Improving COBOL Application Can Recover Significant Computer Resources

AFMD-82-4: Published: Apr 1, 1982. Publicly Released: Apr 1, 1982.

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Thomas P. Giammo
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GAO examined: (1) the management implications and economics of reducing the machine resources consumed by Common Business Oriented Language (COBOL) applications in the federal government; and (2) the applicability of these findings to different brands of computers.

Federal use of computers is extensive, with COBOL being the most widely used computer language. Significant benefits have been achieved at some federal installations by modifying COBOL applications to reduce the machine resources consumed. Work can be done to reduce the machine costs of COBOL applications on any brand of computer using COBOL. Despite the potential for improvement, some installations have done little or nothing to examine the machine resource consumption of their COBOL applications. Officials indicated that many programmers are ignorant of techniques, receive little formal training, and have little concern for machine costs. Measurement and verification of benefits can be seen in terms of reduced machine resources and expressed in dollar equivalents. A systematic approach will help efforts to improve COBOL applications. Automated tools can be used to reduce the labor costs involved in reducing COBOL machine costs. Other considerations besides machine costs are important in software management and should not be sacrificed. Efforts to reduce machine resource consumption must offset labor and machine costs to be cost-effective. Agencies with governmentwide data processing responsibilities should publish guides for reducing machine resources consumed by COBOL, and efforts are needed to raise concern with application costs and to raise programmer efficiency. The potential benefits of reducing consumption by COBOL applications are large.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NBS has issued guidance on the use of COBOL for applications.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Commerce should direct the National Bureau of Standards (NSB) to publish guidance on the effective and efficient use of COBOL for applications; guidance should include examples taken from real-life applications. A possible starting point would be to use a table of contents similar to that of the already published "Using ANSI FORTRAN" and the GAO provisional checklist. The General Services Administration Office of Software Development and Federal Computer Performance Evaluation and Simulation Center could work with NBS in constructing such guidance.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Department Housing and Urban Development, the Defense Mapping Agency, and the Social Security Administration have installed continuous software improvement programs. Savings cannot be quantified.

    Recommendation: Heads of federal agencies should require periodic review of the machine resource consumption of COBOL applications at their installations and, where feasible, require action to reduce the consumption of expensive applications.

    Agency Affected: Heads of Federal Agencies


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