Have you ever bought a new car in The Netherlands?
When you buy a new car in the Netherlands it comes with many benefits. Besides being able to choose and customise the model you wish to have, you can be assured of the car adhering to the latest standards, at least two years of warranty and you don't have to pay road tax for five years. Minimal maintenance required. The flip side of this; you pay full price for the car itself and because these benefits are only temporary the depreciation of a car in the first years is very high.
Image by Ryan McGuire from Pixabay
Another option: leasing
Another popular choice in the Netherlands for many people who have to commute is to lease a car. Instead of owning the car, you are able to use it and the lease company will have arrangements to ensure you always have a car to drive when you need it. Some even come with a pickup/dropoff service for another car when your leased car needs to go to the garage for maintenance. Thus, most of the value for people who use a lease car is in the fact that they feel worry free and can always rely on having transport. This all-in service comes with a price tag and although tax-deductible, it is even more expensive than buying a new car.
Second hand, your first choice?
The Dutch being stereotypically cheap, they usually opt for the most value for money and therefore buy a used car. This comes with risk. If you don't get the car from a reputable source and with warranty, you might need to cross your fingers that the maintenance was done properly and it doesn't break down, presenting you with high repair costs. It might require some investment of both time and money to get your car in a healthy and maintainable state before you feel comfortable when taking it out on the road.
And now for your IT...
Relating this to IT you could compare this to buying (a license) for a new IT solution (new car), paying a monthly fee for being able to use an IT service aka Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) (lease car) or investing in updating a currently existing solution (used car).
As an organisation you have to decide which of these options fits your strategy best. How much can and are you willing to invest? Do you wish to be worry free? Or do you mainly wish to be fully in control? Will you be worry free by shifting responsibility for your critical applications to your vendor? How easy is it to switch vendors?
Do not neglect the importance of maintenance
During my career as an IT Professional I have always been interested not only in the technical solutions, but also in the organisational process around IT. Making sure both are adapted to each other is key for any successful IT service or product. Many times I have seen that an IT solution and the processes around it were not correctly adapted, resulting in a lot of frustration. Shortcuts taken, due to time pressure or other reasons, and nearly no attention to maintenance and maintainability enlarge the risk of the system becoming unstable. Modern software development and IT management practices and processes are designed to help prevent these issues, but can these be adapted to your already existing business critical legacy system?
Your worst nightmare
A legacy system is frequently either fully custom built or a combination of a commercial-of-the-shelf (COTS) solution with bespoke work. This was implemented as a project and most likely worked quite well when it was delivered. After a while however you find that due to an ever changing world the system lacks some functionality and you are distrustful if the software is still secure.
Image by Michael Gaida from Pixabay
Standing still is the fastest way of moving backwards in a rapidly changing world - Lauren Bacall
The developers who added the customisations have moved on, but the original source code is difficult to understand or the reasoning on design decisions is forgotten. Nobody dares to touch the system anymore, because we can't afford the system going down. Security standards have changed such that the system is at increased risk of data breaches. Operations has been able to solve some minor degradations by workarounds, but these should actually be fixed in code correctly. An increase in data volume adds more stress to the system and performance starts to degrade. More structural maintenance is being neglected as you always seem to be fire-fighting. Eventually the worst case scenario happens and your business critical system breaks down to a full stop...
A new system?
Unlike buying a new car, implementing a new IT solution is most likely not done in one day. However similar to buying a new car it does usually require a big investment up front.
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If only we could start over and do it right this time?! - Thoughts of many
In your return on investment calculation for your new system, don't forget to include the implementation and consultancy costs and most importantly the expected costs of maintenance to keep the solution operational. Some consultancy firms might present a solution your team has no knowledge of and use this tactic to bring in an operational team of their own. As long as you keep paying their high fees they're happy to stay.
If you recognize this, ensure the consultants are keen to share knowledge on critical parts with your own teams. Otherwise you have to stay dependent on their services or risk ending up in the same situation you were in before, after a little while.
It might not be as bad as you think
Fortunately, there are other strategies available to overcome these legacy challenges. A good first step is to properly assess and analyze the current state of your system and find where there are weaknesses and risks. You might already know this in some form, but have you made it concrete?
Analyse your organisation's processes and culture involved around the legacy system. Make sure you have someone do this who can look at it with a broad perspective. The people working with the system on a daily basis might be hindered by tunnel vision. Take this information into account when evaluating the different options available to get in control again.
If you don't have the time or expertise to do all this in-house, it is a wise investment to contact an independent party with the proper expertise in assessing your current state and/or options. With these insights you should then be able to make an informed decision.
Check-up and maintenance, a good habit?
Older cars are required by law to have an annual check-up to assess whether the car is still safe to drive on the road. During the check-up you usually have some repairs and maintenance done to extend the lifetime of your car.
Do you do the same thing for your IT?
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Who am I
My name is Menno van der Bijl and I am the team lead for DevOps at Techspire. I love to help people and organisations improve their lives with technology, but also with the processes around the technology. I believe that with the right mindset with your engineers and a culture where trust, freedom and responsibility are key you can achieve great things.
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