UCSD shifts from Cobol to real-time data streaming

At the University of California San Diego, CIO Vince Kellen is taking a modular, incremental approach to replacing Cobol applications with modern ERP systems in a quest to give analysts real-time access to data.

abstract code for Cobol and ASP
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The University of California San Diego has a Cobol problem.

Its three big applications for tracking finance, payroll and students have been running on mainframes since the 1990s. Their Cobol cores are getting old, and the accretion of bolt-on features is fragmenting data and processes and making them brittle and hard to maintain.

Cobol developers aren’t getting any younger, either: Five years ago, their average age was 55. UCSD has nine Cobol developers left, with retirement being the biggest cause of attrition.

So UCSD CIO Vince Kellen is moving those applications, and a dozen smaller ones, to the cloud, and at the same time building a new data warehouse on SAP S/4HANA to allow blended analysis of the information they generate.

He won’t be ripping the Cobol apps out and replacing them all in one go, though. Instead, he and his team are taking a more modular, incremental approach. Doing so will help UCSD take advantage of recent improvements in integration technologies, which ERP vendors themselves use behind the scenes when they make an acquisition, Kellen says. UCSD’s integration stack includes WSO2 API manager, Apache Kafka and tools from Informatica.

Moreover, universities like UCSD have so many specialized systems for tasks such as course registration, degree auditing, or research grant tracking that a modular approach puts more point solutions into play. “While the dominant providers, SAP, Workday, Oracle can potentially do all of those things, they don’t do all of those things equally well, so many institutions adopt others,” he says. “Modern integration technology is such that we can integrate it well, so we don’t have to force ourselves to do everything at once and get everything from one provider.”

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