When it comes to the en vogue subject of business transformation, many think that it is synonymous with a complete ‘rip and replace’ of existing IT infrastructure. They would be wrong. You simply cannot expect a company driven by older, legacy technology one day, to then make a complete switch to new technology the next. Instead, the old and new (the bi-modal) worlds of IT will need to coexist for some time yet, so business transformation needs to be looked at as a gradual process, rather than a simple ‘plug and play’ event.

Can legacy technologies still deliver value?

While legacy technologies such as mainframes might not be the cheapest to run or easiest to manage, they can still provide limited value. Determining that value comes down to whether the technology is meeting ongoing business requirements. For example, if a mainframe continues to provide the support needed to successfully run the business, then it’s doing its job.

However, if business requirements are changing at a fast pace, it is often difficult for legacy teams and technologies to keep up. Migrations and upgrades to legacy systems can sometimes take years, and companies run the risk of facing obsolescence even before the upgraded environments are fully functional. It is therefore worthwhile continuously reviewing the merits of such technologies and retiring the workloads that no longer meet the businesses requirements, bringing in new technologies to replace them. This way you are not removing the entire service, but merely retiring and replacing certain workloads.

So what’s the role of cloud?

Senior leadership tends to interpret cloud’s role in a number of ways. To start with, there’s often a worrying assumption that a simple ‘lift and shift’ approach, covering all of an organisation’s processes and data, will drastically reduce operational costs, improve performance and cut product time-to-market. This isn’t realistic.

Instead, IT leaders should look at their environment from a business perspective and make informed observations on what workloads and processes are mature enough to move to the cloud. This should be combined with the insights of other technical staff and executives, who’ll need to collaborate on the specific changes needed both before and after migration.

The need for innovation

Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos once commented: “The most important single thing is to focus obsessively on the customer”, and he was right. Most business transformations today are driven by the need to enhance the end-user experience. As such, IT’s focus should move on from building an environment for infrastructure and applications – ring-fenced processes which will outlive their value in future –  and instead focus on building scalable platforms, which equip the wider business with the agility and flexibility it needs.

Customers today want to do more with less, and do it faster. Focusing obsessively on the customer’s demands helps the organisation ready itself to adapt, which in turn means IT departments have to build more flexible IT solutions. These need to deliver ‘cloud-like’ customer experiences on legacy technologies, as organisations often simply can’t afford to wait until all operations are fully migrated. This will give rise to a host of companies offering customer experience platforms specifically designed for legacy technologies, for those organisations still stuck in the middle.

Keeping up with the pace of change

Business transformation is a daunting challenge for any company, but those that have mastered the skill of accurately predicting where the business is heading are those that succeed – just look at Netflix or Amazon, for example.

Bill Gates once said: “What keeps me up at night is the fear of complacency”, and this sentiment is more apt today than ever. The arrogance of success encourages business leaders to think that yesterday’s innovations will work just as well tomorrow. To remain relevant, leaders need to be able to grasp where the business is really headed over the next decade. This all means that IT needs to be prepared to respond to changes quickly and remain agile when creating scalable platforms for the business.

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A meeting of the old world and the new

Ferocious customer demand for improvements and efficiencies is insatiable, so businesses need to be prepared to respond to change in an effective and swift manner. Moving workloads to on-demand environments, and bringing in lean ‘Just In Time’ technologies such as cloud computing provide the solution. Innovations such as these provide businesses with the agility to turn their services on and off according to patterns of demand and provide the IT foundations to manage market unpredictability.

Business transformation is unique to all companies, even those that are direct competitors in the same industries. And with a buoyant market and an abundance of different tools to choose from this presents organisations with the best chance to choose the right fit for their long-term business goals.

However, businesses need to find the middle ground, between the risks of attempting to change too much within a short time, and resisting change altogether and to depend on legacy technology. Above all, organisations need to be cognisant of the fact that some of the functionality that exists with on-premise legacy IT will have to remain so, as full cloud migration isn’t always operationally viable. It is therefore critical for businesses and IT departments to embrace the model of hybrid integration and reach an understanding of coexistence between the old world of IT and the new.