Many business information system projects are motivated on the basis that the existing systems are obsolete. This article challenges that argument with regard to a significant number of systems and presents information that will enable executives and managers to take a pragmatic view of this debate
One of the drivers of new systems in business today is replacement of “ageing” systems. Problem is that software does NOT grow old, only the programmers do and new programmers can be trained.
Legitimate software obsolescence is driven by genuinely obsolete hardware coupled to software that is associated with the operating environment for that hardware for which there is NO effective port to new systems, or badly maintained software – which frequently comes about because of a CIO who decides to kill the system by NOT investing in people and maintenance. The latter case can be remediated
There ARE situations in which legacy software can have its life extended considerably. This article discusses this. Following are some key points:
1. Instructions for the bricklayer
Source code is “instructions for the bricklayer” – the English like language is translated by the compiler into binary code and processor and device addresses – in this respect the compiler is like a bricklayer simply following instructions to generate the executable code.
2. Programming language ONLY for the programmer
Programming languages are simply there for the convenience of the programmers so that they can write more complex and elaborate software applications.
To say that a language is obsolete is to say that the people who knew how to program in that language are either all dead or have moved on to other languages. Insofar that in even the oldest languages there are still programmers alive the question then becomes one of providing the right financial incentive to bring old programmers back from other languages.
Alternatively, NOTHING prevents you for training young programmers on old languages. The world is full of factories with old machines that are maintained by technicians and mechanics who have been trained up on equipment that was manufactured before they were born. There is NO reason NOT to do this with software.
3. Development languages are a fashion industry
Application development languages have historically progressed to a point and then been superseded by new languages that have been written to perform different functions, but to a point it is a fashion business. It is my view that this trend is coming to an end. The current mainstream languages will probably be around for a very long time.
In some cases of really leading edge technology applications there MAY be real benefit moving to a new language, BUT in the case of core mundane operational business information systems there is generally little or NO benefit. Remember always that you can develop new components with a new language and leave the existing components in the old language. Once they are compiled the computer does NOT know the difference.
4. Software NEVER wears out
Software NEVER wears out, it has NO moving parts. The older languages died out because the computer processors died -- that does NOT happen anymore.
5. Once software works it always works
Once software works it ALWAYS works unless some human being does something that stops it working – either as an act of incompetence, negligence or sabotage.
6. Mainstream legacy languages remain valid
Mainstream older languages, such as Cobol in particular, remain valid because compilers have been ported to run on modern processors so barring minor conversion idiosyncrasies old code will work perfectly well on modern computers. See “COBOL Still Used More Than Google”.
7. Once compiled the processor is ignorant of the language
It is vital to be aware that once compiled the processor does NOT know whether it is running 30 year old Cobol or the latest “dot net” or whatever language. The language is PURELY for the human beings who write the program.
8. “Obsolete” is therefore most frequently a fashion statement
“Obsolete” is therefore most frequently entirely a fashion statement, the developers are still around and many will happily work on old code for a fair wage. Many of the old guard prefer the older languages because they are leaner and more efficient.
9. It is NOT necessary to replace the entire application
Note that there is NO need for all parts of a software application to be written in the same language. If you have an elderly Cobol suite of software and you want a pretty web front end interface in the latest language, NOTHING stops you writing the new front end in that language and writing an interface to the database of the old application or writing an interface to feed data files from the old application to the new database.
There are tools specifically for that purpose such as “Advantage Data Transformer”.
10. The 80:20 Phenomenon
Note also that as with most things in life, of the order of 80% of the software that is used in a business does NOT change for years. This can remain in your legacy language. Just replace the 20% of the software where there REALLY ARE benefits f
rom upgrading. The minute you move away from a mind-set that says that you MUST replace the ENTIRE solution interesting possibilities open up.
11. Mainstream databases are still in existence
Some of the older databases HAVE died out and this MAY legitimately drive replacement but in MANY cases there is a solution and some mainstream databases that have faded from the limelight but are still out there and supported, such as DB2 and Informix -- you just have to look.
Again, in many cases the problem is fashion NOT technology obsolescence.
12. The ONLY limitation is the ingenuity of the developers (and their willingness)
In many (most?) cases the limitations with regard to legacy software relate to the ingenuity of the developers and managers and their willingness to find solutions.
It is TOO easy to tell management that the old systems are obsolete because you have a career need to learn a new language so that you are more marketable and can earn a higher salary, or just because it is an adrenalin rush to learn something new. Those are NOT valid reasons.
Bottom line is that probably 90% of the legacy application out there CAN be maintained and used indefinitely and can be extended by bringing in selected modern components.
It is also so that if you look at the REAL costs of implementing and operating the major ERP and related products and apply a percentage of that cost to maintaining your existing systems you will be very well off. There may WELL be a case for a project to remediate and strengthen your existing systems and extend them to better support your current and future strategic position.
Note also that, given the massive failures that are occurring, the business risks associated with progressively and incrementally remediating and enhancing your existing systems are MASSIVELY lower.
Dr James A Robertson PrEng
11 September 2014
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Business Systems NOT delivering?
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Dr James A Robertson -- has been involved in the effective application of Business Information Systems, including but NOT limited to ERP, since 1987 and in the profitable and effective use of computers in Business since 1981.
Drawing on a diversity of experience, including formal military training in Quick Attack techniques at the Regimental Commander level, Dr Robertson has developed highly effective methods of investigating any sub-optimal Business Information Systems situation -- be it an established system or a stalled project or any other source of Executive frustration -- quickly and concisely diagnosing the root cause of the problem and prescribing concise practical actions that Business Executives can effectively act on see the Pulse Measurement page and also the Sample Reports page for redacted real reports.
He has also developed highly effective methods of strategically enriching systems to unlock the full potential of existing investments, see the Precision Configuration page and couples this to architecting small pieces of clever software that harness the full potential of your investment, see the Software page.
If you are having problems with your systems, your project or your IT Department, call The Business Systems Specialist
Business System Failure is RIFE -- we offer insight into why this happens AND WHAT is required to prevent it.
Failure is at epidemic levels with massive damage done to client companies -- if you are NOT aware of the extent of the problem please visit the About Failure page for a catalog of major failures running to billions of Pounds and Dollars.
All evidence indicates that the established players do NOT know how to deliver stable, reliable high value solutions that WORK.
There HAS to be a better way!
This website provides information relating to that way with a large collection of white papers, presentations, standards documents, etc that you can use to start bringing the situation under control
We also offer high level advisory services with regard to the application of the principles advocated on this website
We offer an ENGINEERING APPROACH to addressing these issues
By Engineering I mean the formal, structured, highly disciplined, highly systematic, highly practical approach that consistently delivers results in ALL areas of human endeavor where formally trained and certified engineers are the ONLY practitioners permitted to operate -- think large buildings, factories, motor vehicles, aircraft -- highly complex systems that work at a level that we take it for granted that they WILL work and where failure is all but unthinkable and, when it happens, attracts immediate public attention and rigorous investigation directed at ensuring that such failures are prevented in the future -- in fact, everything that the management consulting industry that implements complex software systems is NOT
This approach is discussed further on the Engineering Approach page.
In 2003 I undertook an in-depth analysis of all the information and experience that I had gathered with regard to the factors giving rise to Business Information System failure including ERP and general IT and classified this information into a number of categories including "The Factors Causing Failure" and "The Critical Factors for Success" based on this I developed a two day Course "The Critical Factors for Information Technology Investment Success" which is still offered today.
Based on this I wrote the book of the same name, which is available in electronic form here for download:
James has a very detailed profile on LinkedIn should you require further information about him.
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There is a large body of white papers, articles and other content produced by Dr James Robertson available on this website
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About Dr James A Robertson PrEng -- The Business Systems Doctor -- and Other Topics
Catalogue of Major Business Information System Failures
About the Engineering Approach
James Robertson's Value Add
Attributes of a HIGH VALUE solution
Recognizing Business System Failure
The Critical Human Foundation
Old Software IS Viable
From South Africa
Competencies of Dr James A Robertson PrEng
About Professor Malcolm McDonald
Table of Contents
About my relationship with the Almighty Creator, Yah the Eternally Self-Existing
Comments relating to the Business Systems Industry and other topics
Testimonials and other positive material regarding James Robertson
List of Articles
Achieving High Value Business Information System outcomes
Executive Custody -- What is it and HOW do you get it?
The REAL Issues in Integrated Business Information System Success
Part 1: Introduction
Part 2 -- Mythology and Lack of Executive Custody
Part 3 – Strategic Alignment and Precision Configuration
Why your ERP is NOT delivering and HOW to FIX it
IT Project Management
CEO Anthony Lee Comments on his experience of the Pulse Measurement
No Charge Guarantee on the Pulse Measurement Service
Examples of Pulse Measurement Outcomes
Critical questions regarding the Pulse Measurement™
The Pulse Measurement Workflow
The Critical Factors for Business System (ERP+) Investment Success in the Pulse Measurement
Indicative Pulse Measurement Durations
What is a JAR&A Pulse Measurement?
Survival of the fittest – why it makes sense to measure the pulse of your business
Examples of Pulse Measurement Outcomes over 24 years
Sample Pulse Measurement Reports
Strategic Essence: The Missing Link in Business Information Systems
Strategic Essence: Overview
Strategic Essence: Part 1 -- Strategy Defined
Strategic Essence: Part 2 -- Differentiation
Strategic Essence: Part 3 -- The Essence IS Different
Strategic Essence: Part 4 -- The Essence should be the Point of Departure
Strategic Essence: Part 5 -- Discovering Strategic Essence
Strategy -- the Essence of the Business: What is it and how do you develop actionable strategic plans?
Simple Steps to Increase the Strategic Value of your ERP Investment
Free Strategic Snapshot Toolset and Manual
A strategy focused planning system beyond traditional budgeting
Tough IT and ERP Procurement and Contracting that Works
Robust Business Systems Procurement
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Precision Configuration and Strategic Business Information Architecture
Precision Configuration based on Strategic Engineered Precision Taxonomies
The JAR&A Cubic Business Model
Highly Structured Strategic Chart of Accounts -- a Vital Element of your Corporate Information Arsenal
The Product Catalogue -- an Essential Element of any Precision Configuration
Attributes -- answers to the questions you have NOT yet thought to ask
Case Studies of Notably Successful Projects with high value Precision Configuration
092 Doing things differently and better -- ASCO Case Study 2-- BPM Summit 2013
088 Strategic ERP Invesment -- ASCO Case Study -- Service Management Conference and Exhibition Africa
026 Information Architecture and Design of FIS for Rennies Group -- Financial Information Systems Conf
018 CRM Risk Control: Designing and Implementing an Integrated Risk Mgmt Sys -- Integrated Risk Mgmt Conf
011 V3 Consulting Eng: Benefits of MIS to Professional Practice -- SAICE 15th Ann Conf on Computers in Civil Eng
Strategically Enriching your Business Information Systems
Part 2 -- Principles of Data Engineering
Part 3 -- Steps in applying these recommendations
Simple Steps to increase the strategic information value yield from your Business Systems Investment
The Full JAR&A Taxonomy Manual
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Example General Ledger Manual
Business Process -- Irrelevant, Distracting and Dangerous
The RIGHT Approach
Custom Strategic Software Design and Oversight of Construction
Standards for Custom Software Specification
What IS Software?
Critical Factors for I.T. Success
A Moral and Ethical Dilemma -- Systems that Fail
Case Studies examining Business Information System failures
The BBC Digital Media Initiative Debacle
The Bridgestone -- IBM Conflict
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ERP and IT Procurement that Delivers Results
The Critical Factors for IT and ERP Investment Success
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