Breaking Up Is Hard To Do: Moving Off Of Legacy IT Systems

by drjim on August 24, 2016

Caption: No, getting off of legacy systems is not easy, but it is necessary

Caption: No, getting off of legacy systems is not easy, but it is necessary
Image Credit: Eric Snider

As the person with the CIO job, we like to spend our time looking forward and thinking about the importance of information technology. Trying to detect IT trends and then positioning our IT department to be where it needs to be in order to take advantage of changes when they occur. What we generally don’t do enough of is look at our IT shop and discover what is old and needs to be removed. Moving off of legacy IT systems is hard work, but it is part of the job of the person who is in the CIO position.

Problems Moving Off Of Legacy Systems

I’m hoping that we all realize that every IT system that our department installs has a “shelf life”. What this means is that it’s not going to last forever. IT systems are created using tools that are easily available today, but may go away tomorrow. They run on systems with operating systems that will continue to be updated until they are discontinued. It may not be possible to move an existing legacy system to a new operating system because of the way that it has been designed. Finally, the people who created the legacy system may no longer be with your company and support for any changes would be very expensive.

What this means is that when we decide to move off of a legacy system, there are a lot of decisions that we have to make as CIO. One of the more trendy decisions is if we want to host the replacement application in “the cloud”. If we decide that this is the way that we want to go, then we’re may to have to deal with the challenge of integrating multiple systems from different vendors in order to replace the single legacy system.

Simply put, replacing a legacy system is not an easy task. It’s going to be up to your project management team to take a long hard look at the legacy system, the people in the company who are using it, and what they use it for. One area that can be especially sticky is more often than not, these legacy systems will have woven their way into how the company does it management reporting. What this means for the replacement project is that you’re going to end up recreating a great deal of custom reporting. Surprises like this can easily result in significant project delays.

Why The Effort To Move Off Of Legacy Systems Is Worth It

Given all of the challenges that are associated with trying to move off of a legacy system, it makes sense that a CIO just might say that it’s not worth it. This kind of project can be put off until the next CIO comes along. However, that never works – something will happen, such as support for an old operating system being discontinued, and suddenly the CIO will be forced to take action. It’s always better to have a plan and be executing it instead of being forced to take action.

One of the most important things that the CIO must be aware of is that your company is not asking you to replace a legacy system. In fact, they may actively not want you to do this. They have grown accustomed to the system (or systems) that they are currently using and what you are proposing represents change and nobody likes change. As you swap out the legacy system for the new replacement, there is a good chance that at time processes and functions that people use every day may break. This is not going to make anyone happier about your IT project.

However, as CIO you know that moving off of legacy systems is something that the company needs to continuously be doing. One thing that you’ll need to keep in mind is that this replacement program has a return on investment associated with it. In order to maximize that return, you are going to have to get rid of the legacy system as quickly as possible. The one thing that I’ve heard from CIOs who have been involved in projects like this is that their biggest regret is moving too slow.

What All Of This Means For You

Forward looking CIOs need to take the time to look backwards. They are in charge of a large number of legacy systems and these systems need to be replaced in order to keep up with the times. How that replacement is done will have a big impact on the company.

Moving off of legacy systems can be a big challenge. CIOs have to decide if the replacement system will live in the cloud and if so, how they are going to interface to the multiple systems from multiple vendors that they will probably use to replace the single legacy system. Additionally, a great deal of custom reporting may have been created and this will all have to be replaced. When a legacy system is being replaced, the rest of the company may not support the IT department – they like their legacy system. However, you need to do it quickly so that you can maximize your return on investment.

Replacement of legacy systems is a key part of the CIO job. You need to be tracking the age of all of your systems and taking action when it is needed. Becoming good at replacing legacy systems will ensure that your company never gets caught with old or outdated IT systems. However, keep in mind that this task is never done!

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Department Leadership Skills™

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

The CIO of any company is judged by how much his or her department is able to accomplish. Now that just about every department in the company understands the importance of information technology, IT departments are being asked to do more and more every day. What this means for the person with the CIO job is that you are constantly facing the challenge of trying to accomplish as much as you can while not overloading your department.

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