Focus: legacy and digital

Out-Law News | 29 Apr 2014 | 12:32 pm | 2 min. read

'We are terrible at selling to CMOs'. A sales representative for a market leading technology supplier recently said this to a group of decision makers and influencers for a potential customer. In her mind, selling business technology has always been about convincing boards and chief information officers. Not about appealing to marketing.

But as roles converge and dependence on technology increases, it is important that the value in business technology becomes well understood by all within a business. A misunderstanding or 'colouring' of vocabulary could detract from plans to achieve effective change, or worse, bring about misguided change.

When planning for and implementing a digital strategy, businesses as a whole must speak the same language. Effective change requires boardroom buy-in, alignment across all functions of a business and a clear strategy.

Understanding terminology therefore may be the first step towards enabling successful change. As research firm Gartner recently said "CEOs and leadership teams must crystallise what they mean by 'digital strategy.'"

What is 'digital'?

For some time 'digital' was defined in contrast to 'analogue'. In the analogue world telecommunications and broadcasts conveyed data by altering the frequency and amplitude of waves. Digital digitised analogue signals and in the process vastly improved performance and network capacities. 

Digital now means much more. It has become synonymous with modernising a business' IT estate and their overall approach to product and service delivery. The focus is on connectivity and innovation. The IT department is no longer seen as solely responsible for delivering projects, services, applications and infrastructure. A digital business embeds technology within at the strategic level.

In the context of business technology, digital means innovation in connected technologies that is disruptive in nature. 'Digital transformation' is the consequence of this disruption – transformations of the customer experience, operational processes and, in some cases, entire business models.   

Taking it one step further, 'digital by default', at least according to the UK government, requires customer engagement through digital means whenever, and wherever, possible. "These days the best service organisations deliver online everything that can be delivered online", states the Government Digital Strategy. But the phrase could also be applied to operational processes, though 'digital by design', may be more appropriate in that context.

Legacy and digital

Legacy is a term that is often used in connection with business technology. We do not necessarily ascribe to the distinction between legacy and non-legacy, as that would imply that a clear line could be drawn between the two.

In our view more important than drawing a distinction between 'legacy' and 'non-legacy' is the distinction that can be drawn between two types of systems. On the one hand, there are those that:

  • operate on the basis of outdated programming languages;
  • remain embedded within organisations even though more effective versions of the same or similar technology are available;
  • depend on IT standards and formats that cause interoperability and data portability issues;
  • are no longer actively supported by any technology provider; or 
  • cannot otherwise generally be adapted to meet changing business needs.

A combination of a number of these attributes would render technology as 'legacy' in the sense that it needs updating or replacement. Used in this way, the term may apply equally to relatively new systems as to older ones.

But there are also technologies that may have been in operation for many years that do not meet these criteria. For instance, some organisations contend that core systems on which they have relied for upwards of 30 years, though ageing, continue to offer high levels of resilience while at the same time allowing for innovation through so-called 'middleware', which helps integrate the core systems with new technology. These core systems may be old but are not 'legacy' in our view.

Innovation in connection with technology that currently works well should be around the possibilities for seamless integration between existing systems and new ones. Long standing core systems could then play a valuable part in enhancing customer experiences and operational processes while at the same time avoid the inevitable risks that come with wholesale systems replacement.      

Legacy and digital are buzzwords. But building a digital roadmap that contemplates the contractual, licensing and regulatory implications of technology change is a must for every business.  

Luke Scanlon is a technology law expert for Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com