Legacy systems are a false economy

An interesting article on The Register caught my eye this morning - Junk your IT. Now. Before it drags you under - that opened with "Legacy systems tie you to unproductive legacy thinking and lead to stagnation". The article opens with the perception that users belive due to faster connectivity, computing power and processors, everything they do on a computer should be proportionaly faster. It is something we see and hear all the time!

People's perception of what is possible is lead by applications developed by large tech businesses and available for free. Take Google for instance. Users can synchronise there photographs between their smart phone & desktop computers with ease, so assume when approaching a bespoke software project that this is easy. Good software makes difficult and complex tasks look easy and Google have made handling images and synchronisation look like a piece of cake!

The article goes on to say "Thirty years ago, Ted Nelson, one of the great visionaries of computing, said that our devices had to deliver a 'bingo effect' - as soon as you reached out for a document, it should be there, ready to edit. Today we open a document in Microsoft Word - even on a multi-Ghz machine with a solid state disk and plenty of RAM - in a process that always takes a few seconds. And it always has. Sure, it takes a few less seconds than it may have back in 1986, using Microsoft Word on the first Macintosh Plus, but where’s that thousand-fold improvement from Moore’s Law?"

Users expectations are increasingly difficult to meet, as their perception of what is possible vs budget seem to be out of alignment. A few years ago a client came back with some feedback, saying that they expect an exact copy of Microsoft Word within their Content Management System (CMS); needless to say, their budget didn't extend beyond plugging in an open source editor. Whilst at the time I thought it odd, the reality is that today peoples expectations are even more out of synch with what is possible.

Some of out systems are now 10+ years old and whilst a couple of clients have updated their systems, others make do with what we developed years ago, when the technology available to us was significantly different. When I first started the business in 2002, you had to ask if a client had email and perhaps more importantly if their clients had email. Now we take this for granted and it changes the way systems are developed.

I recently handled a technical support ticket, where a routine that is rarely used had introduced a bug in an SQL statement as the system was initially developed and tested on MySQL version 4 and changes in MySQL version 5 had caused some unexpected results. So when reading the article mentioned above the following phrase rang true and I found myself shaking my head in agreement "Embracing change means abandoning the false sense of stability IT has offered management as part of its bargain to increase productivity. "

The closing paragraph of the article is a slam dunk ...

Hostage to forces that want to contain its disruptive nature, IT has become infrastructure where it should always be a strategic asset, wielded like a blade, cutting a swath through markets and competitors. How many IT departments can say they are the most important element of the business? Not many. That’s the sure sign that IT is itself ready to be utterly disrupted.

Anyone involved knows this to be a truism, but business and especially users need to catch up and business owners need to understand the competitive edge regularly updated bespoke software can give them! Legacy systems are a false economy.


Published: 16 October 2015

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