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.