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3/28/2003
02:47 PM
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Business Technology: Some See A Monster, Others See Success

Boy, oh boyzee, talk about the simultaneous spring of hope and winter of despair! Last week's column on what I called The Legacy Monster drew piles of reactions--some said it's a terribly dangerous problem, and others with equal fervor said it's nothing but a phony construct dreamed up by vendors. While nobody in the "You're A Mindless Twit" camp specifically called me a mindless twit, the general implication was there in the readers' own words: "This is utter nonsense!" and "I'm not sure I understand what you are even talking about," and "I don't get paid to think up glib word play," and my own favorite, "I hope the ensuing body of work that results is more balanced than the opening piece, no offense intended." (What offense? Wasn't that a compliment?) Conversely, over in the "Kill The Monster" camp, there was a great deal of enthusiasm generated by real-life successes: "'Monster In The Basement' is a great take on legacy systems" and "We're going down the same path that Dell CIO Randy Mott mentioned in your article" and "Legacy technology is a problem for every IT manager and is, and I fear always will be, a constant battle."

You can view all of the input at our new Web site called "The Legacy Monster." Please bear in mind it's not a finished work--we hope to make it a forum for discussion, debate, ideas, solutions, and innovation, even if your plan of action is to just leave the systems alone and be glad they're not something far worse. Please visit the site at informationweek.com/legacy.

So which way is the wind really blowing? Why the enormous disagreement on a subject that everyone must contend with? I certainly feel that a good chunk of the blame lies with me for not having defined clearly in last week's column what I meant by legacy systems and the legacy monster. So, while I'm apologizing for that, I'll also try to give the issue definition. First, what the Legacy Monster is NOT: Many readers stated that their legacy systems work just fine, require minimal maintenance, haven't required a reboot since the Pilgrims landed in the New World, and are sustaining quite nicely the operations of the company. Other readers felt I was advocating an indiscriminate Rip 'n' Replace Revolution in which anything created before late last year gets sent to the dump. I want to say that things that work fine should be kept and treasured. I'm not leading any revolutionary charge to go buy new stuff just because, well, it's new.

So why is one legacy thing a system and the other's a monster? I would argue that the decisive issue isn't one of technology, but of business value. Does the system help you do only what you've always done, or does it help you innovate? Does everyone who needs to have full access to what's inside it have that access at a cost that you're proud to tell your peers about? Will such access be available to appropriate people outside your organization--suppliers, partners, customers--with full functionality and security, and at a price your CEO will congratulate you for? Are these systems capable of facing your customers and markets, or are they solely and eternally internal? Will they help you identify and explore new markets, refine processes, and move at the speed of your customers and markets? Are they helping you deploy more people, time, and money toward revenue generation and customer loyalty, and away from internal maintenance, integration, and service? Your answers to these questions can help determine the nature of the legacy thing: valued system or dreaded monster.

Please add to the discussion, and tell me where it should be headed. And tell me what your definitions are for Legacy System, and for Legacy Monster. I'll read through all the responses, pick three that are truly outstanding, and the brains behind each will receive copies of our new InformationWeek Research survey on real-time business. Thanks for the letters, and please keep them coming at informationweek.com/932/form.htm.

Bob Evans
Editor in Chief
bevans@cmp.com


To discuss this column with other readers, please visit Bob Evans's forum on the Listening Post.

To find out more about Bob Evans, please visit his page on the Listening Post.

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