Sounding Off About The Legacy Monster

Letters that disagree with Bob...
OpenVMS Is No Monster
If the legacy monster is OpenVMS, then it actually saves your company money ... best clustering, best security for the money, and total cost of ownership will shine because uptime is measured in years. It's unhackable, so you don't need to spend most of your time patching and rebooting with the patch of the day like on Windows/Linux boxes. VMS is one legacy operating system that actually saves your company money over all other IT solutions.
Bob Ceculski
Instantwhip Foods

The Legacy-Portal Connection
We don't think companies have to ditch their legacy systems, but as you addressed in your March 31 update, companies need to find new ways to make these systems better serve their employees, partners, or customers. We see many companies unable or unwilling to move away from legacy systems that are now making great strides in leveraging these systems and growing productivity. One of the main ways they are doing this is by extracting functions and data from the legacy system and rolling them into new applications delivered to the entire business via a corporate portal.

Here are two examples:

  • At a large auto company, field managers are responsible for evaluating each car dealership and working with dealerships to improve sales and customer satisfaction. Many of the company's sales, support, and customer-service metrics are maintained in IBM DB2 mainframes. Field managers used to print out hundreds of pages of greenbar reports to view dealership statistics and compare dealerships in their region. By integrating data and functions in a field-manager dashboard in its corporate portal, the company has reduced prep time of field managers by 50%, making better use of its legacy systems.
  • At a large international energy company, there are hundreds of legacy and proprietary applications for specialized work by engineers, geoscientists, and petrophysicists (many of whom are nearing retirement). These applications are so complex that even basic information needs to be extracted by application specialists. The company is centralizing and integrating many of these applications into its corporate portal, making previously hidden information accessible companywide. Now, among other things, executives can see real-time daily and weekly production volumes for all sites worldwide through a portal executive dashboard that pulls from legacy and homegrown applications.

  • Carilu Pozorski
    Customer Marketing, Plumtree Software

    Be Proactive
    Let's be a bit more definitive of the term "Legacy." If you mean systems that are developed once, only maintained when imminent death requires it, and an "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" attitude pervades the organization, then the issue of a legacy system is only a symptom, not the problem. The problem is IT management that takes a reactive stance instead of a proactive one. Waiting for the user community to ask for things before they change them is a sure way to paint yourself into the corner of expensive, inflexible, antiquated systems. At some point down the road when budgets get tight and managers look at the cost of feeding their "monster in the basement," then it's too late. Instead, IT management must be proactive, always looking for incremental ways to keep their systems (at least within view of) current with technology and practices. This same reactive mentality protects turf and responds to design issues with answers like, "Give them what they ask for, not what they need. If you know the solution is not right but they didn't ask for it, give them the bad/incomplete solution and maybe next time they will know better." I actually had an IT manager tell me this when I made the "mistake" of trying to give them what they really wanted instead of what they described in a request because they didn't know other alternatives existed. That same company spent tons of money on hardware but ignored software innovation because what was out there worked fine already. It ain't broke, so don't fix it.

    It worked fine because that's all IT let the user community think it could have. If IT managers have a proactive approach, they present ideas to their users and suggest ways to implement them. I'm not talking about investing gazillions in new technology, but there are frequently relatively small solutions that can pay large dividends. For example, I recently found a clerk digging through papers for more than eight hours to accumulate data for a report she needed to create. The same data was already on the system but not easy for her to retrieve. What's worse, she repeated this task several times a month. A few hours of programming time solved the problem. She didn't ask for it, but the need was apparent. We were proactive in suggesting a solution. The improvement in her productivity more than paid for the IT resources to solve the problem.

    Therefore, I suggest that it's the term "Legacy"--not outdated systems but outdated management--that needs to be replaced.
    Terry Anthony
    Senior Programmer/Analyst, Julius Blum