Up at 5AM: The 5AM Solutions Blog

Legacy Systems: How to Pave the Future

Posted on Thu, May 17, 2012 @ 06:00 AM

Cartoon by Jerry KingLegacy systems are often misunderstood by both executives and technology lovers. The views are often stark, with vehement opinions expressed that pivot around the voice being heard and who has been around long enough to know why it was purchased, built, or bought in the first place. Some will scream “it’s dated,” that “we can’t maintain it,” or “it has to go” -- while others bark that “our business is tuned to it,” that “it meets our compliance needs,” or “there is nothing in the market that can do exactly what this does!” Over time, other dependencies grow attached to these systems, which make change even harder to visualize and wrap your arms around. This is particularly true in 5AM’s fields of choice, where rapid change is the norm across technology, science, and medicine, adding to the pressure cooker where those advances appear to be within one’s grasp but remain elusive. This is true even when paper is the legacy system--and it often is. So how can you move forward and not be trapped when your organization begins to see the end of life for a legacy system?

For starters - you must unequivocally identify:

  • What you need to be accomplished...

  • Why it is important, and...

  • Who cares about the results.

Going through that important defining exercise is a proven method for qualifying what the vision is. Additionally, it is essential to visually depict key elements, such as:

  • What the value is...

  • Who it directly serves, and...

  • Envisioning what the feature sets would be.

This yield will further enhance shared understanding, and provide additional concrete input towards getting on top of what needs to be done.

Though seemingly simplistic, the net results of the above exercises drive the approaches one can take and put meat into the “architecture” for change. Understanding the existing environment and constraints allow for the creativity to design approaches and make business decisions that drive the technology to be employed. The legacy system itself and supporting documentation (or in some cases, the lack thereof) are vital to that understanding, and guide what should remain the same and what needs to be done differently.

These are some basic systematic activities that allow for a roadmap to be created that will make a vision quantifiable. This process will also create the best legacy for your legacy system--that it was meaningful in its time and its byproducts (both positive and negative) helped drive the future state. What challenges have Legacy Systems created for your organization? What creative solutions has your team come up with to meet those challenges?

-Brent Gendleman, 5AM Solutions

Cartoon by Jerry King

Tags: software development, problem solving, Legacy Systems, adapting to change

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