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COBOL Survey Highlights Blog

by in Application Modernization

How much COBOL is really out there?  Do you know?  It is a challenging question that many have pondered, but very few have been able to confidently answer.  For decades, IT organizations have developed countless business applications written in the COBOL language, deployed to mainframe and distributed environments.  Now considered mission critical, these same systems are strategic, significant but also sizable.  However, how large is the collective codebase for these COBOL applications and what does the volume of code represent as an opportunity for both IT professionals and the larger COBOL community?   As a Micro Focus COBOL evangelist, I had the opportunity to interview Jimmy Mortimer, research expert at Vanson Bourne, following the latest results webinar, to address key questions coming from this latest research project. 

About the Survey

Following last year’s research project, Micro Focus recruited the assistance of world-renowned research experts, Vanson Bourne, to assist with a new COBOL market survey and data analysis initiative. The goal of this year’s project was to better understand just how large the opportunity may be for COBOL application modernization.  For decades, the media and various industry critics have claimed that COBOL usage is declining, applications are being retired and this once legendary language is now old and outdated.  Many unscientific estimates claim COBOL volumes to range between 200-240 Billion lines of code. At Micro Focus, we see this differently and believe this number to be much larger based on repeated feedback from our customers, partners and even fellow technology vendors.  With renewed IT pressures to digitize business operations, the timing was right, to investigate further and finally set the record straight.  (Hear the full story – watch the webinar

Key Highlights

Here are just a few of the many highlights emerging from our COBOL research.  For many there is no surprise that COBOL remains a key technology underpinning both business operations and this new wave of digital transformation.  Here are the top headlines from our research… 

  • Massive opportunity for COBOL application modernization. In fact, more than 800 billion lines of code in active daily use:   In terms of volume, that’s more than 6x the number of Google searches that occur every month! 
  • COBOL is here to stay.
    52% of respondents saying that they expect that the COBOL applications in their organization to be here for at least the next decade, if not longer. More than four in five state that COBOL will still be in use when they retire. 
  • COBOL code is increasing.
    Nearly half (48%) of our respondents expect the amount of COBOL in use in their organization to increase in the next 12 months.   
  • COBOL is strategic.
    92% of respondents say that their organization’s COBOL applications are strategic.  Future IT strategy (41%) and application portfolio alignment with new tech (35%) are key drivers for COBOL modernization. 
  • Modernization is the preferred path.
    72% choose modernization as an overall business strategy, and 64% intend to modernize COBOL applications, rather than rip and replace.  
  • Cloud is driving application modernization.
    43% say that COBOL applications do/will support cloud by the end of 2021. 41% also stated that new business projects require integration with existing COBOL systems. 


Community Questions

As you can see, these research numbers are quite favourable for the future of COBOL.  In fact, there are many more highlights and details to cover.  Here are a few of the top questions, which arose from the COBOL community at our recent results webinar. Let’s hear from Ed and Jimmy as they address top questions from the COBOL community in more detail….


Are we able to measure the change in COBOL code over the last 20-30 years?


Essentially, that is what was done within this research project – on the assumption that the ~220 BLOC (Billion Lines of Code) original figure from ~30 years ago is correct; the change therefore is around 3.5 to 4 times larger during this period.  However, perhaps to explore this point further.  Measuring that specific question now or in the future -- that is a slightly trickier proposition, even more so than the aims of the questionnaire that was run. The reason for this is that, while there may be some variation (as discussed during the webinar) of the data collected, we were nonetheless asking people how much code do they/their organisation have now (at the present time).  The calculation is essentially a snapshot in time.


When calculating the volume of COBOL code, were blank lines of code included?


It’s fair to assume that respondents will take a ‘best practice’ approach around what is meant by “live/deployed” code. I think it’s likely that our final figure does potentially include blank/dud lines to an extent, but I think it’s unlikely that many respondents would have factored in a large amount of such ‘code’ to their answer (assuming they are aware of it of course). Such ‘code’ could be a factor in the confidence/variation figures – so some respondents perhaps weren’t sure to what extent blank/dud lines have impacted their view, and so have factored that into their response accordingly.


What were the key factors your research considered as you prepared the calculation method?


Our methodology considered a wide array of factors. Firstly, we examined each respondent’s answer for their organisation (and adjusting/weighting based on level of doubt, and with reference to their answers at other questions to highlight inconsistencies).  We then examined, market size estimates (provided by Micro Focus) of the various COBOL platforms (outlining estimated market share of platforms/platform groups), respondents’ answers are grouped into each platform/group (both primary platform and second platform (where secondary platform figures are adjusted based on respondents’ estimates of duplicated code)).  Each platform/platform group’s volume of COBOL is calculated by averaging respondents’ answers across that platform/group, and then weighting this result based on the market size estimates. All platforms/platform groups figures are added together to provide a ‘single’ answer (which is a range based on the extremes of confidence/likely variation indicated by respondents)


What is the net outcome of this new COBOL research?


As mentioned within the key highlights section, this new COBOL research reveals a very interesting truth about this often-challenged core business language—it is here to stay.  Moving away from 800 Billion lines of code does not happen overnight and it has been proven many times through various third party research, that such attempts are quite costly and risky to the business.  COBOL application modernization is the preferred path forward, aligning IT and business towards a common goal—digital transformation.  As organizations explore Cloud as the driver for innovation, this latest research demonstrates how significant the opportunity really is for IT leaders.  COBOL application modernization is no longer an optional activity but rather a business imperative.  Although it may sound daunting, a modernization strategy can be flexible, adaptive and aligned to your business goals.  Application modernization success requires a sound and proven program designed to demonstrate value quickly. The Micro Focus Modernization Maturity Model is here to help you get started on that modernization journey leading to true business transformation.   

Learn More

Catch up on all the latest COBOL research and review the results webinar.

Learn how this latest research can help you jump-start your digital transformation journey through COBOL application modernization. 


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