There are many reasons that technical legacy occurs and there are ample risks that can be resolved with application archiving and prioritising technical hygiene projects. However, can organisations prevent technical legacy from occurring in the first place?

Within any organisation, there are numerous IT challenges to grapple with, such as defending the data that exists in applications and ensuring that the organisation reduces the risk of cyber incidents through good project hygiene.

As cyber risk remains a difficult problem to address, addressing legacy IT issues face-on can stand organisations in good stead. But what is ‘legacy IT’ and how can organisations prevent its creation in the first place?

Legacy IT: What is it and how is it created?

The concept of IT legacy is, in its simplest form, the existence of outdated software and physical technology that is retained in organisational IT architecture. When technology becomes ‘legacy’ will vary from organisation to organisation but typically occurs when it is marked to be retired or contained.

There are a few ways this happens, and the reasons are “natural causes” and other times, it’s a matter of consequences.

As customer and organisation needs evolve, it is natural to assume that technology needs to also evolve. It’s reasonable, and it’s expected – and it is also the reason why it’s impossible to deliver a zero legacy target because there will always be technology that loses its relevance.

A good example is the old credit card imprinter – and apologies to the younger generations out there, this may be tech you need to Google. The old analogue method of swiping the imprint of a credit card to triple carbon paper could still deliver its outcome (payment for a service or goods), but it lacks basic modern securities, speed for transactions, and was made almost entirely redundant by the EFTPOS machine (and more recently by devices such as smartphones and watches)

For its time, it made using credit possible. However, it was quickly destined for the scrap heap as near-real-time data exchange meant a credit card transaction could show up on your bank statement within a very short period of time.

Another way that legacy is created is by the consequence of decisions and actions that are part and parcel of delivering a project. All projects operate under constraints – time, money, scope and quality – and we all know that when time and money are under pressure, it’s scope and quality that takes the hit.

This is a time when trade-offs are made, and when an application or feature is de-scoped in a new implementation, rather than replace it, the legacy tech is integrated or data is left in storage on an old app and server because it’s cost prohibitive to move it.

The legacy may not be fully created at that point, but the seed is planted and like a weed, it will grow and become an unwanted addition to your technology garden.

Preventing the creation of legacy IT in projects

Project governance has well-known processes used to handle situations when time pressures and constraints become a problem.  Change requests to seek scope, time, and budget changes that are typically quantified, cost benefits analysed and sent to a steering committee for approval.

But here are a few problems that arise in terms of legacy IT:

  • The steerco’s priority is the project’s benefits and ensuring an appropriate outcome is delivered
  • The sponsor is often a business leader who owns the benefits, not a technology leader providing services
  • The data used to make the change decisions normally focuses on the impacts on the project and the benefits

The standard process and governance structure have an inherent bias to the decision right in front of them and do not typically factor for long-term impacts.

If removing and preventing legacy IT is important, here are some approaches you could use to improve SteerCo decisions:

  • Establish a set of agreed principles that guide decision-making for the project and Steering Committee, for example, “… ensure all go forward technology solutions are fully supportable”, which provides a platform for raising legacy IT-related concerns during decision making
  • Define roles and responsibilities that include which SteerCo members or project team members can make certain decisions. For example, technology decisions require a sponsor and IT representative endorsement to be ratified, which would prevent a sponsor from making a decision that is good for the project, but poor for the organisation’s IT environment.
  • Including Legacy IT requirements in the planning, scoping, and design forums as a must-have element to progress through quality stage gates, thus ensuring the right guard rails are in place. Keeping out unnecessary customisations also helps and keeps new closer to product roadmaps and upgrade paths.

Why: The powerful benefits of keeping out legacy IT

The are obvious benefits of keeping out legacy IT: reduced cost in maintenance, licences and old infrastructure are all elements that we all know and are generally easy to quantify.  There are other benefits regarding improved security and reduced footprint, and easy access to valuable data.

Future projects also benefit. If there is sufficient focus on preventing legacy IT is part of project planning; there will be fewer systems, middleware, unnecessary integration, and a reduced impact that future projects will need to contend with. The reduced complexity also means that there are fewer complications down the road and more bang for the buck on capital expenditure as more value or faster realisation of value is achieved with less discovery, design, and testing required.

You might never get to zero — it’s unlikely — but uplifting PMO, governance processes and project decision-making can go a long way toward keeping legacy IT out of your organisation.

Quay Consulting partners with the CPM Group to enable organisations to adopt better systems integration as part of the project delivery process. To find out more,  please contact us.

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