Legacy technology: A gift or a headache?

Written by Eleanor Willock

Digital transformation has been the name of the game for the past few years. The need for businesses and organisations to embrace transformation-enabling technologies like the cloud and artificial intelligence has become so pressing that being ‘left behind’ equals a threat to their very existence.

There’s no question that organisations can and should benefit from the latest technologies to ensure they stay relevant and achieve their goals, from cutting costs to delivering cutting-edge customer value.

Understandably, suppliers are happy to engage: keen and eager to sell the latest and greatest innovations. And, in PR, it’s our job to increase knowledge of these new systems and demonstrate their value. We’re all on board the transformation ship.

But, as any entity that has been around for some time will know, organisations come with a perceived ‘technology baggage’. This is their IT estate, i.e. all of their technology systems (both front-end and back-end) that they have been relying on, but are seen to be becoming too slow, too siloed, too expensive or simply too inefficient. Does this need to be the case? Is it right that while legacy applications often have limitations they should be viewed so negatively?

After all, technology is moving fast and it’s very easy for technology to become ‘legacy’ overnight. Today’s ‘killer app’ can fast become tomorrow’s ‘old news’ when, in fact, the systems are still perfectly valid.

Organisations can still draw a wealth of information and learnings from them and use these to craft their specific digital transformation journey.

  1. Legacy applications reveal a lot on an organisation’s ‘personality’. Systems that have been around for a long time are telling of the organisation’s priorities and objectives and how these have shifted over time. They are good reference points for a digital transformation project that looks to improve existing processes
  2. Legacy systems can provide the basis for innovative customisable solutions. Many solutions are marketed as ‘out of the box’ or ‘plug and play’ only for organisations to find out that they do not really fit into their IT infrastructure and do not meet their evolving needs. On the contrary, legacy applications can still bring value when working together with solutions and tools that are customised for the specific organisation.
  3. Legacy systems have trained staff to beat complexity. One of the key reasons for digital transformation is to streamline complex front-end and back-end processes. An organisation’s staff have already been trained to work with these ‘complex’ systems. This means that employees have developed a set of transferable skills that can be used in more simplified and user-friendly systems and deliver efficiency gains.

Digital transformation projects have a lot to learn from what’s already there. Technological innovation is not necessarily a clean start but can also be a fresh perspective on past experience. Is it time for PR and communications professionals to slow down the debate around innovation driving transformation? Do we need to be the people that pose the questions, what about the existing technology? Can it be saved? Can it be reused? Can it continue for a little longer? How do we balance the story between innovation and waste?

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