Introduction

You don’t have to look too hard for evidence of where an IT project has crashed on the rocks of a major overhaul or replacement system project. In recent weeks, customers of UK bank TSB reported issues with bank’s online and mobile channels as a result of migration from its so-called legacy IT platform (from former owners Lloyds) to the Proteo4 system from new owner Banco Sabadell. The TSB situation, which lasted for days, is a sobering example of the dangers of large scale IT system change.

Elsewhere, Visa users across Europe struggled to complete transactions both online and in retailers, leaving long lines and frayed tempers in many busy stores.

Impacts upon beleaguered customers including missing payments, unexplained credits and views into the accounts of strangers were reported.

Why are banks in trouble?

Actually, this is not a banking crisis at all. It isn’t fair to single out any organization or indeed any vertical. The issue of poorly-planned change causing disruption of service is not the sole purview of financial services.

Widely documented IT crashes across air traffic control systems, Federal agencies, government healthcare systems and retail online systems have recently found themselves on the wrong end of public scrutiny. In a recent blog I referred to a study uncovering a variety of failed IT package implementations at large brands including HP, Marin County, Hershey, and Miller Brewing.

The point here is that there is no industry immune from an IT disaster. The question should be, therefore, what’s at fault? Is there an endemic problem or are these just, as they are so often labelled, glitches? If it’s not just a glitch, what are we talking about?

Based on recent evidence, such causes could include a security hack, a poorly planned upgrade, inadequate testing of a new release or infrastructure or an ill-conceived IT system overhaul.  There is a simple, but usually well-hidden, technical explanation.

No matter what the reason – what also seems to be the case is:

– The issue was caused as a result of a major IT change

– The changes in question were poorly planned

– There were a range of causes of failure and while technology is often cited, issues around skills, planning and management are almost always mentioned

Taking advantage of what works

What do these unfortunate situations have in common? Change. Changing IT in a significant way to help “improve” customer service.  Either through faster delivery or major new functionality, or often both, change is sought and delivered in the form of a “new” IT system.

And that’s a concern. The missing ingredient in many cases seems to have been the appreciation of, and protection of, what is already working. In the pursuit of something new, the planners have somehow overlooked the profound value of the existing system.

For many organizations what differentiates them from their competitors is hard-wired into the computer systems that run the business. In retail, banking, insurance and other industries, very little separates one brand from another. So it the nuanced, subtle “business rules” housed in the IT systems that make all the difference. As such, protecting that advantage, that intellectual property, is vital.

Leveraging IT Success

Look up the term “legacy” in any dictionary and it will talk about a benign gift from the past. Yet somehow in IT legacy is used negatively: the label “legacy” is used to imply a system that is old, outdated and unfit for purpose. However, legacy systems are where that competitive advantage lives. Legacy systems have been providing business value for years if not decades. And indeed, in many cases the label “legacy” is misleading, because those systems have been actively maintained, enhanced and modernized to remain as valuable in 2018 as they were in, say, 1968 or 1978.

Taking Advantage

By focusing on what matters most – which is often protecting the customer experience and providing incremental improvements of service organizations can focus their IT strategy on a practical, valuable, low risk and inexpensive modernization strategy. At the heart of that strategy will be the mainframe and COBOL systems that have been successfully running the operation for years. Ignoring the core advantage that already provides business value today is a risky business. It can be the difference in terms of what headlines some brands are making in tomorrow’s press.

First published on blog.microfocus.com

Editors Note: Derek Britton is a regular contributor to this blog and avid mainframe and COBOL systems advocate, he is also a thoroughly nice bloke. Find Derek on twitter at @derekbrittonuk.