Be sure of a living legacy

How can IT directors save costs and boost innovation?

How can IT directors save costs and boost innovation?

Market analyst firm Gartner says, "Chief information officers will have to spend the next 12 months holding down costs while innovating for the future."

This is the CIO's dilemma: to achieve a balance between managing short-term issues of cost and complexity while investing in the future. They also have to decide which legacy systems should be replaced and which should have their life extended. For a solution, they will have to look at things from an unconventional perspective.

Conventional wisdom is that new is better than old, that hardware consistently gets better, faster and cheaper. Consumers who have come to expect year-on-year improvements fuel this cycle.

Although legacy hardware will need replacing, we must ask what is to be done about the applications running on those platforms. After all, they fuel the business, touch customers and help deliver products and services to new markets. Does all this mean that new applications are better than those written in the past? Are Cobol business processes obsolete simply because they can be re-written in Java? Probably not.

Gartner says 75% of the world's business is processed by 180 billion to 200 billion lines of Cobol code - the equivalent of about 10 million books.

These applications capture business processes developed over many years. IT commodities are available to everyone, but in-house written applications are unique to that organisation's way of doing business. These embody data, processes, rules and concepts that are intertwined with the people who run the business.

This is ultimately what distinguishes one business from its competitors. In the well-worn analogy, the bathwater (the legacy platform) is dispensable, but the baby (the application) is not.

So can IT unlock an application containing valuable business processes from a legacy platform that restricts a CIO's ability to reduce cost and to innovate for an agile future? Absolutely.

For many firms, the mainframe is no longer the most cost-effective platform from which to operate core business services. Moving applications to low-cost Linux or Windows platforms can reduce or remove mainframe operating costs currently locked up in IT infrastructure budgets. Software is preserved and business continuity is no more disturbed than a conventional mainframe upgrade.

To understand the value of legacy applications, simply estimate the cost of doing business without them, and how much it would cost to rebuild that legacy from scratch. CIOs can now upgrade to better, cheaper and faster new platforms, and re-use existing business processes and skills. This means they can avoid the high costs and risks of "ripping and replacing" several thousand volumes of business scripts.

In this way, year-on-year cost savings and return on investment can often be achieved within a few months. The CIO's dilemma can be answered by viewing legacy applications as an asset that can help drive down costs and increase agility with minimum risk.

Mike Gilbert is director of product strategy of Micro Focus

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