All over the world individuals have been forced to “self-isolate” during what we now call the lockdown. During this time many of us depended on tools such as Zoom, Google Meet and Microsoft Teams in order to communicate with work colleagues, friends and even family. It was impressive to see how quickly individuals took to these new public cloud technologies, but many organisations got left behind as their systems remained inaccessible through the Internet, despite the wide-spread adoption of cloud-based solutions readily available. Whether we like it or not, the world still relies upon software written over 60 years ago. Forgotten languages such as COBOL, FORTRAN, and PL/1 still do the heavy lifting of many back-office batch processing. 43% of the US banking systems and an astonishing 95% of ATM swipes rely on COBOL code. Who is maintaining the 220 billion lines of code still in use today, and what are they doing?

Much of our government organisations and the economy are underpinned by these old “outdated” systems, and there is a ticking time bomb larger than Y2K just around the corner, think FSociety from Mr Robot.  Many states in the US have computer systems for processing unemployment claims, which are written in COBOL, with CoVID-19 these systems are now becoming overloaded with the increase in the number of claims. This is causing long processing delays. As a result, the state of Connecticut, Maine, Rhode Island, Mississippi and Oklahoma are creating a joint effort, to recruit retired COBOL programmers who can update the state software.

COBOL is considered to be a legacy language, which means organizations have trouble finding staff that knows how to write the code. And when they can, the specialist engineers charge a premium.

It also means that when a system breaks, there might not be somebody available to fix it. And that’s a position some banks and government organizations now find themselves in i.e. critical system and a lack of qualified engineers to support them.

According to Bill Hinshaw, who runs COBOL Cowboys, the 60-year old programming language still has some life in it, especially in industries where it’s inexorably linked to critical functions. In his experience, governments are working with older versions of software and hardware, compared to banks and other industries.

“We’re dealing with more and more people who want to modernize COBOL” Hinshaw says. “COBOL is not going away.”

CoVID-19 has changed the way we work and will work in the future. At Bespin Labs we are already working with organisations who are aiming to be 100% remote before the end of the year. Legacy applications that are built on legacy programming languages will need to continue to evolve and adapt to this new normal. But time is of the essence, we are relying on code that was written and maintained by people that may not be available to change things in the future.

Talk to us. We have decades of experience when it comes to modernizing and migrating legacy systems to the cloud. We completely understand the problems you will be facing just keeping the lights on, whilst striving to become more agile. Bespin Labs and our partners are uniquely positioned to act as, conceptually, your systems lockdown, thereby buying you time to do what you need to do to adapt to the changing demands placed on you.