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Organizations that have been around since the pre-digital era face the same general technology dilemma: They know it’s important to have resilient and evolving IT, but they’re hesitant to scrap valuable legacy systems.  

On one hand, business leaders recognize that organizational survival depends on IT agility. According to a recent Accenture survey, 75% of C-suite executives believe their company existence will be threatened if they don’t update their technology. Quickly responding to business demands, identifying market opportunities, creating new revenue streams, facilitating innovation – all of this requires flexible, leading-edge technology.

At the same time, legacy IT represents significant financial investment, and it serves critical day-to-day business functions that can’t be interrupted. Equally important, older systems are packed with rich data, in many cases stretching back decades.

To balance these competing priorities, most organizations try to retain their legacy systems as long as possible, while applying quick fixes and new features as needs arise. However, these multiple short-term solutions result in a Frankenstein architecture that’s difficult to maintain, update, connect, or migrate. Worse, it slows productivity, hampers innovation, and adds to technical debt.

What companies really want is a middle ground, where they can continue to leverage their core systems, but make them scalable and resilient. They want to reduce the immediate and long-term costs of the problem, capitalize on technologies that maintain competitive edge, and keep operations running smoothly – all with lowered risk and minimized investment.

The solution they’re looking for exists. It’s called digital decoupling.

The Fundamentals of Digital Decoupling

As the name suggests, decoupling involves separating out the components of legacy systems. Some elements are replaced, some are migrated, some are redeveloped, and some remain as is.

Essentially, decoupling allows older systems to run in parallel with new technologies, so that organizations can continue extracting value from their legacy IT, while achieving agility and reducing technical debt.

Getting out of technical debt and modernizing your infrastructure should be undertaken incrementally. This doesn’t necessarily mean slowly; it means getting immediate benefits in conjunction with a smart long-term path – one that allows your IT to continually evolve based on these basic steps:

Move legacy system data into data lakes. A data lake is a storage repository that holds vast amounts of structured or unstructured data, to be called upon whenever needed. It’s an excellent solution not just as part of decoupling, but for data storage in general, as it pulls and retains a continuous stream of data from all sources and “untraps” it from your legacy systems.

Organizations can leverage this data through analytics to ask virtually unlimited business questions. The answers allow for a 360° organizational view and fully-informed decision-making.

Another nice benefit of moving data from legacy systems and into a lake is that many organizations will no longer need a large on-premises data center, providing significant savings in cost and maintenance.

Separate applications from legacy infrastructure. Running apps on a legacy infrastructure is kind of like taking an airplane to get to the convenience store. It’s costly, inefficient, and unnecessary. Decoupling applications creates flexibility and scalability, allowing organizations to launch products faster, reduce run costs, and create automations.

Think of this separation as putting each application into its own container instead of making everything in the infrastructure interdependent, which causes vulnerability and inflexibility. App isolation allows you to keep many systems on the same machine without worrying about how they interfere with each other. Then, you can move specific systems to the cloud if it’s cost-effective to do so, and leave the others humming along behind the scenes.

The practical results of this kind of decoupling include better operational visibility, reduced costs, faster time to market, improved customer service, and increased team productivity. As an example, MIT Sloan School of Management reports that a leading insurance company saw 60% reduction in run costs and incident volume, as well as a 350% increase in incremental policy sales, after decoupling their applications.

Identify where to leverage off-the-shelf apps. Custom-built technology may be necessary for much of your infrastructure. But where can you take advantage of commercial software to simplify processes, minimize cost, and avoid technical debt? There’s no need to reinvent the wheel if an off-the-shelf application provides all the functionality required for certain business processes.

As a simple example, maybe your legacy infrastructure includes a cumbersome and user-unfriendly invoicing system. Instead of rebuilding or isolating it, it may be more cost-effective and efficient to use a pre-built, commercial SaaS product.

Rethink your approach to teams. The shift in the structure of IT systems is most effective when it’s combined with a shift in team structure. Cross-functional teams are in a much better position to innovate, identify solutions, and collaborate productively toward a common goal.

For example, a team consisting of someone from IT, marketing, sales, and product development is much more likely to improve customer experience and increase website sales than any of these departments working in silos. The combination of perspectives and expertise, paired with the data access provided by a modernized infrastructure, offers a cohesive understanding of your organization’s customers, capabilities, strengths, and possibilities.

Hello, Agile Systems. Goodbye, Technical Debt

For well-established companies with decades-old legacy systems, modernization can seem daunting. But it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Digital decoupling is the ideal way to embark on a modernization journey, because it gives you the best of both worlds – all the benefits of your legacy architecture, along with reduced cost and increased agility. Most important, it provides a permanent solution to the problem of ever-growing technical debt.

Every organization’s IT modernization strategy will be unique, but they all share the end goal of eliminating technical constraints and increasing competitive edge. Transforming your legacy IT is the surest way to prepare your technology to constantly evolve, maximize your existing infrastructure, and create long-term agility and scalability.

About the author

Razvan is the CEO and Chief Innovation Lifeguard at Tecknoworks. His award-winning approach to digital transformation ensures low risk and high ROI, and has secured competitive edge for industry-leading companies across the globe. 

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