Legacy and IT modernization: You call this a love story?

  • Posted on February 14, 2019
  • Estimated reading time 3 minutes
legacy and modern IT pros

This article was originally written by Avanade alum Rob Asen.

Legacy and modern IT: On this Valentine’s Day, are they star-crossed romantic partners, destined to be apart, or can they find happiness—or at least productivity—together?

Like mismatched lovers coming to terms with their differences, legacy and modern IT pros in enterprise IT have their own differences to reconcile: mainframe or on-prem versus cloud, proprietary versus open, custom versus component architecture. Yet—also appropriate for Valentine’s Day—the biggest difference, the most important to reconcile, may not have anything to do with technology. As in other matters of the heart, the essential issue may be human.

That is, before you can call your legacy and modern technology worlds well-integrated, you have to ensure that your legacy and modern IT people are themselves well-integrated. That’s often a big challenge, given the deeply differing mindsets of those living across the two worlds.

On the legacy side, the IT mindset is all about mission criticality. It’s about five-nines uptime and fail-proof applications. Over the years, legacy IT pros have honed bullet-proof systems and techniques, methods, and technologies. They’ve had to, both because of the nature of legacy architectures (expensive, often monolithic, risky to change) and the essential purposes to which they’ve been put. If legacy IT projects took millions of dollars and years to complete, so be it; it’s all been about the result, not the journey.

On the modern IT side, instead of “never fail”, it’s about “fail fast”, increasing agility, creativity, product innovation, and personalized ways of interacting with customers. It’s rapid and innovative. Risk taking is prized in a fail-fast world where the point is getting to the next step quickly. And if it turns out that you haven’t quite arrived at your destination, there’s always another iteration around the corner.

Of course, like that well-known couple peanut butter and jelly, making each other that much better in your sandwich, these two very different mindsets are both needed in the modern enterprise. At Avanade, we see them reflecting the new economics of IT, in which predictable and innovative systems are complementary and essential. Similarly, researchers at the MIT Center for Information Systems Research talk about the two categories of digitization (standardizing processes) and digital (delivering visionary customer value).

There’s no silver bullet for the complex and continuing challenge of getting legacy and modern IT pros to work together, but cross-pollination of teams is surely part of the solution. Each team can learn from the other. Those legacy IT pros who are open to change can learn how to act nimbly, often working around the constraints of legacy assets and processes. The Agile crowd can learn that legacy isn’t necessarily a dirty word, that the methodologies of the legacy world can help raise quality, predictability and scalability for even the most innovative apps. And both cultures need management to take new approaches to governance, funding and collaboration to foster the necessary level of teaming. Neither “build and ship it yesterday or else!” nor “you’re fired if there are any bugs!” will engender the much-needed coming together of legacy and Agile IT cultures.

Also needed: Getting traditional and modern types to interpret the same data, the right data, to make better, and consistent, decisions. What’s really going on under the hood of legacy apps? What’s really in that open-source package? What’s performing well against business priorities, not just against uptime? They all need to know. Actionable, data-driven insights will help not just IT teams but also CIOs, CFOs and leaders across the business to choose more-effective strategies. But unlike your Valentine’s Day box of chocolates, enterprise IT strategies and assets doesn’t come with an illustrated guide. Legacy and modern IT pros need to create that shared understanding on their own. Otherwise, how can know for sure that they’re not choosing the IT equivalent of a coconut when they want a caramel?

On this Valentine’s Day, are chocolates and flowers in store for legacy and modern IT pros? At least, there’s good reason to expect that they can work together to ensure the success of their enterprises in ways that neither group could achieve on its own.

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