October 22, 2019No Comments

Phase Change launches its product support website – CodeCatalyst.ai

Phase Change announces the launch of its product-focused website – CodeCatalyst.ai. Initially, CodeCatalyst.ai will support COBOL Colleague, the company's initial product and the first cognitive tool for software development, by targeting organizations that rely on COBOL-based applications for critical business operations.

The CodeCatalyst website details the problems faced by organizations with COBOL-based applications, such as a vanishing workforce and massively complex code bases, and shows how COBOL Colleague assists developers and stakeholders in solving them.

COBOL Colleague reads-in the source code, extracts the embedded concepts, discovers the dependencies, reveals the buried knowledge, and becomes an expert that never tires and never leaves.

Natural-language-interaction enables developers and stakeholders with limited COBOL experience to collaborate with the cognitive agent and efficiently work with their COBOL-based applications.

Find bugs and dead code in seconds, not minutes or hours. Make changes with full knowledge of the downstream impact. Confidently add new features, products, and services. Empower anyone with a basic understanding of COBOL to interact and engage with your COBOL applications.

Everything you dreamed of in COBOL environments is now a reality. Learn more at CodeCatalyst.ai.

Todd Erickson is a tech writer with Phase Change Software. You can reach him at terickson@phasechange.ai.

July 10, 2019No Comments

Why is COBOL cool again?

Discover why the recent spotlight on COBOL systems and the shortage of qualified COBOL programmers aren’t due to a lack of qualified engineers, it's due to a lack of knowledge.

Reuters and The New Stack recently published articles about COBOL, an often-overlooked programming language that was developed before John F. Kennedy became the 35th President of the United States.

At Phase Change, we pay attention to legacy systems and their challenges. So, why was a mainframe language developed in 1959 suddenly the topic of multiple news articles?

The U.S. government developed the common business-oriented language (COBOL) in conjunction with Rear Admiral Grace Hopper and a coalition of industry and higher-education envoys. It's simplicity and portability have stood the test of time, and are the main reasons why 60-year-old COBOL applications continue to play a critical role in finance, banking, and government operations. That plus the inertia that characterizes large, critical systems.

Organizations like the Department of Veteran Affairs and large financial companies, such as Bank of New York Mellon and Barclays PLC, are examples of the types of institutions that rely on COBOL applications for nearly $3 trillion worth of daily transactions. But they’ve used COBOL for decades, so, that doesn't explain the recent attention.

It's because the engineers that maintain COBOL-based systems are leaving the workforce, there aren't qualified developers available to replace them, and these institutions are freaking out. The COBOL brain drain is threatening the organizations that economies are built upon.

Brain drain refers to how departing software engineers leave with all of their system and domain knowledge supposedly locked away in their brains. That knowledge is thought to be lost from the organization forever.

The average age of a COBOL programmer is somewhere between 45 and 60 years old and they are retiring. The problem is that few programmers are interested in replacing them, and the availability of COBOL training resources has dropped precipitously because it's just not a cool language anymore.

We won't repeat all of the statistics that show how much COBOL code is still in use and how important those systems are. Read the Reuters and The New Stack articles, which both mirror a series of comprehensive feature articles published by ComputerWorld in 2012. The metrics and themes haven’t changed much.

You can also follow the "official" COBOL Twitter account, @morecobol (spoiler: it's clever).

Basically, these companies have three options to deal with COBOL brain drain, and all involve high risks. First, they can simply replace their COBOL systems with systems built on more modern programming languages. That project took the Commonwealth Bank of Australia 5 years and $749.9 million, which was 30% over budget. The risk associated with implementing such a massive new system has kept most financial institutions from doing it.

Second, they can engage consultants like the Cobol Cowboys, or hire and train new programmers to support their COBOL systems. This option also involves a great amount of risk because companies have to find engineers that have the skills and interest to support COBOL applications, and then hope they can unravel the layers of modifications and system integrations that accrue with five decades of maintenance, usually with little documentation.

Third, they can completely stop modifying core systems that nobody understands, but are too critical to risk changing or replacing. The USDA faced that choice.

It's not a people problem

But from our perspective, the issue is not a human-resources problem. The companies that rely on COBOL-based systems don't lack the right people, they lack the right knowledge.

If the new engineers assigned to work on COBOL-based applications could access the departing developers' system and domain knowledge, or better yet, all of the programming and domain knowledge imbued into the system from prior engineers, imagine how much easier it would be for them to comprehend these complex systems. It would be like having a personal mentor always available — even while the previous engineers are off enjoying retirement.

That's why this is a knowledge problem and not a people problem.

And it's a huge opportunity. Unlocking the encoded knowledge that's trapped in COBOL systems will give large institutions the knowledge they need to make informed decisions about their legacy systems.

Learn more at CodeCatalyst.ai.

Originally published on May 25, 2017, by Todd Erickson and Elizabeth Richards.

Todd Erickson is a tech writer with Phase Change. You can reach him at terickson@phasechange.ai.

Elizabeth Richards is Phase Change's director of business operations. You can reach her at erichards@phasechange.ai.

December 11, 2018No Comments

Prevent software application knowledge from walking out the door

Brain drain is a serious problem facing organizations that use software applications to run their businesses. Learn how you can seal the drain and retain all of the knowledge trapped in your applications.

At the end of every workday, your software development teams walk out the door with all of their knowledge leaving with them. Some of them don’t come back, and that loss of information and expertise, or brain drain, is a growing business problem, especially with IT industry turnover rates hovering between 20-30% annually.

Consider how much knowledge your organization loses when key members of your development team retire or join other companies. Not only do you lose development expertise, but the knowledge your engineers have regarding how your software applications work, such as:

  • How the system is architected
  • The subject-matter expertise used to implement functionality
  • The business considerations that drove product and feature designs
  • How third-party and external systems are integrated

The plight of developing and supporting older and large-scale applications is exacerbated when companies have to scramble to replace retiring software engineers with unqualified replacements. Multiple reports suggest that 10,000 Baby Boomers walk out the corporate door in the U.S. for good every day.

Many of these retirees are the software engineers that developed and maintain the many systems that still run on Cobol and other mainframe programming languages. The impact of losing thousands of mainframe engineers and their vast programming and business knowledge will be widespread. The 240 billion lines of Cobol code running today power approximately 85 percent of all daily business transactions worldwide.

Most organizations don't have the processes in place to capture their employees' business and system intelligence before they leave for good.

It’s especially difficult for engineers. Today’s software tools don't allow them to easily convey their expertise to others – or enable developers, business managers, and executives to easily discover and utilize any previously shared knowledge.

What can you do?

You might be surprised to discover that your engineers’ domain and system knowledge already resides in one other place outside their minds – your software. While creating the code, development teams pour their organization, programming, and business intelligence into your applications.

Imagine what you could do if your organization's technical and business stakeholders had access to all of the knowledge and human intent embedded in your software applications. Imagine asking your software application how it works and having it answer you back.

How can you unlock all of that untapped knowledge?

Liberate encoded knowledge

Phase Change Software is creating AI-assistive technology that unlocks the encoded knowledge embedded in your software applications.

Our assistive AI understands your software and turns it into formal units of knowledge. In essence, software is transformed into data.

Our AI assistant will liberate your software's hidden knowledge and help it understand itself. Our natural language processing (NLP) techniques will enable your technical and business stakeholders to easily interact with applications.

You will soon be able to literally have a conversation with your software and have it teach you its encoded programming, business, and domain knowledge.

Learn more at CodeCatalyst.ai.

Originally published on April 10, 2017, by Todd Erickson.

Todd Erickson is a tech writer with Phase Change Software. You can reach him at terickson@phasechange.ai.

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