrace them in Web services and just make them look [to be] very modern applications and yet protect all the investments made in the past that have business rules, business process, and applications code … We’ve got a lot of customers in retail and financial services that have taken their core COBOL systems either off the mainframe and put them on contemporary platforms like Linux [or] .Net and browser-enabled those applications to make them much more intuitive, rather than [rely on traditional] green-screen technology.
IW: Why has Cobol been pushed to the background in favor of Java and .Net? Is it the object orientation? What do those languages offer that Cobol apparently is not offering?