Imagine a world without COBOL…

9 Jul

Are you like some of my colleagues who scoff at COBOL and think the world would be a better place without it?  What comes to mind when you hear the word COBOL?   Outdated, ancient, old-school technology?   A dying language?   Really?   How would your life be affected if COBOL were to disappear tomorrow?   Did you know that COBOL still powers over 70% of all business transactions today?  Even though it’s been around for decades, COBOL has endured, and for massive batch processing, particularly for transactions involving monetary values, it still can’t be beat.  There are over 250 billion lines of COBOL code in production today supporting core business applications.    In a single year, there are 200 times more COBOL transactions processed than Google and YouTube searches combined.  Try to imagine your life without COBOL.  No more traffic lights, train or bus scheduling, or air traffic control.  No more bank ATMs.  No more mobile phone calls, texting or tweeting.  Nearly all communications would be non-existent.  You couldn’t buy food from the supermarket.   Most cash registers would be inoperable, leaving you at the mercy of the clerk’s math skills.   Stores would be drastically under stocked, as inventory management systems would come to a halt, making it impossible to keep adequate inventory on hand.  Expecting a package?  Most package tracking apps are COBOL-powered, so forget about that.  Own stock?   You couldn’t trade on the New York Stock Exchange today without COBOL.  Need to see your doctor or get a prescription filled?   Good luck with that!   Both systems rely heavily on COBOL.  Filing an insurance claim?  Can’t do that today without COBOL, either.   Feeling more secure at the airport these days?  Without COBOL, security monitoring systems would fail, leaving us all more vulnerable.  What about food and agriculture?  Without COBOL, there would be no proper certification of food, produce, and beverages.  And the legal system?  It’s also heavily dependent upon COBOL.   Still wish for a world without COBOL?

Yup, I know what you’re thinking.   Of course we can’t just ditch COBOL overnight, but it needs to be replaced with newer technology!!!   Let’s factor the cost to your wallet to do just that.    COBOL transactions have been proven to cost less to develop, maintain, support, and execute, yielding a lower cost per transaction than any other language.  That may change in the years to come because of the dwindling pool of experienced COBOL developers on the job market, a phenomenon that will  drive up the cost of development and support.  This may  sadly force the eventual retirement of the language, but that’s a future concern of businesses.   Today, COBOL remains the preferred language of business transactions, and, as with everything else, the astronomical cost of replacing it would be passed on to you, the consumer.   Do you really want to pay more for every service or product you purchase simply for the satisfaction of knowing that their back-end systems have been rewritten in a newer technology?   There’s also the fact that a rewrite of any kind (irregardless of the languages involved) will inevitably introduce bugs into the code that do not exist in the legacy code, an issue that  could potentially cause the cost of conversion to skyrocket.    Once again, that cost will be passed to you and me.   I don’t know about you, but my wallet is hoping they stick with COBOL for a very long time.

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