On Jul 26, 2013, at 3:01 AM, Michael Brunnbauer wrote:
Are you refering to a specific
example with those labels or are M0760 and
MENSA-FL just arbitrary ?
John Sowa opened the door to the
issue/opportunity/challenge of legacy systems & I running
One of the major challenges with legacy systems is the
semantics of what cryptic labels actually mean. These are
systems that have typically been in active use &
modification for multiple decades.
The fact that the name of something does not have to be
related to the actual contents of the field/column/data
element is another topic altogether. In an ideal world the
name/label & the contents would be highly congruent, but
often they're not. Separate topic.
Yes... these labels (names) are 100% real.
The M0760 was heritage from what I assume to have been a
Fortran based system (this was a life insurance company where
the actuarial process was the first to be automated with
Fortran, a usage that remains to this day). In the early days
of Fortran I believe variable names were restricted to 6
This field (field = column = data element, etc.) M0760 was
"obviously" from the Masterfile (remember those?), in the 7th
segment, 60th field.
I do not know if they went all the way to M9999, but the
print-out of the file layout was 64 pages long, approximately
Decades pass, technology advances, COBOL arrives &
stabilizes & now they have an identical master file, but
with a different naming convention. Now the data represented
by M0760 has been relabeled to MENSA-FL. (Actually it was
MSTR-MENSA-FL, but we're going to ignore the MSTR part.)
MENSA is not the word for smart people, but rather an acronym
meaning MEssage Notify Stop Action FLag... a collection of
In actual practice M0760 and MENSA-FL were exact equals
(think base & displacement in a file structure), except
newer programs could use the COBOL names, while older programs
(still the same masterfile) used the M0760 style.
Now... if you've gotten this far... that was just the
Now we inject the human element. I spent 6 months of my
life futzing with this stuff. Since I was working on the new
side of the system, I learned about MENSA-FL. A little
opaque, but not too hard to memorize.
But at one point I needed to consult with the SME, the
expert. I chattered away about MENSA this & MENSA that
until I noticed he was not following me. There was a pause.
Then he offered: "Oh! You mean M0760. Now I understand
what you're talking about."
He'd been working at this firm his entire life &
essentially memorized most of the M0101 to M9999 meanings.
MENSA-FL was simply not something he understood.
Welcome to the world of legacy systems.
Now how does SW help with that sort of opaque, ugly labels
issue? People working with legacy systems wrestle with this
issue every single day. How does SW help?
The ugly labels are not going away. On balance you cannot
change them since people have memorized them—particularly the
SMEs. These are systems that have decades of life under their
belt & likely will survive for decades more.
Is there a SW mechanism or process that speeds up the
DISCOVERY process for newbies?