How not to create a legacy – part 1

Many people would be delighted to be left a legacy, unless they are an IT manager. How do you avoid the technical traps that lead to legacy systems?  This is the first in a series of three articles in which we look at some of the most difficult trade-offs faced by IT managers.

  • Short term expediency v long term flexibility
  • Evergreening v customisation
  • Standard v highly engineered PCs

Short term expediency v long term flexibility

“For years we’ve congratulated ourselves on our cautious approach to IT investment, but maybe we haven’t been so clever. If we were able to run the latest versions of technology today, we could take advantage of so many opportunities for significant benefits. But the cost and upheaval of upgrading everything at once is enormous. We are hamstrung by our past failure to invest” admits a senior IT manager in a major corporation. Recent h2index research clearly indicates that many companies find themselves in this position.

For example, many large organisations are still struggling with the problem of Microsoft IE6. Applications which were designed to work with IE6 won’t work with later versions of IE, and Windows 7 specifically doesn’t work with IE6. Organisations face the choice between rewriting legacy applications or living with out-of-date versions of IE and Windows.

With hindsight, these legacy applications could have been written with greater in-built flexibility, but this would have cost more initially or taken longer to deliver. Decisions have been made for short term expediency rather than to fulfil long term requirements. Technology futures are hard to predict and working out how much flexibility to design into any system is difficult, but h2index sees little evidence of IT managers managing today’s risks effectively.

For example, do you measure the opportunity cost of legacy systems? Are you applying the lessons you are learning from your current legacy traps to today’s investment decisions? Is your design process smart enough to take these lessons into account? You need to attend to each to be sure you are balancing short term expedience with long term flexibility.