Gartner, take a closer look

If you're the kind of person who likes to look at the aftermath of train wrecks and traffic accidents, you might want to read the Gartner Group report on the Cost of Migrating COBOL Developers to Java.

          Management Speak: We've had to make a very difficult business decision.

          Translation: You're leaving. We're getting a big bonus.

          -- The decision to use this contribution, from a source preferring to remain anonymous, was not difficult at all.

          Some people prefer Dear Abby, others Ann Landers. I'm an Ann kind of guy. Too often, Abby's advice lacks specifics and substance, whereas Ann's advice is always practical and specific. One of Ann's better pieces of advice goes to the other woman: "If he cheated on his wife with you, he'll cheat on you, too."

          Unfamiliarity with Ann's analysis is just one of the many flaws in a new Gartner Group report -- brought to my attention by IS Survivalist Joe Kruger -- and titled, The Cost of Migrating COBOL Developers to Java, by J. Feiman and R. Flatau-Reynoso.

          If you're the kind of person who likes to look at the aftermath of train wrecks and traffic accidents, you might want to read the report yourself. You'll find it here.

          The report begins, "Gartner has warned IS organisations that migrating their mainframe COBOL developers to internet and Java development would be a painful experience. Here, we measure in dollars just how painful this process would be."

          What's painful is reading the report. It totes up every imaginable cost associated with retraining COBOL programmers in Java, compares it with one of the costs of new Java programmers (their compensation), and concludes that Java recruits cost about $US20,000 less.

          It's hard to take seriously an analysis that ignores recruiting costs and hiring bonuses. These obvious omissions are less astounding, though, than the report's assumption that Java developers will be available and productive the day the company starts recruiting.

          Last I heard, the average lag time for hiring a skilled Java developer was about three months, but there's no estimate of the business impact of a three-month recruiting-generated project delay.

          Nor is there any recognition of the ramp-up time a new developer needs to get accustomed to a new company. If the tools used by the new employer are different from those the developer already knows, that will cause delays. Usually, new developers also find it handy to understand the legacy environment they're going to deal with. That learning isn't instantaneous either.

          New developers are never productive their first day, and they don't contribute much even in the first month. Significantly, most of the process they go through to become productive requires the involvement of employees whose productivity suffers while they spend time getting the newbies up to speed.

          Then there's the Ann Landers effect: A company that replaces longtime employees rather than retraining them will do the same thing again for the next bunch. I'm guessing most Java recruits will be familiar with Ann's advice, which means the chance they'll be loyal to their new employer is exactly bupkis. The next good offer they get, they're gone. The report ignores this factor, but ironically it does comment on the risk of seeing retrained COBOL programmers either demand a raise or leave. Maybe the report assumes the Java recruits will be here on H-1B visas, which means they can't change employers.

          When Ann Landers gives bad advice, she accepts 50 lashes with a wet noodle. Perhaps we should all mail some noodles to Gartner and see what that does to them.

          Lewis is a Minneapolis-based consultant with Perot Systems.

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