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How do you simplify a complex IT-landscape?

An IT solution that is appropriate today, can already become outdated by tomorrow. It is therefore a considerable challenge for IT managers to make the correct choices during a digital transformation process. Legacy, makes it even more difficult, because organizations often have problems saying farewell to their outdated systems. You can read below which steps you can take to simplify such complex IT landscapes.

The term legacy is used and abused within IT. It basically describes older systems and applications that do not or no longer offer the desired flexibility and scalability. These applications can therefore no longer react to the increasingly dynamic digital world in which organizations must operate.

Legacy has arisen through the increasing complexity of IT environments through time; from the emergence of the first mainframe computers in the 1960’s and 1970’s through to the emergence of XaaS, cloud services and cloud infrastructures from 2010. Digital transformation is a next step in the digital evolution, for which the focus lies on the use of digital technology as a business-critical aspect of doing business.

Legacy stifles innovation

Because the vast majority of companies were founded prior to 2010, they are all faced with legacy. This presents a number of business risks. For example, the more connections and new shells that are built around the old IT, the greater the inflexibility. In fact, an IT environment is only as fast and flexible as the weakest or oldest link. The more legacy applications there are, the greater the need for broader IT knowledge and thereby the staff to keep the applications running. And if the hardware or software no longer works, who still has the knowledge to repair or replace it? At a given moment, legacy can become such a millstone round the neck of a company that it restricts an organization thereby preventing further growth and innovation and may even drag the company down into the complexity of the IT swamp. Not all organizations have the same legacy problem and how quickly and effectively a digital transformation can be carried out differs for each type of businesses. A digital transformation is more urgent for a webshop, because this has to adapt faster to meet customer requirements. Legacy for such a type of business is therefore a far greater problem than for an organization that only uses IT in a supporting role for the business processes, such as administrative software at a solicitor’s office.

Transferring to the cloud

Transferring to the cloud can help to replace or modernize legacy environments and applications. This takes place preferably in phases. Cloud computing creates more flexibility and scalability, but it is certainly not a magic potion. An inflexible and complex application landscape can ultimately become a problem even within a cloud environment, so that a company cannot quickly respond to the technological possibilities that the rapidly changing market demands. A complex application landscape that has grown through the years, often contains one or more of the following components:

(1) central standard ERP software integrated with custom software;

(2) peripheral applications next to the ERP software, often planning packages, CRM or HRM software;

(3) a proliferation of interfaces to connect all these applications to each other. This is evident at both startups as well as within large organizations. New companies often start with their own self-developed applications in Excel and Access, which ultimately results in an inextricable mix of their own custom applications and standard applications. Large organizations also have to deal with a lot of custom software and peripheral applications that have been developed to compensate for the shortcomings of their large standard packages. All this customization makes it very risky and expensive to follow the update cycle of the ERP suppliers. With each update a large part of the ERP software has to be re-tested and the customization has to be modified, again.

Possible strategies and a plan of action

There are various change strategies from which IT managers can choose to address the complexity of their application environment. The reason is clear: they want to respond to the demand from the business, stay ahead of the competition, improve their services, comply with changing legislation and serve their customers better. Four possible strategies are: back to basics, best of breed, made to measure and a low-code platform on which to develop central business-software. When it has been established which strategy is best suited to an organization a plan of action is then required to actually execute the chosen strategy.

However, no one strategy is suitable for every organization at any given time. There are advantages from both custom software and standard software, but they also have clear issues. What is clear is that the fourth strategy, the use of low-code software resolves many of the restrictions imposed by standard packages and custom software. It unfortunately goes too far here to address all four strategies and the plan of action.