Old but gold – How COBOL stands the test of time

Things in our everyday lives that turn approximately 60 this year: electric kettles that switch themselves off, plug-in toasters, and COBOL.

What do these things have in common? We still use these electrical appliances and, yes, COBOL – the common business-oriented language.

While developed in the 1950s, COBOL still retains its relevance to this day. In fact, today’s incarnation of COBOL is far from what anyone should consider legacy and a shining example of technology that was built to last.

COBOL is 60 years strong

The term “contemporary” is not often used to describe inventions that are 60 years old, but COBOL makes for a good exception. Today, this application development language continues to support mission-critical infrastructure in a vast majority of banks and insurance providers. From powering ATM machines to helping users to book their travel arrangements, many consumers are unaware of the many roles this 60-year-old technology plays in their daily lives.    

In fact, 220 billion lines of COBOL are still in use today, with an additional five billion lines in new code added each year. COBOL’s rise to popularity stemmed from its ease of use and portability, but it is its remarkable design and adaptability that has allowed it to evolve over the years to add value to new innovations, even to this day. This is also the reason why a buoyant community consisting of public sector institutions, business organisations, and technology vendors continue to rally behind the language. 

Widely regarded as a core technology and a business-oriented language, COBOL has benefited from millions of research and development dollar, as well as huge amount of vendor support. After all, we are talking about a language with precise arithmetic support and capabilities to manage and process vast amounts of data, on top of high performance and robust error management. Simply put, to this day, COBOL remains a sophisticated technical solution for business systems.

Even in the age of rapid technological advancements, COBOL manages to retain its footing. Designed to be transportable across platforms, COBOL is one of the most portable computer languages and an ideal choice for supporting hybrid IT environments and multi-platform systems. COBOL is a dynamic tool that will help organisations get ahead in the digital economy.

With a technology that powerful, why change something that isn’t broken?

COBOL will power the future

With 60 years’ worth of innovation, investment, and legacy, COBOL is in a unique position to usher the next phase of digital transformation. Considering its business value, ubiquity, and rich history, it is certainly not an overstatement to say that few programming languages are more suited to rise to the challenge of modern demands than COBOL.  

Just like how the language has adapted and changed over the years, COBOL can help organisations transition to more cutting-edge technologies without going through a complete reset. To developers, this means being able to re-use and upgrade existing code bases to modernise mission-critical applications, processes, and data. To business leaders, this means creating meaningful digital changes at a fraction of the cost. COBOL truly is remarkable in its ability to bridge the old and new – providing users the flexibility to maximize the value and intellectual property they already have while implementing new capabilities.

One has to marvel at the fact that a 60-year-old technology can support very modern IT approaches – hybrid cloud, enterprise DevOps, containers, just to name a few. Yet it is precisely the reason why COBOL will remain an integral component of organisations’ IT for the next 60 years, especially if COBOL-based systems continue to dynamically adapt to support ongoing business technology demands and rigors.

Today, COBOL product portfolio offers holistic support across the application delivery cycle, with tools specifically designed for the key technical phases involved. Even with the hype surrounding brand-new technologies, COBOL’s highly adaptive nature will help this programming language pervade across business and enterprises in the years to come. This is truly a case of technology that is built for the future.

Of course, it can be difficult to understand how an old programming language like COBOL can be used in modern times – our grandparents’ advice didn’t make sense until it eventually did. But COBOL is more than just a technology with a long heritage, and there is still a lot to be gained from this exceptional invention. As we celebrate COBOL’s 60th anniversary this year, the language deserves a closer look at how it continues to power the constantly changing world around it. One can only imagine what COBOL can go on to achieve in the future. Here’s to the next 60 years of modernisation, innovation, and change!