The Diocese of Osnabrück used a COBOL application maintained by the Diocese of Essen for church registration, which forms the basis for managing the congregation database for pastoral and planning purposes. The churches also maintain the registration data for church tax purposes. Since 1978, the application had been running on the IBM mainframe at the Osnabrück municipal data center and then its successor, ITEBO.
Around 30 years after its acquisition, the mainframe was reassessed. With the hardware approaching the end of its lifespan and becoming less stable, additional investment would be required if they were to continue using the mainframe. Those responsible at ITEBO had a choice of three options.
Initially, they assessed the feasibility of upgrading the hardware and extending the life of the mainframe. As an upgrade would have required a large amount of modernization, which would involve substantial costs, they discarded this option fairly quickly. The project team then explored outsourcing solutions for hosting through other data centers. However, this alternative was not feasible either, as service provider ITEBO would have had to make too many adjustments to meet the conditions imposed by a hosting partner. This would have restricted the scope for design and in turn limited the flexibility of services to ITEBO’s own customers. “ITEBO aims to offer its customers maximum flexibility. This includes hosting applications ourselves,” emphasizes Burkhard Schweifel, a consultant in the Municipal Applications service division at ITEBO.
For the ITEBO specialists, moving the system to a Windows Server platform was therefore the only economical and practical solution remaining. As the church registration application was created in COBOL, Micro Focus – a well-known manufacturer of COBOL development and deployment tools – was the first port of call in the search for a solution.
After conducting a short feasibility study with Micro Focus and defining the practical steps required for implementation of the project, the team was soon able to get the ball rolling.
The actual move only took around three months and was broken down into several phases.
First, Enterprise Server™ was set up and the master files transferred. These files contained one million records of people baptized as Catholic and their family members, as well as a further two million historical records, generated as a result of changes in the master data such as house moves, name changes, or departures.
The data obtained from the registration offices is read via a batch process and made available to the individual church administrations of the diocese. As the application for church registration is also dialog-based, the next step involved is setting up the CICS system. This was responsible for direct access to registration data by the departments of the general vicariate and is used for transaction-based control of dialogs. The programs and dialog screens were then transferred. After moving the batch programs, the final steps were to create the individual jobs and make the necessary batch adjustments.
Adapting the COBOL code proved to be a reasonably simple process. Because the Micro Focus development environment is compatible with IBM COBOL, which had been used previously, the code only required minor updates. Consultants from Micro Focus made a number of adjustments in advance. The batch process could be left as it was; only smaller changes were necessary.
Micro Focus Enterprise Developer served as a graphical development tool during the project. Throughout the operation, the Micro Focus Enterprise Server runtime environment took over the ongoing operation application on the Windows Servers.
Schweifel concludes: “Thanks to the Micro Focus solution, the project was implemented cost-effectively. The move led to a runtime improvement of up to 300% when executing the program routines, as well as greater stability and more cost-effective operation.”