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How Will County, Ill., Converted a Key COBOL-Based System to Run on Power


Mike Shay Director of Information, Communication and Technology for Will County, Ill.- Photo by Nicole Radja

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Customer: Will County, Ill.
Headquarters: Joliet, Ill.
Business: Local county services
Challenge: Migrate a COBOL-based application system from an aging x86 mainframe emulation environment
Solution: Using PIR Group’s COBOL KeePIR to transition from an x86 platform to an IBM Power Systems server, as well as adding several new services
Hardware: An IBM Power Systems 720
Software: PIR Group’s COBOL KeePIR, BCD’s Presto, ACOM Solutions’ EZeDocs/400, Ariadne Software’s CoolSpools and Sirius Computing’s Power Cloud managed services offerings

Many people take pains to make sure family treasures remain in the family. After all, grandma’s wedding ring probably has a great deal of sentimental value attached to it, and who better to give it to than her favorite granddaughter?

The same holds true with a legacy application. It represents the knowledge of scores of programmers who carefully crafted it specifically for their businesses. It’s hard to put any value—sentimental or otherwise—on that. That’s why companies using those applications are often averse to ditching them in favor of other solutions, whether packaged or newly handcrafted. But the situation can become a bit more complicated when users move from one platform to another.

That was the situation Illinois’ Will County was facing when it decided to move from an x86 mainframe-emulated computing environment to one based on IBM Power Systems* technology running IBM i. After much thought and consultation, the county decided it simply couldn’t part with a key COBOL application—so it didn’t.

Instead, the county decided to team with several business partners—including PIR Group and Sirius Computing—to not only port the code with minor modifications to a new Power Systems server, but also add a few new tricks along the way. Now it has a faster platform on which to run its legacy application, a powerful new disaster recovery (DR) solution, a much-needed bar coding tool and a better way to share reports.

“We went to a more modern, supported, powerful platform with more opportunities, and we did so with no disruption of our business process, which is the ultimate goal. What more can you say?” asks Mike Shay, director of Will County’s Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) Department.

Keeping the System Intact

Founded in 1836, Will County is part of the Chicago metropolitan area. As of the 2010 census, it had a population of 677,560, up from 502,266 in 2000. This remarkable 34.9 percent uptick has made it one of the fastest-growing counties in the U.S.

It has a wide-reaching roster of departments to assist its residents, including everything from animal control to a Stormwater Management Planning Committee. Underpinning it all is a robust IT infrastructure including IBM System z* and Power Systems servers. The county’s Management Information Services (MIS) Division, which falls under the purview of ICT, is responsible for the development and administration of application systems as well as the design and implementation of specific local area networks.

One of its key responsibilities is overseeing both the development and maintenance of the county’s COBOL/CICS* real estate system. According to the county’s website, the system consists of more than 700 programs written by county employees that take the county treasurer, county clerk, township assessors, supervisor of assessments and the board of review through the annual real estate cycle. The system prints more than 250,000 real estate tax bills, processes tax payments and distributes more than $1.6 billion in taxes to the taxing districts. It handles delinquent tax payments, including the annual tax sale. The system also provides real estate data to mortgage and title companies.

Jim Utsler, IBM Systems Magazine senior writer, has been covering the technology field for more than a decade. Jim can be reached at jjutsler@provide.net.


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