Executives demand increasingly sophisticated, real-time reports on sales and other metrics. Customers want immediate answers to their queries, seamless service and readily available information about accounts, billing and support. The C-Suite wants information systems that are fast, differentiating and profitable. No wonder technology leaders are under continual pressure to share and deliver up-to-the-minute business data! Whatever the industry, the uninterrupted flow of information has become crucial to the running of any business and is placing increasing demands on legacy IT systems.
There is probably no word more needlessly linked with negative sentiment than the term ‘legacy’. It seems to sum up everything the CIO should be against. Given this negativity, it is hardly surprising that the strategy of ‘rip and replace’ is so common and that the majority of CIOs would go back to the drawing board and instigate a full technology refresh if they had a chance. Rather than extending an existing platform’s capabilities or functionality, the allure of rip and replace seems to conjure up images of complete upgrades, blank slates and starting afresh.
It shouldn’t. The appetite for rip and replace demonstrates a lack of confidence in the scalability and adaptability of current-generation IT systems. While this might initially reflect poorly on the manufacturers and resellers of such systems, it can actually be explained by a very simple fact: a lack of planning. Technology is usually purchased as a solution to a current problem rather than a future one. Very few companies purchase technology with a view to future-proofing it for situations that may arise further down the line. As a result, the fear of upgrades going wrong, or legacy systems not being able to keep up, induces many to believe the only viable option is to start all over again.
Another thing to consider is that replacing legacy systems that are heavily embedded within a company’s infrastructure isn’t just an IT issue. Large scale upheavals have far-reaching repercussions on staffing, training and, ultimately, profitability. No organisation can genuinely afford to completely refresh their systems every time they run into difficulties.
Agility demands the ability to change and adapt systems rapidly, securely and efficiently. Good technology decision-making is not just about solving current problems – it’s about providing the capability to confront the problems of the future.
The most important step as a CIO is to get involved in long-term planning. When the C-Suite makes decisions on how the company will look in 10 or 20 years’ time, the CIO needs to be part of those discussions in order to be able to effectively plan the IT. Predicting the future of a company involves predicting the future of your customers and their needs, but equally important is planning how technology will keep up with those changes.
Faced with the difficulties and cumbersome problems that legacy IT systems sometimes throw up, it is all too easy to be tempted to find a brand new standalone solution and begin again. But the real answer is to plan forward and choose an infrastructure that is scalable and enables new functionalities that can adapt to unpredictable future events. In other words: don’t rip it out, flip it over.