Legacy IT: A technical debt field of dreams
In Field of Dreams, while walking in his cornfield, Kevin Costner’s character hears a whisper: “If you build it, he will come,” which, without giving the plot away, inspires him to build a baseball field.
In IT, if you build it, they – the users – will indeed come, that is, until something better comes along. Then it becomes a noose around your neck.
IT leaders are forever dealing with legacy systems and it is hard to find an IT leader who will have thought out well in advance, how the technical debt introduced during his or her tenure, will be maintained in years to come, when the next CIO is in charge.
And as Martin Biggs, managing director of EMEA at third-party support firm Spinnaker, points out, the enterprise software providers want their customers to upgrade on-premises legacy systems to new cloud-based offerings. More often than not, legacy systems that require updating or a security patch, may remain unpatched for months.
The IT sector doesn’t really like to consider the problem of technical debt. Every IT conference and product pitch is about the next greatest piece of tech innovation. It is a question Computer Weekly put to Alex Case, the public sector industry principal for the EMEA region at Pegasystems.
Fixing legacy IT in the public sector
In light of the recent Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report looking into the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ (Defra) legacy IT systems, Case, who has worked extensively in the public sector, believes low code tooling can help to overcome the bottlenecks of the vertically integrated monolithic IT systems that run the business workflows in government departments.
As reported by the PAC, Defra has a legacy IT problem and it is not alone. The PAC’s Tackling Defra’s ageing digital services report has profound implications across government departments. Government digital services often rely on outdated and unsupported legacy IT systems. “We concluded that there was no clear plan to replace or modernise legacy systems and data that were critical to service provision but were often old, unsupportable, vulnerable and a constraint on transformation,” the PAC warned in the report.
Case and other supporters of low-code tooling, believe that the best way forward is to look at the inefficiencies in the workflow and join the broken bits via a low code platform. This makes sense in the short to medium term, as it offers a way to build efficiencies which workaround legacy IT system. But such a strategy ultimately leads to data silos and low-code application sprawl. Isn’t it time the industry recognises the problem that is now brewing?