Micro Focus: a solution to the skills issue

IBM Mainframe COBOL, enterprise-class, core application environments are often the lifeblood of an organisation. Whether commercial or government, revenue generating or providing vital services, these…

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April 6, 20205 minute read

IBM Mainframe COBOL, enterprise-class, core application environments are often the lifeblood of an organisation. Whether commercial or government, revenue generating or providing vital services, these trusted systems underpin many of the most critical services that IT provides. These systems are typically so stable, reliable and secure that ignoring them can be easy. Many of them have worked tirelessly for years keeping the global economy on its feet, with very little intervention (relatively) from their owners or custodians.

Victims of their own success?

While these systems are vital, if you don’t have the people, the process and modern tools to ensure that they can respond quickly to change they can also provide a conundrum.  The type of sudden and unforeseen change we are currently experiencing can be particularly challenging.

That’s why Micro Focus has always maintained that these enterprise scale systems require enterprise class expertise to continue to build, maintain and modernize them.

Smart Resource Planning

One of the operational realities facing many organizations is that the experts who have built and maintained these systems are nearing retirement age. Some analysts and journalists refer to this as the ‘mainframe skills crisis’. The very specific and unique nature of core enterprise platforms make training new professionals a long-term and comparatively expensive task, further impacted by the lack of interest in learning old-school green-screen mainframe ISPF tech by todays IT graduates and college leavers.

Commodity-platform based scale-out architectures are now increasingly main-stream and form the basis for most IT courses available. Everyone is learning Cloud, IDEs, and Hybrid computing. Everyone is learning about agile and DevOps, continuous integration and delivery. Today’s application development graduates are well versed in Java, C# and other more modern languages.

The task of cross training those already knowledgeable in Java or C# in older languages like COBOL or PL/I systems is a relatively straightforward and cost effective solution, compared to recruiting and training mainframe professionals skilled on traditional tooling. If mainframe technology is made available to this new breed of IT professionals in the same way other technology is—through modern IDEs then embracing agile development processes also becomes not only possible, but very straightforward. Here’s what some real users of our Modernization technology have told us:

“COBOL is one of the few languages written in the last 50 years that’s readable and understandable.”
“It’s not just a write-only language; you can come back years later and understand the code.”
“If you can work with Eclipse, Java, Visual Studio and C# you can master COBOL in a matter of hours.”
“Any developer worth their salt in any other language anywhere could learn enough COBOL in a week to maintain code.”

Today’s IT graduate and professional expects that level of capability in whatever system they are working on whether it’s for distributed or mainframe applications anyway.

Technology: Investing in success

A long-time proponent of Mainframe Modernization, Micro Focus continues to invest in contemporary mainframe delivery technology. In our latest release, we have included additional capabilities provided in the latest Enterprise Suite release to further support application delivery for today’s mainframe developer:

  • Modern integrated development environments built on the latest Microsoft Visual Studio or Eclipse based frameworks provide a robust, contemporary mainframe application development interface.
  • Contemporary development capabilities for mainframe COBOL and  PL/I applications such as instant feedback on syntax errors, content  assist, syntax colorization, outline view and a comprehensive  debug environment provide a faster change of mainframe  application source.
  • Application analysis, code visualization and coding standards checking removes the need to have access to application experts and offers application knowledge at the point of change. This technology also offers the perfect application “training environment” for new starters.
  • Unit test capabilities with a local execution engine that supports unit test framework and provides code coverage and performance statistics, without requiring access to precious mainframe LPARs.
  • REST APIs to better support integration of Enterprise tools into an existing toolchain, or to provide automated tasks as part of a continuous integration or delivery process
  • Additional capabilities to provide even greater scalability and flexibility in terms of workload deployment options, for situations where other infrastructure may be desirable.


Therefore it follows that by using modern tooling to control the IBM Mainframe COBOL environments, today’s enterprises and agencies have the ability to tap into a larger talent pool and develop the incumbent skills with which to build, deploy and manage the next generation of vital core applications.

Supporting Cast: People and Process

In anticipating the need for modern COBOL programmers, Micro Focus has collaborated with commerce and academia to establish our Academic Program, to encourage the training of COBOL-skilled graduates for the future. For more information, visit the web page.

And obviously with our experience in thousands of successful modernization projects, Micro Focus is no stranger to questions of resourcing, tooling and process change, and our proven framework for implementation is based on decades of success and lessons learned along the way.

Next steps

No skills challenge is insurmountable, but no two situations are the same. Why not start your Modernization journey now with a Value Profile Service. It’s a complimentary discovery meeting, designed to understand and agree strategy based on each customer’s unique situation and requirements.

Learn more about the Micro Focus Mainframe Solution here, and if you’d like to talk to me personally about any aspect of this blog, please feel free to find me on Twitter.

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