Don’t Throw Out Legacy Systems; Instead Abandon Legacy Thinking

Digital Transformation


Whenever people think “transformation”, they reflexively see dollar signs and big budgets. And if part of your job is keeping spending under control, you have a responsibility to weigh new priorities against a litany of financial considerations. With that said, it’s not uncommon for many business leaders to have legitimate concerns that expensive software and equipment purchased just a few years ago will be rendered obsolete once a digital transformation is underway.
We want to clear the air: legacy systems and digital transformation are not mutually exclusive. Sometimes it makes sense to keep legacy systems because teams have already developed a level of expertise working with them. Then of course there are instances when regulations, such as those affecting the financial, insurance, and healthcare sectors, make it virtually impossible to forego these systems. But here’s the good news: enterprises needn’t jettison dependable IT that continues to serve a crucial function. Instead, try assimilating older systems into new operations in an orderly manner.

Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater 

The trick is to unlock hidden efficiencies. That’s the view of Thomas Stubbs, vice president of engineering and innovation with Coca-Cola’s Freestyle division, who says his company takes a tiered approach to introducing technology. “We have company systems that are relatively stable and foundational—that don’t go through rapid technology changes and can last 10 to 20 years,” he says of the first tier. “They’re highly complex. If you mess them up, you actually can do a great deal of harm to the company in very short order.
“Our mid-tier involves systems of differentiation. These are technologies that we may invest in to give ourselves a competitive or cost-savings advantage. We don’t expect these innovations to have long lives—maybe three years, for example. But even with systems of differentiation, we find we are more powerful when we choose fewer technologies but really leverage the ones we do choose. As for the third tier, we sometimes do things with technology that we may use for only one campaign. We take an almost Darwinistic perspective on what wins.”
Adds Darren Person, CTO and senior vice president of digital product management and platform services with RELX, “You have to take the legacy business with you on the journey. If you don’t, you’re going to spend more of your time fighting a political war than you will spend your time actually transforming the business.”
Ultimately, making the shift to digital is less about abandoning legacy systems and more about discarding legacy mentalities. Don’t shy away from change because you’re concerned that transformation will mean a complete overhaul of your business. By embracing a new mindset, you may discover that your legacy systems offer offers more than you previously thought.