The term “legacy IT” is, in reality, something of a misnomer. It’s recognised by every IT leader to represent the old software and hardware in their infrastructure, especially where it’s since been superseded by newer technologies. Some 90% of IT chiefs say legacy systems are holding them back and hindering their adoption of digital strategies.
But in effect, every bit of kit or new application becomes “legacy” the day after it goes live – at least, under traditional IT management methods. Legacy IT is sunk cost – hopefully, it’s an investment, one that no matter how much it seems out of date, cumbersome or complex, is still delivering a return. Otherwise, why not just switch it off?
As the big retail banks have found, legacy IT still runs the business, and the cost and risk of replacing it still just about outweighs the risk of keeping it going. There are ways to extend the useful life of legacy IT – not least by wrapping it in a layer of APIs – but the ultimate goal for any IT leader has to be to eliminate legacy IT completely.
That’s not as daft an idea as it sounds.
Ask yourself this question: Can you invest in technology that doesn’t become a legacy? If you were starting from a greenfield site today – as startups do – you would design legacy out of your IT architecture. You would use cloud services widely if not exclusively – no more worries about hardware getting old. You would develop software iteratively using agile methods, and manage your infrastructure using DevOps principles, so that corporate applications are constantly updated and never become legacy. If you encourage staff to use their own mobiles and laptops at work too, then you avoid the need for regular end-user device updates.
Of course, it’s never quite as easy as that, and we’re a long way from reaching a point where everything in your IT infrastructure is constantly refreshed. But it’s increasingly feasible to move your IT strategy in that direction.
Instead of dealing with the problems of legacy IT, how about making the elimination of legacy IT your personal legacy as an IT leader?