NEA applauds a smooth upgrade

Mike Burke was surprised last year when the National Endowment for the Arts upgraded an obsolete Cobol system to a platform-independent, distributed computing environment.

The surprise was that it went so smoothly.

'I had low expectations because of the complexity of Wang Cobol,' NEA's CIO Burke said. NEA had to transform about 650,000 lines of code in its Grant Award and Financial and Budget Management system, in moving from the Cobol system and its databases to C++ and a Microsoft SQL Server relational database.

NEA used the eVolution 2000 toolset from Software Revolution Inc. of Bothell, Wash., which automated much of the conversion. The transformation took seven months, and the new system went operational last November.

Multiplication and addition

Along with converting the legacy code, the upgrade project transformed about 350 database tables from flat files to a relational database environment and recreated more than 800 user screens for NEA's 140 users.

NEA's operation is small compared with those of many agencies. And its system for the most part stands alone, Burke said, though it does have an interface with the Agriculture Department's National Finance Center.

But modernizing presented challenges. Burke said NEA's overall system is really three distinct systems with three databases:

  • A full financial management system for NEA payments, including such functions as paying grants and vendor invoices

  • A grants management system for handling applications and awards of grants

  • A panel bank system, as the agency calls it, used in scheduling expert panels for reviewing grant applications.

Burke said Software Revolution's product managed the transformation without glitches. 'It worked out of the box,' he said. 'We had to do very little tweaking.'

The benefits of the upgrade are clear, he said. 'First of all, we got off the Wang system, which was quickly becoming unsupported by vendors,' Burke said.

Wang Laboratories Inc., later Wang Global, was an early pioneer in computing but faded from the marketplace in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and eventually was bought up by Getronics NV of the Netherlands.

Burke also said greater access to information is letting NEA develop business processes and move some of them to the Web.

About the Author

Kevin McCaney is editor of Defense Systems. Follow him on Twitter: @KevinMcCaney.

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