Why retiring legacy technology needs to be a business priority

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CIO Retiring Tech Debt

Everyone in an enterprise – not just those people within IT – needs to maintain an awareness of what’s happening in the world of emerging technologies. It's not hard to do these days. There is extensive coverage of technology in the media, and it's very easy to tailor your news experience to stay on top of specific technology categories and company announcements. Examples of innovative technology and its impact on enterprises are everywhere, and that can create a lot of excitement around what is possible.

CIOs can take heightened technology awareness a step further by fostering that awareness within their organization, and encouraging their business partners to experiment with the emerging technologies that attract interest. Technology awareness can create a tricky balance, because if the enterprise is evaluating too many different technologies at once, management and coordinate problems ensue. On the other hand, if you don’t plant the seeds of curiosity and allow new technologies to bloom, you will have insufficient exposure to a range of technologies that will improve your business.

How do you find that balance and provide flexibility for all that experimentation? One key and often overlooked point is that it’s IT’s responsibility to pave the way for new solutions by retiring the legacy technology present in every organization.

If you don’t plant the seeds of curiosity and allow new technologies to bloom, you will have insufficient exposure to a range of technologies that will improve your business.

You can’t continuosly add to your legacy technology for a variety of reasons: diffused resources, lack of focus, prolonging the use of ineffective solutions, technology silos, and disintegrated applications among them. When evaluating new technologies, you must consider what to replace. For example, if you're looking for a new tool to foster communication, you have to simultaneously look at which communication tool or tools you can sunset. This initiative must come from IT, because your business partners often won’t do it on their own.

Why? Retiring a legacy solution is often not a business priority. It creates disruption, and it means that business owners need to delve into a subject in which they may have limited expertise. The cost of the legacy technology, in particular the soft costs, may not be reflected their budget. Some in the business will be more comfortable using the old technology as long as they can, rather than retiring it. They may even find a way to prolong it after the supported solution is discontinued.

CIOs should partner with their business colleagues as they identify new solutions or consider new options. In partnership, IT and the rest of the enterprise should be looking across the organization at the entire technology portfolio for solutions that can be consolidated, simplified, retired, or offered at reduced cost. That partnership allows IT teams to free up capacity, funding, and resources to enable the new.

Lee Congdon is Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer at Ellucian, the leading independent provider of higher education software, services and analytics.


An important point to note is the rising cost of maintenance on old hardware. Often, newer better HW can be justified by eliminating these rising maintenance costs.

Newer is not always better. If an upgrade gets you no benefits, then why upgrade simply for the sake of upgrading. I worked at a financial company where we had an ms-dos machine that ran a custom app that made the company 50 mil a year. When I was asked to upgrade it, I simply asked why? Why change a rock solid and proven money maker to a different platform and then rewrite the application just to make the same amount of money. It makes no sense.

Exactly. And if hardware becomes a concern, virtualization can let the ms-dos and custom app continue on faster hardware with options to snapshot the entire app with its operating system improving disaster recovery. If you upgrade something, it shouldn't just fix something, it should make an improvement that can lower cost, add value, or make more money. Don't fix what is not broken. That is wasted money, wasted effort, wasted time, and increased potential to introduce unforseen problems.

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