When I attended Cal State University Northridge over twenty years ago, I was already well into my career as a technology consultant. Instead of pursuing a degree in Information Systems or Computer Engineering I chose to complete my degree in English Composition, not because I didn’t love technology, but because the courses offered in most university technology programs were already outdated, even antiquated by the standards of the time. I remember clearly the course that cemented my decision: “COBOL Programming” – offered in 1990 as a requirement for several technology degrees. At the time, COBOL would have been 30 years old, and even a young, wet-behind-the-ears consultant knew that this platform couldn’t possibly be in use much longer. Sadly, this has not been the case, and now America’s biggest banks are in a race against the clock to replace COBOL-backed infrastructure with more sustainable technology.
What this means for you
Despite the continuing, strident need for better security on all network-based services (banking systems fall definitively into this category), many of this country’s largest financial institutions rely on technology that was developed in 1959 and has been held together by a dwindling cadre of COBOL engineers and consultants, some of whom are long since retired, and whose ranks are actually being thinned out by the final arbiter of obsolescence: death. While I’m fairly certain C2 clients aren’t reliant on ancient technology like COBOL, there are plenty of businesses both big and small who are leaning heavily on older and even officially obsolete platforms for core business processes, if only because they haven’t budgeted for that platform’s replacement. The important lesson to learn here is that rather than having your hand forced by things like complete lack of support, planning for replacement of systems should be a critical part of your business planning every year. The financial hit may be significant, but it will be controlled and planned versus pouring emergency money into a dying system to keep the lights on while madly scrambling to find a replacement.