I recently posted a blog about a sticky situation going on in the California government that, in part, deals with the difficulty in updating its payroll system because it runs on Cobol. I commented on how similar this situation sounds to what many financial institutions are experiencing. And I received some very interesting e-mails and comments. If what readers are telling me is correct, Cobol is alive and kicking.It's not just a stale, antiquated computer language, an albatross around bankers' necks. Instead, Cobol seems to be quietly evolving and making a niche for itself in today's computing world.
For instance, one reader directed me to two articles from fellow UBM sister publication Dr. Dobbs Journal: This COBOL's For You and More COBOL: A Billion Here, A Billion There. Apparently new applications are being written using Cobol. According to the article, Veryant rolled out the isCOBOL Application Suite 2008. And there is still a loyal following amongst programmers as well, if the comments I received on my previous blog are any indication (and judging from the feedback Erickson seems to have gotten). In fact, my research on Cobol showed there are d active groups and initiatives dedicated to using Cobol in this day and age.
Plus, as Erickson also points out, there are still billions of lines of Cobol code in the world. It all won't be going away any time soon, so what happens when the diehard Cobol programmers retire? I recall hearing stories about the universities in India offering training in Cobol to their students. If these graduates play their cards right, they probably could cut a nice niche for themselves in the business world-especially in the U.S.
Maybe this is all old news to those bank techies who are down in the trenches when it comes to the IT systems at their respective financial institutions. However, this new information puts a lot of things into perspective for me. I guess some computer languages are sometimes like fashion trends-they come back in style eventually. Still, there's no doubt that banks operating with older core systems lack the flexibility required to compete in an increasingly data intensive, real-time environment. Whether the Cobol in place at banks today can evolve is the question. Otherwise, when banks are eventually ready to convert their cores, they will likely be inclined to gradually phase it out in favor of newer, "shinier" systems and languages.