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Why we need to understand the human cost of legacy modernization

Legacy modernization has been a topic of interest for over a decade, and with good reason. Enterprises are still struggling to update and upgrade their software portfolio. It’s not just sectors like finance that are clinging to the past. In fact, big tech companies are some of the worst offenders since they have so many sunk costs to contend with in their monolithic structures. Across the board, larger organizations are still feeling their way forward with modernization.

What’s holding them back? The price tag associated with making changes can be steep—and the tech side is only half the picture. Marla Blaylock, CEO of Blue Lotus Systems, offered insight into the soft side of legacy modernization.

Executive-level thinking can be fuzzy

To err is human, and C-level executives are not immune to making mistakes. Blaylock noted that decision makers often labor under a number of false impressions that can impact their approach to legacy modernization. Here are the most common misconceptions:

  • They think they need to do everything in a big way.
  • They think it won’t take very long to get it done.
  • They think everyone is on board.

Making smart decisions about modernization starts with getting clear on the business goal. “One of the things people fail to do at the C-level is create a journey map that allows them to understand what they want to do. They need to sit down and decide what’s important to them.” According to Blaylock, this often boils down to staying abreast of competitors, providing better customer service, preparing for audits, and keeping up with new regulations like the GDPR. Organizations that target their modernization efforts to achieve specific goals are more likely to come out ahead.
Legacy terminology is confusing the issue

Another thing that can drive up the final costs of updating software is ignoring the distinction between customization and configuration. “Executives and teams in general get the words mixed up. Customization is changing the code. They are used to that in the old legacy system because they had to do that, which means many new strategies get overlooked. In the new system, you don’t want to do that in the cloud. You want to configure everything and lay Java over the top instead of creating new code to do things.”

But customization often shows up in product demos. In Blaylock’s experience, vendors are not always upfront about the standard capabilities of their software. “The vendors go in and show the product, and it’s not vanilla.” Clients need to see the software in action in a realistic setting to make an informed decision. “If you are looking at a product like Salesforce, do a site visit at an organization that’s using the software to see how it works in real environments.”

Doubling the legacy modernization budget

Changing tech is expensive. It’s even more expensive if everyone hates the changes. Blaylock made it clear that this is an area where organizations can’t afford to cut corners. “When they’re budgeting for their project, they need to put money in for the development and testing to bring the enterprise up to speed. But they also need to match that same amount on the soft side. That means training, PR, all the stuff needed to do change management.”

Why is this critical? Because autopilot is being switched off. “If you are moving from a legacy system to a new system, you are changing people’s lives. People who perform repetitive tasks are comfortable knowing a system. They can think about other things while they are using it. When you put in a new system, they have to be present and pay attention. For a lot of people, that’s very uncomfortable.”

Disruption can have many unwanted ripple effects. “You find people get very frustrated. And then you get people being written up at HR. It’s not because they don’t know what they’re doing. It’s because they don’t understand the system. Their brain isn’t wired yet to do that. And so the executive level has to understand that you are rewiring people’s neurological pathways. You have to be patient and give them the support they need to be successful.”

Once people become accustomed to the new software, they find their rhythm again. This is most likely to happen when users are looped in during development and not surprised by something entirely new during implementation.

IT teams are people too

Blaylock pointed out that IT is also prone to frustration and fear in the face of change. “On the IT side, they get their world upset by consultants. You need to help them understand: ‘Why is what I’m doing so important to the company? How does it make our customers happy? What is my value in doing this?’ ”

Explaining the big picture helps—especially with larger and remote teams. “You need to engage their imagination to think outside the box, so they learn and understand the application. Then, they are ready to use their strengths to do what it takes to get the application done.” Getting this wrong has costly consequences. “When IT is devalued, you get code errors, poor decisions that don’t serve the customer, and scope creep.”

Making legacy modernization worthwhile

Legacy modernization can bring teams and organizations closer together when everyone understands the larger objectives at play. Blaylock had these final words on the topic. “Be kind.” Humans are being disrupted along with everything else. By tending to the softer side of legacy modernization, organizations can help lessen the growing pains.

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