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Legacy Systems Are Dead. Really? Don't Count On It.

“Old Marley was as dead as a doornail.”

That oft-quoted expression, taken from Charles Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol,” has been referenced over the years to indicate things -- like dodos and mutton -- that were essentially dead (or have been dead for a long, long time).

Fast-forward to today, and that same phrase can just as easily be applied to the living world of IT. Take legacy systems, for instance. 

While the demise of legacy systems has been surmised, forecast, and telegraphed for many, many years -- “Legacy systems are dead” – it should come as no surprise that they continue to live and thrive in countless IT organizations around the globe.  For some businesses, these systems remain a necessary and helpful hand. For others, legacy systems hurt -- to the tune of shortened careers, failing companies and diminished capabilities.

Steve Andriole, a Professor of Business Technology with the Villanova School of Business, listed legacy applications – whether home grown or off-the-shelf – as a surefire way to derail a promising career in IT in his article “10 Constraints that Kill CIOs.”

In a world where change is “normal”, the legacy system remains a potentially huge obstacle for enabling speed, agility and nimbleness in today’s IT infrastructures. Faced with disruption caused by rapid transformation, massive technological innovation, and a customer-centric approach to engagement, how does one address the legacy system issue?

Prashant Kelker, a Partner with Information Services Group (ISG) advises that “business outcomes should always take priority, not systems – modern or legacy” in his CIO magazine article “How to deal with legacy systems, the Achilles’ Heel of digital transformation.”

And Gartner, in their new 2019 CIO Agenda report suggests that “as digital scales, both private- and public-sector organizations have transformed their enterprise operating models to improve and retool business and IT processes and capabilities.” IT leaders will be hard-pressed to make the changes that are necessary – and often painful – as they rebalance their existing infrastructure with some of the new, disruptive technologies like AI.

The good news is that many things – including legacy systems – do have a life span. But don’t look for its obituary in the newspaper just yet. Just like Old Marley dragging his chains (and burdens) with him, many companies will continue to grapple with legacy systems for some time to come.







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