Is your business being paralysed by legacy IT?

Upgrading or replacing an ageing system can be a daunting prospect
Upgrading or replacing an ageing system can be a daunting prospect

There is no doubt that technology has played an integral part in helping today's successful businesses reach the top of their industry. However, for many the IT department can be a barrier to innovation and technology change. This is a result of being indentured to legacy IT, which is having a huge impact on the ability to keep up with consumer and market demand.

Budgetary limitations and the sheer challenge of upgrading or replacing an ageing system are often behind the reluctance to embrace change but, as with all big projects, if properly planned and approached, businesses can mitigate the perceived risks and issues and reap the benefits from better use of today's technology.

How big is the problem?

Rather than being seen as an add-on or limited luxury, technology has to be at the heart of a business to enable growth. Today, consumers expect to be able to interact with businesses in more ways than ever before – via a website, mobile/tablet device or through social media channels – at their convenience, any time of day, with no downtime or access issues. But with technology constantly evolving, keeping up with both the pace of change and user demand can be a challenge for many businesses. The expectations and pressures put on existing systems can cause them to fall over and buckle under the strain.

Despite this, some CIOs still perceive the legacy systems of yesterday to be up to the demands of today. This inability to realise the bigger picture and introduce change in the right way can result in organisations relying on overly complex systems and processes, experiencing a slow rate of change.

Legacy systems are also often badly documented and as a result, redesigning an IT system that only a few long-term IT team members know how to maintain can seem far too daunting – especially when the current system is deemed to be up to the job.

In a bid to adapt and keep up with budget and time demands, many simply resort to relying on middleware as an alternative to replacing legacy systems. However, this hand-to-mouth approach will take its toll as speed-to-market is often prioritised over the appropriate due diligence and testing.

Add the often strained and fractious relationship between the IT department and the rest of the business into the mix and it all amounts to a huge stumbling block in adopting a strategic transformation programme for technology change that will benefit the whole business.

Overcome the fear

Regardless of the concerns and complexities associated with overthrowing legacy systems, if outdated technology is not replaced, many businesses face extinction, as demand on their systems outstrips capabilities. This makes it all the more important for CIOs to work closely with the IT team and put measures in place to instil confidence in the inevitable change.

A stringent quality regime needs to be at the heart of the process of overhauling legacy systems and mitigating the risks associated with this. Therefore, we have identified six key steps to transforming the role of quality management within an organisation, to give it the confidence needed to shake the shackles of outdated technology and reap the rewards of IT change.

Step 1: Identify who needs to be involved in the process – including staff and third parties – and immerse them in what you are trying to achieve. It is essential for everyone to understand that the risk is shared and what their roles and responsibilities are.

Step 2: Get your people on board. It is important to understand what talent exists within the organisation and who will be involved in the transformation journey and quality management process. Large-scale education may be required and outsourced providers might be needed to supplement in-house skills.

Step 3: Put the correct processes in place. To transform quality management, key roles need to be defined to carry out specific processes including: prioritising and leading IT change; health-checking the outsourcing candidates; identifying opportunities for optimisation and quick wins; engaging with and managing suppliers and defining governance models; operational management and service delivery.

Step 4: Invest in the best products. Setting up contracts with third-party suppliers correctly and being crystal clear about the required level of application quality and how it will be measured is paramount. By taking this approach, vendors should be willing to share risk in return for generous rewards for success.

Step 5: Bring it all together. The programme required to transform your quality management needs to bring together several building blocks. Some of these are more complicated than others (e.g. identifying outsourcing candidates in your existing IT estate) but everything can be addressed and you already have a lot of expertise in-house.

Step 6: Conduct regular quality checks. At regular intervals on your transformation journey you need to prove that quality has been improved. A regular "heartbeat" of measurable value should be delivered to assure stakeholders of the return on their investment. This is relatively easy to do if you clearly articulate the outcomes and quantify the value at the outset to each "product", and reward your new multi-sourced suppliers in-line with the same, at agreed stages, along the way.

  • David Rigler has over 20 years' experience in the software industry, and his expertise covers complex IT problems, multi-sourced environments and IT strategy. Ben Fry also has in excess of 20 years' experience in delivering successful IT projects, and is an industry recognised authority on IT delivery, with a string of published articles to his name