Did you ever wonder what makes your Enterprise younger?
Jun 2, 2016 2:10:38 PM
Did you ever wonder what makes your Enterprise younger?
Feb 16, 2016 2:43:00 PM
Once upon a time — oh, about 45 years ago or so — there was a business that decided to adopt the very latest in modern technology. While lesser businesses were still mired in resource-gobbling manual processes, this forward-thinking business had invested in automation. And the business was happy.
Which isn’t to say that everything was perfect in the kingdom. The big, bad competition would point and laugh at the piles of money “wasted” on the huge blue monstrosity that sat in a cool room that had to be air conditioned 24/7 and had tape drives outputting data to dot matrix printers. But the business paid the naysayers no mind. The business loved its new technology and even came up with a clever nickname for its favorite computer. They called it their “mainframe” or by its nickname, “Ernie.”
All went well for a decade or two, but then a funny thing happened. Everyone had computers now, but they were much smaller and didn’t have magnetic tape drives or anything. The weirdest thing was that competitors were stealing away customers left and right. The world had gone crazy! First, everyone fell in love with spiders on some Web, and now they were all watching the weather report so they could go outdoors and throw their data up to a cloud! Then, wouldn’t you know it, no one learned computer languages anymore, just bird languages! Everyone was going tweet, tweet, tweet and wearing some newfangled smashtags or hashtags or something.
The business did its best to keep up with the times, mostly by looking over the shoulders of teenagers and trying to do what they did. It spent a lot of money buying the new little computers and investing in websites and blogs and something called “social media.” And the beloved mainframe still sat back in the cool room and its tape drive turned and its dot matrix printer squeaked as it spewed forth customer data on green and white striped paper. The only way to use the data at all was to key it into modern databases and spreadsheets on the little computers.
No one wanted to get rid of Ernie. After all, it had been there longer than anyone else and was treated like a favorite pet. They had humored it for a very long time even though it didn’t work with modern personal computers. Ernie was getting really old, but the business kept trying to keep it going “just a little longer,” because it held the secrets to legacy data that the PCs didn’t know about and because the business didn’t want to spend money to modernize. Besides, they were afraid of the business disruption that could result if they couldn’t use Ernie anymore. So they had specialized programmers spend most of their time babying Ernie.
Still, the CEO knew the truth: Ernie and its legacy apps were holding the business back from optimizing its marketing capabilities. He feared that meteorology would become the business’s undoing. After all, they couldn’t even become partly cloudy when Ernie wasn’t able to talk to the rest of the company’s systems. As if that weren’t bad enough, a corporate governance dragon started breathing hot fire down the CEO’s neck about the mainframe exposing customer data to unauthorized access. The dreaded words “millions of dollars in liability” kept the CEO up at night. He knew that the company’s legacy apps could become its undoing. He didn’t dare whisper his innermost thoughts, that maybe they’d have to get rid of Ernie after all.
Now, most of the current employees weren’t even born when the mainframe was unpacked from its boxes, and finally they held a retirement party for the last of their coworkers who knew how to keep Ernie running. Before the business knew it, poor Ernie broke down and that’s when they learned that neither the hardware nor the software was supported any longer. Apparently, the mainframe had contracted a deadly disease called COBOL. The very sound of the word caused mere mortals to flee screaming in terror.
Just about that time, a knight in shining armor appeared upon a white horse at the corporate castle. He promised to save the business from disaster, so the employees lowered the drawbridge over the moat and allowed him to enter. The brave knight taught the executives about “legacy application modernization,” which they were so pleased to learn meant that they could keep Ernie and its valuable data after all. Apparently, an interpretive layer could be interposed between Ernie and the company’s modern systems, sort of like a translator. Not only that, but quality and efficiency could be improved by eliminating manual and duplicative processes and by adopting a smooth, integrated system. It was decreed throughout the land that henceforth all employees would have the benefit of a single graphical user interface with everyone using the same screens. All would have access to convenient widgets and one-touch help access and, best of all, would have just one password to remember.
The CEO heeded the advice of the handsome knight and, while Ernie continued to purr in the back room, the business knew that it had gained not only cloud capability, but also the ability to meet future challenges by expanding to accommodate new technology as it emerges. And as the knight rode away on his white horse across the drawbridge, all the employees in the kingdom shouted “Hurrah!”
And they lived happily ever after.
Feb 9, 2016 4:44:41 PM
Your business systems are a lot like a city’s infrastructure. Your customers expect certain services (perhaps a mobile app, one-click online purchasing functionality, live customer service on your website and communication via social media) in the same way that a city’s residents expect to have access to hot and cold running water, well-maintained roads and modern power and phone service. Cities often have a tough time keeping up with filling proliferating potholes resulting from increased vehicular traffic or replacing pre-computer era telephone lines strung on power poles with underground T1 lines that accommodate high-speed data. Similarly, your growing business is bound to experience challenges in updating legacy data systems and providing services that, although demanded by your current customers, may not have even existed just a few years ago.
And then there is the matter of planning for the future. Not only may legacy apps be holding you back, but you may also not know what newfangled app or service your customers will be clamoring for next year (or maybe even next month)? Will your 1970s and 1980s era software and hardware, which may no longer be supported, be able to keep up with the times?
The phrase “modernization” is bandied about at the highest levels in every company, but resistance to change is likely to cause headaches and griping among everyone from IT to accounting to HR. So what exactly are we talking about? What are your modernization options?
The right answers will depend on your business needs and long-term goals.
To give you an idea of what may be involved, here’s a brief summary of the most popular approaches to technology modernization.
Web enablement harnesses the power of the internet as a middleman between your legacy apps and modern software. Much as parents and teenagers often feel as if they need a translator to have a basic conversation, cross-generational communication between software requires a dictionary of words that have the same meaning to everyone involved. Application program interfaces (APIs) establish a set of ground rules that provides the common language to allow a Babel of programs from different decades to understand each other. The Rosetta Stone is typically hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP), the language of the Web. Popular web enablement acronyms include SOAP (simple object access protocol) and REST (representational state transfer), both of which refer to methods of establishing pathways for a variety of software to perform tasks such as retrieving web pages or sending data to remote servers.
Another approach involves the soul searching of stepping back and examining the big picture of the services that you provide to your customers and the specific functions that must be accomplished to fulfill their expectations. You can think of this as drawing a map or diagram of how data comes in and what must happen to that data before services are output. Common methods of tackling this challenge include business process management and service oriented architecture.
Business process management (BPM) is a move toward disentanglement that requires breaking down the functions performed by your business into chunks or building blocks. The goal is achieving process improvement that goes beyond dealing with old technology to encompass such processes as lean management and CRM. The idea is to modernize by eliminating duplicative and obsolete processes, by combining and streamlining operations, and by developing algorithms to automate repetitive functions.
Service oriented architecture (SOA) makes use of applications that work over a network to allow integration of the various components of your business operations. To do this, you might identify business functions currently employing the resources of multiple programs that could be performed by a single software package. Or you might examine how and under what conditions data transfers from one program to another to reduce unnecessary friction points and optimize throughput. The idea is to create less portage and more paddle, less of the clunky and more of the smooth. The right applications can leverage network capabilities to serve as a conductor that bring the strings, brass and woodwinds of your business processes into a unified symphony orchestra.
Finally, some businesses may benefit from a traditional migration or port/rewrite operation, sometimes referred to as “lift and shift.” While this may not require as much technology as other approaches, it does mean that your programmers must have coding expertise in both your legacy software and in the more modern programs on which your processes have come to depend. And it may cause you to lose the potential benefits of moving legacy software apps to the cloud.
What is clear is that the same solution will not work for every business. Like any grand plan for the future, technology modernization depends a great deal on where you’ve been and where you are today.
Feb 5, 2016 8:00:00 AM
Businesses seeking to modernize IT systems to keep up with advances in technology and customer expectations should look to the following trends in 2016: A shrinking world, smaller devices, mobile and cloud capabilities, and leveraging big data.
Feb 2, 2016 1:06:54 PM
Changes in business processes typically involve things like software testing, putting up with bugs that have not yet been fixed, crossing your eyes in an attempt to navigate poorly-written user manuals, sitting in training classes and being told that you have to change your comfortable routine because nothing works the same way anymore. Is it any wonder that the mere suggestion of modernizing systems may be met with groans and choruses of “Do we hafta?”
Resistance to change, cost considerations and concerns about business disruption often make businesses reluctant to modernize outdated hardware and software. And yet, the business pressures to integrate legacy apps with modern software packages mount:
Jan 29, 2016 12:22:00 PM
After a period of avoiding the Cloud with security concerns, the financial-services industry is coming around.
Jan 26, 2016 4:19:13 PM
The advent of a new year causes many of us to become contemplative, looking back on the successes and challenges of the past twelve months and forward to what may lie just around the next corner. Alas, while we crane our necks to gain a glimpse of the future, the crystal ball tends to turn up foggy. However, one thing that we can predict with certainty, particularly in the realm of technology, is change. Former methods of doing business, once standards in the industry, give way to the latest developments in communication, marketing and gadgetry. Technology that is currently state of the art will be rendered obsolete while a shifting economy alters the shape of your business practices and your customers demand modes of service that most of us haven’t yet imagined.
As change is inevitable, it is incumbent upon businesses to remain sufficiently flexible to keep up with whatever comes. So the question is: Is your IT organization future proof? If you’re already a little behind in the tech race, it might be time for IT modernization. The following are a few questions that may be helpful in making this determination:
Jan 22, 2016 4:16:11 PM
Back in the early dot-com days, if you wanted to build an application or a site, you would make significant investments to buy hardware and software and hope you succeeded. Today, if you said you needed funds for hardware, an investor would laugh you out of the room.
Jan 19, 2016 11:44:01 AM
A famous saying claims that “you can’t teach old dogs new tricks.” But have you ever tried it?
Dogs are just like people in that they like mental stimulation. Believing that your faithful companion doesn’t have the ability to learn anything new is largely a self-fulfilling prophecy. Just as today many people are going back to school and earning degrees in their 70s and 80s, there is no reason that your canine best friend can’t learn to shake hands or roll over at any age. Dog trainers will tell you that’s it all a matter of patience, positive reinforcement and motivation. But most of all, you have to believe.
The same principle applies when a business needs to teach new tricks to its legacy hardware and software. There will always be naysayers who will tell you “Oh no, your old programs will never be able to do that” or “Who are you kidding? That technology didn’t even exist when your code was written!” If you buy into that mindset, your business will likely be stuck with data running on a variety of platforms that don’t communicate with each other very well and a stack of apps developed in different decades. Your IT operation can find itself swiftly transformed into a regular Tower of Babel.
The value of software integration capability is one reason that packages such as Microsoft Office have become so popular. You can dump your rows and columns of figures from Excel into a chart in your report over in Word, into your Power Point slide deck and into an Access database with just a few clicks. Wouldn’t it be great if you could modernize to obtain this type of interoperability among the various programs you’ve invested in over the years, even if they run on different platforms?
Just think of the advantages:
Jan 15, 2016 6:23:08 PM
When businesses are scaled up, fragmentation is a natural result. Organizations get divided into “pieces” as they get bigger - unless a leader drives something different by design.
To most business leaders, it remains important that people feel part of “something bigger.” But, with their actions, most people at the top do less for unity and ironically more for what Ron Carucci of Harvard Business Review terms the opposite of cohesion: “faux-hesion.”