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Blog > December 2020 > The Importance of COBOL in a Modern World

The Importance of COBOL in a Modern World

Back in that dark age when we took notes with pen and paper and coded our programs on punch cards, I attended university and took my first programming classes. I was a typical arrogant youngster, striding in, thinking I was way ahead because I had been working as an operator at one of the local banks, under my stepdad’s supervision. I was used to running card readers, mounting tapes and disks, and dealing with the boredom while waiting hours for a compile to finish or a program to run (it was a long time ago). I strode into class, thinking I was a salty dog because I could hold up an 80-column punch card and read it…only to find that the university had standardized on the IBM System/3 and the (fortunately) short-lived IBM 96-column punch card aberration.

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Pride goeth before the fall…

Still, it was my first real structured introduction to coding, starting with Basic, Fortran (which I loved, as it was essentially automated algebra) and, inevitably, COBOL. While I never had the affection for COBOL I had for Fortran, it is certainly where much more of my career focused, as it was so very, very useful for the commercial uses of automation in that day. (My best friend, who is a seasoned CTO, and I still have a running argument about the virtues of the GOTO—I remain a fan.) Like the mainframe, COBOL seems to be a current topic of conversation more and more, given its continued value for the public and private sector, though pundits often cast the language in a negative light.

Recently, the focus on COBOL has been a direct result of Covid-19 and the economic stimulus that the U.S. federal and other national governments have appropriately and necessarily legislated. In the U.S. at least, the delivery channel for stimulus payments to individuals ran directly through the unemployment compensation systems of the U.S. states.

Many of these systems are based on COBOL and exactly represent the success of the language—systems managing, and reporting on, the management of financial exchanges that have operated effectively and stably for decades.

Fairly, it also highlights the risk these systems represent for both public and private institutions—they operate so well, fulfilling the needs they were designed for, that they have required little oversight or revision. The result is that IT leaders for those state unemployment compensation systems, just like their peers in commercial enterprises, gave into the ease with which they could reduce their mainframe development staff without materially impacting their daily operations.

In the current period, when an event like the pandemic demanded a rapid pivot—analyzing changes needed, designing the code for those changes, coding the changes, testing and quality-assuring the changes, all before rolling the changes into production—staffing resources for implementing that pivot were incommensurate with the challenge at hand.

This is an unfortunate shortsightedness on the part of these IT managers in a reality where:

  • 70% or more of enterprises worldwide still depend on COBOL applications
  • More than 220 billion lines of COBOL remain in production
  • More than 1.5 billion new lines of code are developed each year
  • Ninety 95% of ATM transaction depend on COBOL

Clearly, there is still a need for COBOL in the enterprise. The need will persist for decades, if not forever, because of the value it contributes.
That is why ASG Technologies commits to helping our Customers address the need to maintain and enhance their mainframe COBOL applications. Our ASG-Enterprise Systems Workbench (ESW)/Smart offerings are useful for addressing the need to both rapidly enhance traditional COBOL programs and help COBOL developers, whether seasoned or emerging, rapidly become familiar with applications they did not originate (and let’s all be honest: it is the rare coder who looks at any other engineer’s code and rates it as anything other than “spaghetti code”).

As we explain in a new white paper, ASG-ESW/Smart offerings provide automation for a range critical COBOL application development and management work:

  • In-depth, application-level impact analysis that yields comprehensive knowledge of the internal relationships of different application components, reducing research time
  • Code segment extraction based on business logic, user interface and database access, then available as reusable COBOL components, accelerating development
  • Creation of application program view – selectable program tree view, selectable program structure views, selectable list for quick program navigation
  • Measuring metrics data, function-point analyses, intra- and inter-application comparisons and summaries, and program quality
  • Document program control flow, call and copybook, program exception and software metrics reports
  • Verifying COBOL syntax
  • Providing formatted and unformatted views of data as stored, or in context of the underlying data structure, via COBOL, PL/1 or Assembler record layout, supporting sequential, PDS, VSAM, IAM, IMS and Db2 files
  • Dump management and analysis
  • Testing CICS transactions started from the Internet

Read the White Paper

If you are responsible for making changes to traditional COBOL applications and are looking to reduce the risk of those changes while reducing your time-to-market with them, please contact your ASG Technologies representative or reach out to me directly at @jcherrington on Twitter or

Posted: 12/1/2020 8:00:00 AM by Jeff Cherrington - VP, Product Management
Filed under :applications, COBOL, developers, mainframe