Teaching an Old System New Tricks

It’s time to rethink the approach to legacy. Digital and cloud are now familiar, ‘business as usual’ terms in the modern enterprise. Put simply, if organisations don’t ‘do’ digital and even those who simply don’t do it well, are heading to failure.

Adopting a ‘digital-first’ mind-set and migrating core services to the cloud is at least relatively straightforward for young, agile or digital-native businesses – but how grim is the prospect of a cloud overhaul for businesses who have taken the time to invest heavily in legacy on-premise systems and applications? It would be absurd to provide the fallacy that a boldly undertaken ’rip and replace’ strategy for the myriad technological and organisational legacy applications is the secret to survival.

Digital change is an urgent and pressing need – but that doesn’t mean it has to be done overnight. A considered, gradual approach seeking effective marginal improvements can be an older, more established business’ secret to success.

Don’t demand change – enable it

Whatever the field, keeping up with an industry’s most agile, digital start-ups is a serious and daunting challenge. Many of these businesses were established with the sole purpose of disrupting or challenging the ‘old’ ways of doing things. After all, embracing new ways of working to survive and fight back is necessary, but immediately establishes significant cost and implementation hurdles. These hurdles often conjure tensions between what the business wants and what the IT department is able to deliver – shifting ambitions, restricting growth and impacting performance.

Migration to the cloud, for example, has been a strategic priority for most businesses for years, but there is still a wariness about adopting it at scale. IT teams are asked to deliver the advantage of cloud without compromising on security, while still keeping options open for the entrance of new technology. It’s not unsurprising then that trying to meet each of these needs at once can prevent effective progress.

What is required then to enable change is to alter mindsets. IT teams need to feel empowered and work towards a common goal of updating systems regularly as opposed to having their arm twisted at the CEOs liking of a new piece of kit. If this can be achieved, transformation becomes organic and it would be possible to harmonise legacy investments with new digital ones, unlocking the value inside both.

Think future ambition first, technology second

As with the release of every new consumer smartphone, there is always excitement about the ‘latest’ and most exciting technology, even if the practical applications, benefits and reliability of that technology is still far from proven.  Adopting a strategy aimed at securing a new technology into a business is a very limited, and indeed risky approach. An investment in new technology can often be ‘change for change’s sake’ – rather than a legitimate exercise to become ‘future ready.’

Organisations of all sizes must create a focus that considers the ambition and outcomes first and then asks what is specifically needed to deliver them. Treating change as a process of continuous improvement and not a single major event is the secret to iterative development and improving on legacy strengths.

By allowing time and space to explore new options and think differently about ‘driving change’ as well as offering the opportunity to make ‘digital’ happen in incremental steps, it is far easier to bring relevant teams on board and secure the business-wide backing needed to fully succeed.

This incremental approach to change builds confidence with small project successes gradually building to a wider take up of other digital solutions.

Although cloud migration is almost always a key component of digital transformation, it is also important to recognise that not everything can or should go to the cloud. Seeking out which digital ‘veneers’ can smooth over current IT assets to deliver a specific experience or a result more efficiently is extremely valuable – not least in ensuring the value of existing IT systems. Some of these steps may be very minor, but all lead towards a better, improved future.

If organisations are looking for new ways to make existing legacy systems work harder to deliver impactful, exciting customer centric services and drive greater value while also considering retiring redundant systems or rebuilding IT platforms in the cloud – the most important step on that long journey is the first. They must take the time necessary for deep thought and strategy about harmonising legacy systems with new digital capabilities.

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