Ten years before man walked on the moon, a group of software engineers created the Common Business-Oriented Language—better know as Cobol—to standardize business computer programming... Indeed, despite its advanced age, Cobol is still the most prevalent programming language in the financial-services industry world-wide. Software programmed in Cobol powers millions of banking transactions every day and underpins critical computer mainframes.
And Cobol isn’t going away anytime soon. Banks and other companies have come to the uncomfortable realization that ripping out old mainframes is pricey and complicated. Transitioning to new systems is likely to take years, and besides, a lot of the older tech works just fine.
The problem is that Cobol isn’t popular with new programmers. So, with a generation of Cobol specialists retiring, there is a continuing hunt to find a new generation of programmers to service this technology... Accenture PLC is coaching hundreds of Cobol programmers every year in India and the Philippines to work at banks. In Malaysia, one consultancy that provides engineers versed in Cobol for its clients, iTAc MSC Outsourcing, has adopted the slogan “Keeping the Dinosaurs Alive.” A host of companies offer online courses in Cobol in places like South Africa, India and Bangladesh. Developing economies are key technology-outsourcing centers for banks.
Still, for banks that expect to be tied to their old technology to some extent for the foreseeable future, fluency in Cobol remains key. While a bunch of smaller banks have successfully ripped out their old core processing systems, no major bank has dared to do so, says John Schlesinger, chief enterprise architect at Temenos , a company that sells software to banks. The cost of a major overhaul and the risk of a botched upgrade leaving customers without access to their bank accounts are too great, he says.
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