Why legacy systems needn’t hold back your digital transformation.

10 September 2021

Craig Ryder

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As organisations consider their future direction and identify what change to pursue in order to remain relevant to their customers, attractive to their workforce and profitable for their investors, digital transformation is often high on the priority list.

Speaking with clients and colleagues across our network, legacy systems are mentioned frequently as a problem; they suggest that progress is (or is expected to be) slow or even impossible because ‘legacy systems’ hamper development.  Systems that were considered cutting edge, installed some years ago are now perceived to stand in the way of transformation. They may be outdated yet not scheduled for replacement until a point some way in the future or their implementation may not have taken into account the future needs of every function or team. Either way they are seen to block progress and dissuade some companies from setting out on a much needed transformation path.

Why your digital roadmap is crucial

At Partners in Change experience tells us that legacy systems need not hold back your digital transformation. With a fully formed digital roadmap embracing and linking both IT development and digital development pathways, great progress can be made. By ensuring these two components are always in step, a roadmap such as this becomes a keystone in delivering successful and sustainable digital transformation, irrespective of the legacy systems that may be causing concern.

Such a roadmap provides clarity for all on the realistic duration of wholesale change and when that might be possible given your organisation’s specific constraints. With this knowledge and certainty shared across the business, a short to medium term ‘innovation gap’ becomes clearly delineated allowing cost effective investment to be tailored towards smaller, tactical changes in the near term. At the same time, the business can invest in activity designed to create more favourable conditions such that when significant changes are scheduled, they are more likely to land right first time.

It is important to understand that digital roadmaps are not static documents; they must be reviewed and refreshed annually allowing them to reflect improvements in technology, your evolving understanding of how your systems are operating and an updated sense of your customers’ rapidly evolving digital expectations. At the same time, the roadmap must always be informed by innovation linked to your vision; could your organisation be doing something different, something ground-breaking, unencumbered by your limiting existing technology?

Five steps to fill the innovation gap

In accepting that the legacy system cannot be updated in the short term, transformation activity can be usefully scheduled to fill the innovation gap. In our view, five elements should form the core actions.

  1. Focus on people skills

Upskilling colleagues in anticipation of future digital transformation means planned new systems and approaches will present less of a challenge to the organisation. With this in place and as major change approaches, user acceptance testing can be spread across a larger, better-informed population.

  1. Invest in creating a culture of change

Creating a workforce that sees the need for change, feels a part of it and has a clear view of what is going to change before it lands helps build a business that embraces transformation now and in the future. It is universally accepted that the pace of change will continue to accelerate and creating a culture that thrives on change is surely a prerequisite for future success.

  1. Collect data to better inform key transformation moments

With time to properly plan steps such as the replacement or re-engineering of legacy systems, data collection can be ramped up and modified to help shape a better tailored installation.

  1. Improve ‘customer-closeness’

With time to fully research the target customer experience before a key transformation point, the organisation can establish a fuller picture of what their customer feels, wants and needs rather than simply relying on two-dimensional customer data. Many organisations feel a sense of security in that they have a huge amount of customer data from which to make decisions. However, it often focuses on the ‘what’, revealing little of the crucial ‘why’ and ‘how’ – information that often powers and shapes true innovation.

  1. Facilitate short term experience improvements with human input

A step towards digital transformation can often be achieved by designing in, for the short term, human input in order to improve customer experience. Then, once key transformation steps are delivered, human input can be replaced by automation. To the customer, the experience improvement is significant.

 

These five steps set the transformation ball rolling regardless of legacy systems issues. But we’d suggest one final watch-out; when juggling with digital transformation activity, dropping the ‘business as usual’ ball is liable to happen.

The BAU omissions we see most often are those short-term incremental development tweaks that can keep you and your team moving forward. For example, tightening up digital marketing activity through continuous test and learn, making the customer experience as good as it can be within current operating constraints and exploring new digital channel developments and/or routes to market are typical of the ongoing iterative improvements that all businesses need to pursue to stay competitive. It is tempting to hold off these steps with the promise of transformation in the air but much ground can be lost by taking your eye off the ball for even a few months.

For more information about how Partners in Change can help you with your digital transformation plans please don’t hesitate to contact richard.hatton@picconsulting.co.uk

 

Post by Craig Ryder

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