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Sounding Off About The Legacy Monster

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Legacy Monster Versus Legacy System
"The Monster in the Basement" is a good instigator of debate over legacy systems. There are three perspectives to examine about legacy systems--and therefore three directions that debate can head.

First, there's the perspective of business trajectory. This is touched on briefly in the follow-up article, "Some See a Monster, Others See Success." The resolution by the author is that a legacy system is one that helps you innovate. There is a greater depth to this concept. To judge a legacy system by where business is now, or even where you expect it to head, is shortsighted. The true judge of whether a legacy system is friend or foe is how it can keep up with business. The rest of your business resources, assets and people alike, are expected to do more and more with less every day. A Legacy Monster requires a great deal of change control and self-protective measures. It will never be able to meet the dynamic needs of your internal and external customers. By the time you complete that technological breakthrough project, your customer will already be demanding the next leap in technology. On the other hand, a Legacy System has a technical trajectory that matches your business. Legacy Monsters will eat profit and resources because they're always a step behind and obsolete almost as soon as they innovate. Legacy Systems will add value because they can keep up with the fast pace of business today.

Second, there's the innovation potential perspective. Another avenue to consider is the extent of innovation that a legacy technology can provide. While it may be able to accommodate its own scripting technology, for instance, will it be able to grow with new standards and technologies? To some extent, this is out of the control of any individual or system, as standards and technologies can have a life of their own (read: Linux). If your legacy system looks like it can handle everything you ever expect to throw at it, consider the unexpected. Legacy Monsters hit the technology envelope hard and cost a great deal of resources to innovate on the edge. Legacy Systems can stay on the edge of the envelope and are even ready for the next wave.

Third, there's the cultural perspective. The greatest challenge of legacy systems is not the technology. The greatest challenge is the culture that evolves. One of the greatest assets of the Linux trend is that the early adopters were innovators. That's why they made it cool not only to like Linux, but to challenge and improve it. They don't defend the current state of their cultural icon, but they will violently defend its extensibility. Tell a Linux fan that there's something wrong with it or there's a function you don't believe it can deliver, and you'll get a reaction. The definition of the word overtime should have a picture of a Linux guru trying to meet a challenge. Because of that culture, the technology will not only survive, it will thrive. In hindsight, one of the obstacles that Apple/Macintosh faces is that its early adopters were users. While users can help a technology survive, it's difficult for them to help it thrive. It's obvious that Apple is changing that now, but it's an uphill battle. If you were into computers that long ago, remember the first person who tried to introduce you to a Macintosh. He or she said something like, "Look how easy it is to use!" The first person who introduced you to Linux (especially in the early days) probably said something like, "It takes some effort to get started, but it can do anything you want it to." Linux has nothing to fear from the next big thing. Its culture and the people enticed by it are focused on technical innovation. Legacy Monsters inspire commitment to a specific technology and how it works. Legacy Systems inspire loyalty to a specific technology and its constant innovation.

In conclusion, three criteria determine the fine line between System and Monster. Can it match the pace of business? Can it stay ahead of the pace of business? Will it inspire its devotees to keep it at the forefront of technological revolution? The best Legacy System answers yes to all three questions.
Adam Tate
Quality Manager, IBM



Integration Is Key
The legacy status quo is a ticking time bomb if you consider the situation from an enterprise-agility perspective. If your firm values information systems' flexibility and nimbleness, then legacy systems present an obvious business and technical risk.

What many IT professionals and CIOs aren't well-prepared to address are the legacy integration-planning and business-integration strategies that will help them to tackle the legacy monster in a coordinated and well-planned way. Often there is no plan or strategy on paper. Often the application server or EAI solutions become the de facto product-driven strategy. This is a major problem, as product-driven strategies to deal with the legacy monster miss many important opportunities to build a fellowship with the business community. The business community also needs to deal with the legacy monster and the IT professional needs to understand this common fellowship. The fellowship is based on a common vision of capturing the critical assets of the business--business rules and business processes.

The big bang for the buck (or low-hanging fruit) lies in an understanding of supplementing the application server with both business-rule and business-process server components so that the IT organization can tackle the mining of business rules and processes that extend the legacy systems but also enable the IT organization to tame the legacy monster one phase at a time.

Business-rule and -process management are the two key components that we think every CIO should have "in plan." These infrastructure investments enable the company to master the legacy risks while addressing today's business pain, and provide the only scalable solutions to assist the application server component to address Web services.

So, in summary, a plan must be put into place to tackle the integration of legacy systems and extend their life and value, and the integration plan must include both business-rule servers and business-process servers to allow the legacy systems to be brought under control and into a new extended environment. The business professionals need to be brought into this common vision, as they will drive the definition of business rules and business processes. They will also be the validators of all legacy rule/process assets to ensure they're still valuable to the enterprise. In this way, the CIO can sleep at night because he or she has taken the necessary steps to take control of the legacy monster and ensure that the line-of-business professional is committed to mastering the legacy environment and that the rule and process servers are in place to make this happen!
Phil Wilson
Founder & Chairman, RuleSphere International



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