How Government Agencies Walk the Line with Legacy Software
Have you ever cleaned out your closet and found that shoebox full of cassettes from college? Companies and government agencies are no different. Many of their electronic files are stored as legacy file types which are no longer supported. And these aren’t just files that are of little significance.
In an article from October 2019, Ars Technica reported that the U.S. Air Force’s intercontinental ballistic missile command had finally stopped storing data on 8-inch floppy disks. You read that correctly: data from active nuclear missile sites was being captured and managed using 40+ year-old technology. The Air Force cites the use of these legacy systems as a cybersecurity advantage, and even though data is now stored on a “highly secure solid state digital storage solution,” the Strategic Air Command still relies on IBM Series/1 computers installed at Minuteman II sites in the 1960s and 1970s.
One of the biggest challenges with legacy systems is that they work fine as long as things remain “business as usual.” But when outside events change the status quo, unforeseen weaknesses and challenges can arise quickly.
With the COVID-19 outbreak in early 2020, the number of applications for benefits from the CARES Act, passed in late March 2020, overwhelmed state employment offices. A good deal of the gridlock was state agencies relying on a 60-year-old programming language called COBOL, causing claims to take as long as two weeks to process.
As Robin Roberson, executive director of the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission, put the situation, “Our mainframe is literally over 30 years old. It’s very difficult to program, it doesn’t do much, [and] COBOL programmers are somewhat scarce.”
State agencies across the country are scrambling to update COBOL code, but according to Gartner, the average age of a COBOL programmer is above 60. Mahmoud Ezzeldin, 75, who was a COBOL programmer for Blue Cross Blue Shield and the IRS, offered to come out of retirement and volunteer help in training organizations updating their systems to meet the increased demand for relief benefits.
From an eDiscovery perspective, legacy data can prove a challenge as well. Government agencies, corporations, and law firms all most likely have some legacy data they may have to contend with regarding investigations, litigation, and FOIA or other compliance requests. As this week’s eDiscovery Blues cartoon highlights, these organizations may have the information required, but getting that data into a format that is reviewable and producible is where the challenge lies.
Which is why it’s important to work closely with your IT department to know if your organization has any potential legacy data obstacles, as well as ensuring that you have an eDiscovery technology partner who can effectively and efficiently manage those challenges.
Otherwise, you may end up like Rick Compliance, eDiscovery Manager, scouring the internet for used floppy drives.