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Legacy and Data Management

April 14, 2023

Ntegra’s Top 3 Legacy System Modernisation Strategies

I’ve written a few pieces recently about how I see the Digital Transformation gap; how legacy systems create inertia to our transformations and therefore, we should stop ignoring or deferring legacy.

Since then, I’ve had numerous conversations with executives and leaders to understand the various strategies in play when it comes to legacy estate management. There is a level of head-scratching going on trying to solve this complicated issue. But, several strategies kept bubbling up to the top too. These aren’t exclusive to each other, or by no means comprehensive for that matter. I wanted to reflect on some of these, and outline how our approach here at Ntegra to overcoming legacy inertia and realising our clients business agility ambitions.

1. Reactive

Firstly, there is a ‘reactive’ approach to Legacy System Modernisation Strategies. This ‘anti-pattern’ (not the terms original intent, but a good description I feel), is the typical underinvestment scenario where a change in leadership, a P1 outage, or some other organisational light bulb moment has put legacy estate management back on the table as a priority. This is not a great scenario to be in, as it typically means unknown risks are faced, and time and resources are required getting to grips with the estate before even starting to draw up plans. All is not lost though; there is probably a clear need, and some momentum, so make the most of this to get things underway!

2. Keep the Lights On

Then there is the ‘Keep the lights on’ approach, sometimes called End of Service Life too. Carve out legacy, maybe outsource maintenance and task the vendor with keeping things afloat while you wait for future programmes to replace them. There is some merit in the outsource for KTLO. There should be motivational alignment with your outsourcer to simplify and stabilise, and you retain the burden of retiring the application to achieve cost reduction. A word of warning though – if your outsourcer only has the legacy estate, what happens when this diminishes, but you need to extend your agreement. You need to ensure it remains commercially attractive, else expect some problematic negotiations to KTLO!

3. Replacement / Retirement

‘Replacement/retirement’ strategy is next. A series of strategic programmes to deploy new core systems. This is often run in conjunction with KTLO to afford the time to execute. My biggest issue with this strategy is hope value. How long will it take, and how successful will these programmes be? Time and again, we run into complexity, meaning the new solutions don’t cover the edge cases meaning the legacy system has to be retained rather than retired. Customer migrations from old to new are often extremely complex, often meaning phased go-lives for new business before migrating existing customers. All this adds to the programme duration and pushes back the retirement of the legacy system.

Despite my scepticism, there are examples of well-run transformation programmes that we have been involved in which achieve replacement of the majority of legacy systems – though almost as a side-effect. These are joint endeavours between IT and the business, requiring senior stakeholder buy-in and acceptance of the need to change the business processes.

Should we even treat legacy separately?

What’s missing from these strategies I feel is a joined-up product approach that leverages some of the organisational gains in our more modern ways of working.

I read an excellent article by Ron Quartel for the Agile Alliance, who postures that scrum done poorly can create technical debt, which left unpaid, results in a legacy system. Kind of like creating brand new legacy systems. Ouch. This got me thinking. Why tackle the legacy systems issue with legacy ways of working? Wasn’t it precisely this thinking that created the environment for stagnated tech in the first place? Why are we separating our heritage systems from our modern, strategic ones, and maintaining them separately? Ntegra’s view and approach is that we should aim to incorporate legacy systems into our new product organisation teams and ensure our strategy and roadmaps and teams accommodate them together with our new products.

Can our squads refactor our way out of this legacy quagmire? We have seen success in reducing technical debt by re-engineering business proceses by iterating strategic functionality to the point we can say goodbye to our legacy for good.

Wanting to find out more about gaining control of your Legacy System Modernisation Strategies with Ntegra? Click Here for more information.

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