COBOL Modernization – 4 Predictions for 2022

CloudFrame’s 2022 COBOL modernization predictions center on modernization advancement, momentum, and success.

Digital transformation initiatives, the increased demands of enhanced user experiences and greater information access, and the ever-increasing risks associated with dwindling COBOL resources put more pressure on mainframe-dependent organizations. These organizations and their IT and business unit leaders face escalating challenges in 2022.

Those outside of the “legacy COBOL family” may not realize that legacy mainframe systems are still used by 71 percent of Fortune 500 companies and 92 percent of the 25 largest retailers in the U.S. In addition, they’re used by 96 percent of the 100 largest banks and 90 percent of the 10 largest insurance companies.

Those professionals in the industry live this reality every day and must work to keep risk, cost, and potential disruption balanced with the need to innovate, do more with less, and respond at the accelerated pace of change.

This article puts a few quarters into the Zoltar prediction machine (see Big, Tom Hanks, 1998) and lists the resulting predictions we at CloudFrame see in 2022. (With a nod to the lost wizard machine, of course).

#1 Modernization Success Rates Will Increase

In their latest “The State of IT Modernization” report, IDG states that only 25% of organizations Completed Initial IT Modernization Goals. There were various reasons cited for their failures, including competing priorities, infrastructure, internal expertise, and budget.

As we move into 2022, many of the obstacles cited as a reason for not obtaining success in the past will be debunked, leading to increased success rates. A determining factor: digital transformation initiatives need to include existing mainframe COBOL applications. The alignment of transformation and modernization projects will elevate the prioritization of modernization projects.

Additionally, new tools and processes will bring effective and cost appropriate means to bring COBOL applications into digital transformation.

Prioritization and the application of new approaches will increase the success rate of modernization projects.

#2 AI, ML, and Automation will drive modernization capabilities.

A recent McKinsey survey focused on post-pandemic work revealed that 83 percent of executives surveyed in the United States and 70 percent of executives surveyed in India, reporting faster adoption of automation. Automation is no longer a wishful and undefined capability of IT. It’s mainstream and growing. That faster adoption of AI and ML will positively impact modernization.

Automation is enhanced with AI and ML, but it’s not good enough to do actions faster and better if they are the wrong actions. In the past AI, and the automation that came with it, were focused on accelerating the transformation of code – it was a syntax-based play aimed at improving productivity.  Refocused AI initiatives in 2022 will lead to understanding code intent (the desired paths and outcomes) and using automation to perform the tasks of developers to understand intent and harness capabilities for new and improved system development.

Automated modernization capabilities drive repeatability, predictability, and scalability. These attributes reduce modernization project risk, duration, and cost.

#3 Modernization will become mainstream

70% of CXOs say mainframe migration and modernization is a top priority in the next three years, according to a survey of more than 200 CXOs conducted by IDG Research

It’s no surprise that large service and cloud providers are turning their attention to modernization efforts. AWS’s announcement at re:Invent validates this prediction, as they describe their commitment to modernization.

In the past, the emphasis has been on the push of the mainframe platform outward to data warehouses, repositories, and synchronization systems. But now, the cloud service providers have shifted the focus to pulling mainframe applications toward them.   The promise of updated development tools and environments, DevOps integration, and alignment to ongoing and new digital transformation initiatives is enormous.

We believe modernization declarations, strategies, and projects will become mainstream and publicly proclaimed. 

#4 Specialization within modernization will bring new technologies, talent, and focus to modernization efforts.

The acceleration of transformation will depend on tools developed to expedite and ease the transformation of legacy COBOL to modern languages and processes. The cost, risk, and duration of manual transformation processes will be replaced with specialized products, processes, and talent.

The practical execution of modernization will evolve and specialize in 2022. This will be evident in the three primary areas of modernization: analysis, execution, and verification.

In 2022 portfolio analysis will move away from legacy experience and into AI. AI source code analyzers will model what modernization developers should do based on application trends, use, and futures. Using this analysis, prioritization will allow organizations to invest in the most impactful areas of their modernization efforts.

Transforming COBOL code to cloud-native environments will drive the need for experienced developers that can review and understand the process and intent of legacy applications and translate that understanding into modern development languages and support processes. Specialized talent that can bridge the gaps between prior-century COBOL application precision and predictability and today’s development environment will be the most valuable IT resources and organizations can employ.

Testing of modernization projects will align with modern DevOps processes. This will include unit testing, functional testing, and performance testing.


Those predictions represent a tiny amount of what CloudFrame sees occurring in the modernization market. We’re optimistic and bullish on the convergence of the classic triangle of success: people, process, and product and our ability to help organizations on their self-directed and incremental approach to COBOL modernization.

What predictions do you have about the modernization market?


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