Much of technology is focused on the new. Whether compelling new tools or new methods and approaches that make our lives easier, tech is one of the most forward-looking parts of most businesses. In many organizations, key tech leaders are focused on supporting initiatives that prepare the company for the future. The best and brightest among them are developing strategies and executing projects rather than supporting what already exists.
It’s exciting to be involved with the new, whether researching an emerging technology or leading a project team that’s building an interesting new system. However, chasing the next big thing can be a costly and time-consuming effort. Designing and building a new enterprise system might take months, while enhancing an existing system could take days.
Tech leaders have long been faced with difficult decisions on whether to enhance or replace systems, but these conversations tend to occur when a system is long past its useful life. Rather than waiting until you’re faced with a multi-million dollar decision to upgrade a creaky old platform or spend millions on replacing it, periodically look for lower-cost ways to get new value from your existing systems.
Dust off the Backlog
Every tech leader that’s participated in a project of any significance has likely been faced with the decision to delay a deadline or defer some piece of useful functionality to an undetermined future date. Depending on the feature and the timeline, this backlog of the “we’ll get to it someday” scope can be quite significant.
There are often real gems in that backlog, but scheduling needs force those items to be deferred to meet an important deadline. We’ve all sat in the room to make those difficult decisions and placed items in the “someday” category with the best intentions of executing them later.
However, as other priorities emerge, the best intentions of working through this backlog are quickly abandoned. Too many organizations celebrate a completed project by disbanding the team and getting as far away from the effort as possible, especially if it was like most projects and had a few challenges along the way.
From a time and cost perspective, this isn’t very intelligent as you already have the right team assembled. You’ve likely gathered all the requirements and could deliver several high-priority items with relatively little effort compared to starting anew.
If you have in-flight projects, plan an extra sprint or two to tackle some of these items after the official release date. If the development effort is no longer active, review your completed projects and look for ones that struggled to meet their date. These projects likely had significant, high-value scope items deferred and assembling a team to tackle the backlog could generate some high-value quick wins.
Build an API Layer
A challenging area for most companies is building interfaces and connections between diverse technology platforms. Financial data might be locked in an ERP system that doesn’t “talk” to the e-commerce platform. In the past, solving these integration issues was complex and costly, usually involving custom integrations or expensive middleware.
However, the emergence of standard APIs and microservice-based architectures has reduced this complexity, particularly with cloud-based and recently developed applications. Many of your older systems may have valuable data that’s difficult to access that could benefit from a well-defined API. For example, a common set of APIs to access order data might immediately help areas from customer service to accounting.
Building and publishing APIs can also reduce future costs. If key elements of your technology infrastructure are accessible and integrated through standard APIs, replacing the underlying technology becomes less complex since interfaces don’t need to be recreated.
Rethink the Infrastructure and Interfaces
Older applications may not only be running on older, less-efficient hardware but may also benefit from more modern infrastructure design. Migrating legacy applications to the cloud is one obvious cost-savings measure, and consolidating data stores, middleware, and user interfaces may provide further benefit.
Thankfully for tech leaders, the battle for cloud supremacy between the large tech players continues to rage on, providing compelling pricing and technical assistance with application migration. In addition to a “lift and shift” of older infrastructure to the cloud, investigate ways to dynamically adjust, provision and retire capacity, and provide more flexibility to breathe new life into old systems.
Similarly, a robust older system with solid functionality might gain a new lease on life with a more modern interface. Old enterprise systems are renowned for poor user experience. A small project that creates a human-centered experience can drive significant cost savings through reduced support and training costs and simply make the lives of the system’s users easier and more productive.
Just as new paint color and some updates to the landscaping of an older house can improve its “curb appeal,” so too can some minor investment in your older systems. Continuing the metaphor, it’s likely far less expensive and time-consuming to make some minor updates to an existing house than it is to build an entirely new dwelling.
In a market that’s rife with challenges from finding technical staff to producing new hardware, looking for value in existing systems and tools can be a smart strategy. You likely have the talent in-house or with your existing partners. The systems are already built, and some intelligent updates can deliver compelling results on an accelerated timeline.
As you plan your investments, take the time to identify areas where older systems can produce new value. Not only will you be delivering results, but you’ll be doing it in a resource-efficient manner that further cements your value as a tech leader.