In The Avengers, Steve Rogers is a past relic who is revived to fight present-day adversaries. And despite the promotion of containers, cloud native, and SaaS, previous-gen legacy systems still account for the bulk of today’s business infrastructures. These infrastructures are now fighting the cosmic-level challenges troubling today’s enterprise. More demanding customers, increasingly agile competitors, and multiplying security breaches can bring legacy infrastructure to its knees, causing service disruption and endless fury from users.
Though there are many legitimate reasons we stick with legacy systems, reports suggest they cost certain businesses upwards of USD$140 billion due to a lack of flexibility or compatibility. If today’s business goal is “digital transformation,” where’s the corresponding push to modernise on the ground? The familiar realities of tight budgets and resource-dry, overworked teams may simply reinforce a reactive approach to transformation.
To be fair, “legacy” isn’t a bad word if its operation is mindful of how its systems support IT’s changing missions and new business requirements. However, teams usually know when a legacy system no longer works and have identified its limits well in advance. Today, new functionality designed to support transformation—like cloud-based workloads—warrants a dive into new solutions. But this brings with it a minefield of risks and issues. How can IT teams prepare themselves and put legacy systems overdue for modernisation back on ice once and for all?
Counting the Cost of Legacy
Unfortunately, IT’s “just-in-time” approach can be highly disruptive and risky as IT transforms critical production infrastructure. We’re “fixing” systems with years of demonstrated reliability and will almost certainly break things in the process. This can be a tough gut-level risk assessment to overcome, holding businesses back in the long-term by limiting the number of opportunities and increasing competitive risk. How is an enterprise supposed to handle modernisation and transformation without burning themselves—or their customers—out in the process?
The answer is a familiar one with a twist. Tighter monitoring and visibility over infrastructure—both new and old—has always provided hard data to prove teams are successful and confirm real post-modernisation benefits to the business through new instrumentation. In addition to system health and data metrics, successful IT teams monitor the health of their projects and people. Through today’s IT management tools, teams can discover how much of their time and effort they spend keeping legacy systems chugging along instead of reaping the results of investments progressing the business on the digital front.
Plotting progress metrics against systems data—performance, logs, alerts, and all—is critical. But combining Site Reliability Engineering (SRE) practices, like embracing error rage monitoring over “up/down,” is even better. It allows leadership and engineering to calculate and compare the true total cost of ownership (TCO) for supporting legacy ware and the reengineering and post-deployment teething costs of modernised systems.
Many businesses can save substantially if they can quantify the benefits of ditching particularly creaky legacy apps. Some enterprises could even slash operational costs by a staggering 74%. This forms the basis of IT’s argument to shift away from legacy. The next step involves forming a “modernisation battle plan” to guide IT teams and help them manage the sticky and messy task of digitally transforming the business.
Modernisation Battle Plan, Assemble!
With sufficient monitoring in place, IT can progress toward creating a modernisation battle plan, a change management blueprint designed to sufficiently lay out the facts and figures for a concerted shift away from legacy.
Here are several things the battle plan should do:
- Provide reasoning. Lead with factual evidence and quantify transformation by showing business leaders the figures: the inefficiency of legacy, the cost of maintenance, and impact due to downtimes.
- Provide evidence. Conduct beta tests for new solutions and systems before rolling them out. This approach will help you evaluate solution viability and show improvements over legacy systems.
- Provide reassurance. Change is scary. Reassure the business by establishing and tracking reliable backups and restorations of vital systems data and services. Monitor and communicate every rollout as transparently as possible and ensure you have a rollback plan to restore things if something goes wrong.
- Provide support. You may not be able to assure new solutions will be relevant and supported for decades, but you can collaborate with vendors to share a transparent, long-term product road map. Good partners will demonstrate a balance between willingness to innovate and dedication to support. Great vendors will do both while evolving with the needs of their clients.
- Celebrate wins. Though it may seem natural to do so, IT teams don’t always promote their transformation projects or celebrate wins with the rest of the business. However, we’re transforming legacy systems for a reason. Be sure to share transformation success metrics during town hall meetings and celebrate successes as they’re achieved.
All About Trust and Transparency
Even with a solid battle plan, systems modernisation can remain a somewhat risky business with plenty of unknowns. Successful teams manage this by being accountable and maintaining lines of communication. Along with other techniques, this means making monitoring metrics easily accessible to the larger business.
Above all, IT should remember to set the right expectations—transformation is a temporary pain, but its potential gains are beneficial, to say the least. And most importantly, when replacing or updating legacy systems, it’s no surprise for a few things to go wrong along the way. It’s a learning process—for IT and its business leaders—but you’ll quickly gain expertise, making follow-up projects smooth. With actionable monitoring, solid data, and a bold battle plan, IT will quickly recover from early stumbles, just like the First Avenger. Many teams will discover modernisation is something they “can do all day.”