Good intentions & indolent portfolio management lead to legacy quicksand

The downward spiral (driven by budgeting, risk-aversion, and ROI-think) that make legacy IT bloom like algae in a stagnant creek, from Chris Tofts:

With a limited budget for maintenance or improvement, how will it be allocated to the various systems managed by IT? Remember that in having to justify the spend at all, the primary need is to demonstrate business impact and – equally – guarantee that there is no risk to continued operations.

Inevitably, depending on organisational perspective, there are essentially three underlying approaches. First, maximise the number of systems that have been updated: demonstrate lots of work has taken place. Next, minimise the risk that any update will fail: have no impact on the ongoing organisation. Finally, maximise the apparent impact on the direct customers for IT systems – improve the immediate return to the business.

If the organisation maximises the number of systems updated then the clear imperative is to choose systems that are easy (cheap) to update. The systems that are cheap to update are invariably the ones with the least difference between in-use and current. In other words, the systems that were updated during the last round of updates. So the organisation will choose to improve those systems just beyond some minimum obsolescence criteria and until all of the budget is spent.

And then, you get bi-modal infrastructure:

It’s hard to say what the fix is beyond “don’t do that.” Perhaps a good rule of thumb is to attack the hard, risky stuff first.

Getting The Business to pay attention to legacy like they do cash-losses is also an interesting gambit:

As boring as it sounds, if organisations had to carry technical debt on their books – just like they carry the value of their brand on their assets – then, finally, they might understand both their exposure and necessary spend on their critical IT assets.

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