DESIGNATING LEGACY STATUS TO IT SYSTEMS: A FRAMEWORK IN RELATION TO A FUTURE-ORIENTED PERSPECTIVE ON LEGACY SYSTEMS
Organizations that have come to depend on legacy systems face quite a paradoxical problem. Maintaining the system might prove ineffective in accommodating necessary changes, but a system migration project is expensive and incurs a high amount of risk. Organizations are therefore hesitant to respond to the legacy system problem by undertaking action. Legacy system are often not causing their organization any problems at present, but a focus on the future with regard to the legacy system problem is lacking. This results in IT systems reaching an end-of-life state. The research therefore set out to explore a future-oriented perspective on legacy systems by means of observation, a literature review and a survey. The researcher found the key concept of a future-oriented perspective to be that any system that is limiting an organization to grow and innovate can be regarded as a legacy system. A framework to designate legacy status to IT systems is proposed in order to guide practitioners to acknowledge a problematic IT system to facilitate appropriate response at the right time. In relation to a future oriented perspective, when to designate legacy status is best determined according to the system’s flexibility towards change and the alignment of the system with the business. In that regard, IT systems are end-of-life systems when they are too inflexible to change, and as a result become unaligned with either current operations or a future business opportunity or need.
In response to the legacy system problem, Koedijk recently published a study on legacy systems in the public sector in the Netherlands (2015, co-author: H. Donkers). Koedijk and Donkers offer advice on how to make the IT-environment future-proof. “In reality a lot of organizations are just fiddling around, without a clear perspective on fundamental improvement” (Koedijk & Donkers, 2015, p. 12). Therefore, they suggest a three step process towards solving the legacy system problem. Step one revolves around creating a clear understanding of the legacy system domain. “Legacy system is often used as an all-purpose word, but a clear view of what is going on is missing. In order to solve a complex problem it is necessary to establish what that problem comprises … this starts with a clearly delineated view of what a legacy system is.” (Koedijk & Donkers, 2015, p. 4-5). In the second step Koedijk and Donkers urge on the necessity to have a clear view of the future. “Those who put effort in delineating the problem can then create a clear perspective on the desired future of their IT environment” (Koedijk & Donkers, 2015, p. 13). If step one and two are established, the legacy system problem can progressively be solved in step 3. “A sharp vision of the future guides new IT projects and can help prevent that new legacy systems are created” (Koedijk & Donkers, 2015, p. 4). In continuation of Koedijk and Donkers’ research, the following is observed with regard to the just described steps.
Academic literature offers different views on what a legacy system is. Alderson and Shah (1999) summarize all views into four perspectives with each a key concept. The perspectives are contradictory because the key concepts oppose each other. Where one perspective’s key concept is that every system in production is a legacy system, another’s key concept is that only old systems with obsolete technologies are legacy systems. As a result, there is no standard definition for legacy systems and disagreement of opinion exists. Alderson and Shah’ perspectives do not distinctively acknowledge the future-focus that Koedijk and Donkers (2015) urge upon. Instead, they integrate a future aspect into their organizational perspective, which is focused on computer systems supporting current business operations in support of the business strategy. Since Alderson and Shah (1999) do not distinctively describe a future-oriented perspective, the key concept of such a perspective is missing.
PURPOSE OF THE RESEARCH
The purpose of the study is twofold. On the one hand, the purpose is to provide insight into the key concept of a future-oriented perspective on legacy systems. On the other hand, the purpose is to create a framework that can guide organizations and practitioners to designate the legacy status to computer systems. Two main purposes result in two research objectives with their own aim.
Koedijk and Donkers state that legacy systems are a problem of the future, indicating the need for future-focus and therewith the need for a distinctive future-oriented perspective. While this statement is supported by other literature, it is unclear what such a perspective would entail, i.e. what the key concept of such a perspective would be. The first objective of the research is to explore the key concept of a future-oriented perspective on legacy systems in order to verify whether such a perspective is significant. Lovitts and Wert (2009) define significance as something that will have an impact. The aim of this research objective is to contribute to current knowledge on legacy systems by providing an alternative view on what a legacy system is. This should enhance the four perspectives offered by Alderson and Shah (1999), and cause those inside and outside the field of legacy systems to see things differently; thereby creating an impact.