Can we continue to battle with legacy? When you think we are on a roll, we are making that transformation in technology, systems, new organizational designs, you are suddenly stopped in your tracks. Legacy fights back, it holds you up, it stops you from advancing. You fail to connect as you wanted to, towards a complete transformation. The future eludes you as you hold onto those old ways.
You can surround legacy but it diverts so much “spent energy”, it becomes the critical impediment to making that real change you so urgently require to compete in today’s’ world. We still struggle with resolving legacy in our systems, processes, factories so we lose the ability to really advance and gain true connectivity.
Why do I worry so much about legacy? The more we hang on to legacies within our companies, the more we hold up the vital changes we need to manage in the 21st century.
Can you imagine how hard legacy systems are hard to replace? They make up vital business processes that were designed years ago but not for the technology onslaught we are witnessing today or see in the future. They were designed on outdated technologies, designed in a world where data was recorded perhaps but not stored nor mined 24 x 7.
So much we have in place today, in our factories, in our processes, systems and ways of working have strong roots built up from individual moments of time, from decisions made that considered what was good for your one organization. They become standardized over time, they grew and they were seen as safe and secure because they were all internal. They did not need to become connected up beyond a specific need to achieve. These systems evolved slowly over time but were not designed for the world of the “Internet of Things”
The old era needs to give way to the new one of being completely connected
Systems such as ERP, CRM, and PLM were ours to evolve to meet our needs and pockets. Today we live in a completely different world. We combine the virtual world of data with the physical world of “things” and want to distribute, share, exchange, monitor in more “real time” and open ways with many others. Connections have moved out of being part of an assembly line but part of the need to connect up digital factories globally so the supply and demand get more closely aligned to react, exploit and capitalize on business opportunities.
The world of visualization, data analysis, and more holistic insights rules so we can optimize processes, utilize them in far more flexible, responsive ways and gain increased performance. That applies to our assets and our design and innovating capabilities. Speed and awareness are critical for us to react and respond, to take full advantage of “breaking” market opportunities. Data brings the potential for understanding and to achieve this we need to connect everything and every person up, to leverage this. The legacies that surround us are simply stopping that “optimizing” we so need today.
We have legacy systems that still hold far more critical day to day activities than we care to admit. We operate with legacy software that is highly vulnerable, written in another era where Cybersecurity was not appreciated or “attacks” on the system were not daily in seeking out weakness. Yet they still exist, still forming a culture of dependencies not wanted to be faced up too, as they are too hard, expensive and complicated to migrate.
Lastly here, they have such limited ability to adapt to change and drag down performance when you are at the point of time when you need to improve performance as your competitive landscape seems more threatened than ever.
I add this in here as it nicely summarizes the legacy issue in applications, those “ancient technologies” hindering us
We add more maintenance and support, just to keep them going. We often can’t push them, the business becomes dependant on them and is forced to adapt. Legacy systems have greater difficulty to integrate over time with new technologies. We spend more time on compliance. Old systems have greater vulnerability and are increasingly becomes the highest point of security breaches. Old code is becoming more compromised the longer we take the path of supporting the old and not replacing it with more resilient systems, more adaptable codes that can evolve.
Then just think of the increasing poor response times, the loss of not connecting up the customer touch points across your business, the growing loss of business opportunity as you do not have insight, based on bringing the complete picture into the one point of view, you keep silo’s of knowledge that risks fragmentation and incomplete understanding.
Not fully addressing the need to change actually does lead to poor decision making or the growing inability to tailor solutions to real needs not only knowing some or none of the real needs, from lack of a complete data picture. If we cannot connect up we lose the business opportunity and fresh insights. Then the last in a long list of legacy problems we never achieve the potential of organizational agility and efficiency. We constantly sub-optimize
Then we have the other types of legacy.
Enterprises that look well-run suddenly stubble or push their existing position a step too far. They allow bureaucracy to take over, they lose that entrepreneurial spark. They become arrogant rejecting younger thinking or simply alternative thinking believing their business model is the only one. The executives at the top or near enough to wait and “fill” others shoes stop pushing, they prefer safety first. Then we get the poor planning and thinking hard about “greater” consequences, we make the constant call of shareholder return on shorter and shorter time horizons keeping within the promise of delivering what we said, allowing performance to match this, we just don’t push anymore.
Those of us looking harder from the outside can spot the company is becoming less attractive to work for, the talent within starts to drift away and as those inside don’t push like they use too, skills and resource development sort of ossifies.
Usefulness is traded off constantly
We begin to see some of the traps Clayton Christensen wrote about in his “Innovators Dilemma” and follow-up books. The theory of disruptions raises itself. We get locked in the sustaining environment and not seeking out the positions that disrupt ourselves and push through all the challenges of legacy, those new forces at work, embracing new technologies and really attacking what we have, so as to equip ourselves in future looking ways.
The hard decisions to make radical changes gets caught. So often within legacy decisions, we have two choices. When we have the real need to replace the underlying infrastructure or technology the decisions become hard. You so often get caught inputting this off, you ‘dampen’ the compelling need to change and keep adding new additions to the existing system, adding even more complexity into the legacy problem. On the other hand the need for such a compelling business transformation then we see two pathways.
There are core legacy systems and non-core and we can manage them differently.
The core ones require migration at scale, performance, and managing often wicked and complex thinking through. They call for very well-thought-through planning and execution. I don’t want to go specifically there for this post but these are the real constraints on the business as discussed earlier
Then you have the non-core legacy. There is some good news here. Non-core systems today can be undertaken at the departmental level, and can “gather” business enablement, more local governance, and rules to be managed and designed and undertaken to make incremental to distinctive improvements.
Customer Engagement Apps are a good point in case. The movement to applying low-code solutions can bridge much. They tend to be built not on feeding the old system but sitting more in the cloud that can draw up required data, recombined and shared in ways that relate far more to “specific” applications and given functional needs. They become mission critical to tackling (near) real-time needs as they are built in radically different ways and offer a far greater engagement.
That need for customer engagement is actually in designing solutions that have the users involved by applying their user-centric understanding and work with design thinking environments alongside the application code writers. They work alongside each other, not one waiting for the other, then sending it back as poorly understood. The enablement of the business in the designs to ensure app usability serves the purpose is making legacy problems reduce down.
Applying the three horizons to legacy systems
We can begin to apply the three horizons thinking to legacy complexity.
If “we” all accept rapid disruption and speed of new solution deployment go hand in hand, then legacy becomes even more compelling to tackle. Perhaps we can apply the three horizons to legacy as well?
- Horizon one we can map out a plan to upgrade where it is possible. My example of low-code and discreet business functions works here.
- Horizon two is connecting the present with the future. The need to migrate the past, into the present to prepare for the future needs specifically tackling in this three horizon dialogue mapping. How, with what, the needs (resources, time, protecting and exploring)
- Then in horizon three, we build new systems, taking leading-edge technology or solutions and give the necessary assessment and exploiting confidence into practice. We experiment with overcoming legacy in contained situations to learn and inform, to then bring these back into horizon one
We are applying the basic principles of stretching in horizon one, building out bridges of understanding and solutions from the old to the new in horizon two and in horizon three, gaining insights and confidence to take legacy away in leading-edge thinking and development.
We need to always achieve top management attention to “enact” change and gain critical support. Knowing we have this support pushes us in our goals, performance and being judged. Using the three horizons to engage, to discuss the impact, and risk, on the changes within our legacy issues, helps the critical discussions we need to have around legacy. A framework like the three horizons provides a common point of understanding.
The failure to address our legacy issues
If we fail to address our legacy and not find solutions that can overcome the design flaw of equipment or systems that were not designed to communicate or be integrated; designed for a different era. A new era that connects all the necessary devices and systems, operating in more open environments so they can exchange and exploit opportunities in multiple ways.
Today we need to have connectivity, flexibility, scalability, in cost-effective ways to provide overall benefits to the enterprise not to a discreet department or a fixed time need as that was our calendar of (predictable) events. We live in a world full of unpredictability, the world of VUCA, used to describe situations or environments that engender high levels of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. Being isolated means we are more vulnerable, being connected we can become more responsive. Legacy blocks this need for reaction, it denies us complete “line-of-sight”.
Why do we hold onto our legacy? Multiple reasons, sunk-costs, over-reliance, dependencies, fear of change. The list goes on but the significant roadblock of the legacy that surrounds us blocks us to fully participate in the connected world. Future-forward needs can never be realized, apart from being at higher costs, impacting profitability and diminishing competitiveness.
Everything slows down the longer we wait.
As other accelerate, respond and speed up, we try to follow. Our best knowledge and insights elude us. Innovation suffers, designs are caught up in workarounds and we trade off what the market wants or customers desire, and then offer solutions hobbled by the legacy that stays stubbornly resisting change and not allowing us seeking out a more complete picture. We can’t afford this, we must address it
In a current climate where the world economy seems to be slowing down, we will look yet again to extend the life of our plant, processes, and systems. We begin to put off new investment, perhaps it is the best time to address legacy not continue to push it into the future as we do need to vigorously address this legacy issue, wherever it resides.
If we can’t connect up to yield today’s critical need of “connected understanding” from having data flowing into a fully connected enterprise, we will fall further behind. We need to keep pace, position ourselves so as to leverage our competitive position alongside others, to scale to new, more complex challenges with its greater insights and growth potential. We must tackle legacy across our whole enterprise as a matter of urgency.