Changing Gear?

11.14.2012

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As we discussed in our previous blog the perception of legacy IT is, like the definition of legacy itself, rather at odds with the reality.

To paraphrase Collins’ dictionary, a legacy should be seen as a beneficial bequest rather than an antique acquired by accident. Our first blog concentrated on this perception/reality issue and – we believe – successfully argued that so-called legacy has enduring value today and into the future.

So, while the dictionaries are ambiguous, and much of the market perceives legacy IT as being a bad thing often because, in our gerontophobic industry it simply isn’t new enough – there is a different perspective that you’re not hearing. You’re not hearing it because it’s not a fashionable view. There’s no angle for a vendor trying to sell you something new. Now that’s a shame because these are people just like you, who work for companies like yours. They’re what’s called ‘satisfied customers’ – organizations happy with what they have and how it performs.

“Legacy code” often differs from its suggested alternative by actually working and scaling. Bjarne Stroustrup

An analogy with wheels

You need some wheels. You have two choices. You could (a) borrow money to mortgage your future on a gleaming new model from the showroom or (b) pick up a traded-in model from the lot outside. One is shiny. The other won’t see 100,000 miles again.

Option (a) may not be the good long-term bet it might appear. No-one knows how this car will perform. Anyone who has ever owned a ‘Friday afternoon car’ will testify that ‘new’ doesn’t always equate to ‘good’. The new car could be riven with niggles and glitches – but you won’t know until you’ve handed over the cash and taken it down the road. It could spend the next 12 months in the workshop with your investment similarly going nowhere. Let’s step outside the showroom.

There are no Friday afternoon cars out here. They don’t make it this far. Everything here is proven technology. It was built to last and has eaten up the miles. It’s still ticking over nicely. It’ll deliver from the minute you turn the key. Okay, the shape is very last year and it won’t turn any heads. It isn’t sexy, or fast. But then it’s purring like a cat while the owners of newer cars are waiting in the rain at the bus stop.

Meanwhile, back in the office …

The corporate world has seen plenty of breakdowns The name ‘RBS’ brings many CIOs out in a cold sweat. The RBS bottom line took a hit that will take a long time to claw back and their reputation sustained damage that will take some time recover from. Their CEO admitted to ‘… a big, mushrooming spend on technology. With hindsight, maybe a bit more of that increase in spend should have been in the core, taken-for-granted systems that work every day’. To compare cars to legacy IT: if reliability is a priority, then think carefully about trading in your existing IT for newer equipment. Gartner says that 90% of IT spend is on maintenance. Do you want to risk an increased maintenance spend?

The stridently-worded blog linked here makes the point that, like any infrastructure, legacy IT is only as good as the investment and support you put into it. If it’s your car, then you get it serviced and look after it. If it is legacy IT, then commit to it, don’t be ashamed of it. Remember that while you’re agonising about future innovation your core systems are ticking over quietly, doing what they’re supposed to do, and not turning your company into RBS 2. We’ll come back to innovation shortly.

This stuff runs big business

Here’s Keith Wild. Keith is the AVP of IT at BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina (BCBSSC), which is one of the plans within a federation of 38 separate health insurance organizations and companies in the States.

Combined, they directly or indirectly provide health insurance to over 99 million Americans. The BCBSSC facility in Columbia, SC, is by some margin the largest claims processor on the planet. If ever a company relied on its core systems and processes to keep delivering, day after day, then this is it. So what cutting-edge technology does Keith rely on to do this for him? A mainframe, running COBOL: the same system that BCBSSC have run for many years. In other words, ‘legacy’ IT.

Keith recognizes that investing correctly in what he knows works beats speculating on what may work. His clarity on the subject is unquestionable:

“We do not allow our systems to sit still. Our core systems are constantly evolving through ongoing investment. The term legacy – as in old, past, and not evolving – is just wrong. We prefer to use terms such as revitalized, renewed, and revamped. Sure, the original baseline was constructed decades ago, but the system has evolved and renewed itself over the years. The age of its original assembly is not relevant, what is important is the value it brings to us today and tomorrow.

“Our systems are our lifeblood. Everything in IT is considered front-line, and ongoing investment in technology and resources ensures the value of the entire system enterprise is nurtured, evolved and delivered. It’s pretty simple – these systems are our business. We have made some real smart IT decisions and continue to do so. Mainframes and COBOL are at the heart of this. To negatively refer to what we do as legacy in any way is both ignorant and incorrect.”

Keith doesn’t buy the legacy myth. He understands that with targeted investment, the same IT that put BSBSSC where it is, can continue to take it where it wants to be.

How investment fuels innovation

Innovation is appearing on more to-do lists than ever before. It’s the magic vehicle that will drive organizations from the depths of IT debt all the way to the heights of the future-proof systems strategy. McKinsey fret that sometimes innovation replaces investment, restricting potential. They are concerned that the term ‘you can do more with less’ is, too often, an order from the Board rather than a genuine insight into what a company can achieve with their existing IT assets.

To return to our analogy: removing used from ‘used car’ just leaves ‘car’. Similarly, when you delete ‘legacy’ from legacy IT then you’ll just see ‘IT’.  At Micro Focus, we believe that by repurposing so-called legacy equipment you can retain all its positive attributes – tried and tested technology – and improve on them to create great systems that will serve you well into the future. Because with a little retuning a solid, reliable car can be exciting and that IT professionals with their eyes glued on the horizon would benefit from a good look in the rear-view mirror.

Because, going forward, you should be careful about what you leave behind.

Micro Focus can help you re-energise what you used to call your legacy by providing smart technology that enables organizations to modernize their core enterprise applications, resolve critical business challenges today and support future innovation. Shrewd investment today will ensure these systems deliver in the future. But what does this actually look like? The next blog will look at some of the ways Micro Focus enables organizations to reuse and modernize their core systems to great effect.

Co-authored by Helen Withington, Derek Britton and Steve Moore

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