EFCO has been using a Bull mainframe system to support its business processes for the last 60 years. A key component of its IT infrastructure is a comprehensive ERP system, written in COBOL, responsible for inventory, manufacturing orders, engineering lists, shipping and receiving, and many other business functions. Its 300 users within the North American operations fully rely on this ERP system to service customers and fulfill their job responsibilities. For EFCO, its ERP system is a business-critical application which must be available at all times.
When Bull started to slowly reduce its technical services and maintenance support from North America, EFCO was soon re-directed to Bull’s operations center in France. This proved to be a business and logistical challenge in managing IT and systems support issues. Meanwhile, the costs of maintaining and supporting the Bull mainframe environment were steadily increasing.
EFCO had also started new application development efforts in Microsoft .NET and found maintaining those integration points between the Bull mainframe and the .NET environment very complex and resource intensive. A new approach was needed to improve IT service and support, reduce costs, and simplify technology between business systems.
There was a key driver for change, as Scott Walter, IT Project Manager at EFCO, explains: “When we developed our Bull mainframe ERP system, EFCO was very much focused on its North American operations. During the 1980s we wrote a limited-functionality version of the ERP system for distributed use in our international locations, with no integration between the two environments.
Since then we’ve made several system enhancements, but none of these capabilities were available to our international locations. We had a growing functionality gap between sites.
“In the meantime, we have expanded our international operations. We felt we were doing a disservice to our international colleagues because we couldn’t extend the same business functionality to them which was available in our North America based systems. Given all these business drivers we looked at moving our Bull mainframe ERP system to a distributed environment, running on Windows and .NET.”
EFCO examined several alternatives and even rewrote the order entry modules within its ERP system. Walter and the team experienced first-hand how challenging and time-consuming a complete application re-write would be. EFCO also realized that its existing integration with the mainframe was highly complex and hard to maintain, resulting in delays to the business and user acceptance issues. The existing ERP system had been customized so much over the years that it was impossible to replace with a commercial package (COTS).
After discussions with Micro Focus business partner Unicon, EFCO conducted a Proof-of-Concept with Micro Focus Visual COBOL for Visual Studio, supported by Micro Focus Professional Services. The POC proved that the existing ERP business rules on the Bull Mainframe could be moved to a distributed architecture, running on Windows and without impacting end users. With Unicon providing Bull Mainframe subject matter expertise and in charge of moving 500,000 lines of codes to Visual COBOL, EFCO implemented a testing and validation process in preparation for production. EFCO wanted to be confident that all existing batch execution and data processing scenarios were in good order and met quality and acceptance testing standards.