Back to the Future?

The prospect of Brexit makes Chris Yapp wonder whether older language and operating system skills might suddenly become highly prized as organisations begin to investigate their software.

The focus of most tech futures work is on new innovations in technology and the new skills and roles required to deliver value to society and the economy. However, legacy systems sometimes come into the spotlight. I suspect this might be one such time.

A number of my former colleagues came out of retirement to deal with the Y2K problems because they had skills around old languages, packages and operating systems going back to the 70s and 80s. For a couple of years they were earning more than they had before they retired.

Two organisations I know, one in manufacturing and one in finance have recently done a preliminary audit on the impact of Brexit on their IT systems. Of course, we do not know what shape it will take, but some of the areas, such as export/import are reasonably obvious.

What is interesting is not necessarily the scale of the changes being made, but the areas of focus. What may be the case is that some code which has been stable since the 70s and 80s, that is to say while we have been inside the EU, are the areas that may need significant redevelopment.

What caught my attention is that the applications most likely to need to be changed in both organisations are in COBOL. 17 years on from Y2K, are there enough legacy skills from 70s and 80s to make the changes needed to the back end systems once the Brexit details are known?

These are only two preliminary audits. Has anyone else looked at their systems and found the same situation? I would be interested to see if this is part of a bigger picture. If Brexit IT turns into another Y2K, that could be an opportunity to tackle legacy issues, but it may also be a complicating factor if the skillsets are not available at the scale needed.

Without giving anything away, I’d suggest that making sure your PASCAL and ADA skills are on your profiles may be helpful for the older IT professionals.

Given two years to negotiate and three years to implement to the new environment, if there is an issue here, this could be important to the industry and above all, it’s customers. I would welcome any contributions on this issue.

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About the author
Chris is a technology and policy futurologist. Chris has been in the IT industry since 1980. His roles have spanned Honeywell, ICL, HP, Microsoft and Capgemini. He is a Fellow of the BCS and a Fellow of the RSA.

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