Exorcizing Shadow Systems: What It Takes to Modernize University IT OperationsRob Lowden | Executive Associate Dean and Chief Information Officer in the School of Medicine, Indiana University
Legacy systems are a reality for organizations of any size or magnitude. In the 1990’s, Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software began entering into the workplace and replacing historical mainframe setups by automating many manual or paper-based business processes. The promise of ERP was seamless integration of multiple functions into one streamlined system that would ultimately lead to efficiency, accuracy and related advantages by improving productivity, decreasing costs and increasing productivity. The ERP was to create a single source of truth for all business functions.
However, the unfulfilled promise of ERP has resulted in complex integrations over time. Shadow systems emerged to atone for the sins of initial ERP implementations. Over time, the shadow systems created substantial integration complexity and a dismal user experience.
Far too many organizations then began to focus resources and effort on linking legacy systems through complex integrations instead of unlocking true business value for their organizations. Managing, maintaining and supporting these integrations creates an operational mess that consumes limited technical resources to keep the business “running.” This time-consuming effort of integrations across a multitude of systems of varying age and effectiveness is viewed by the business partner as a waste of time with no discernable value. Oftentimes, legacy systems are substantially customized to the point that patch management, security fixes and upgrades are simply not possible. In the most extreme cases, large organizations are forced to completely reinstall or replace ERP systems, resulting in three- to five-year projects and spending in the order of hundreds of millions of dollars.
When it comes to the complex IT ecosystems that every organization must maintain today, IT departments must pursue a different approach.
The ability for existing technologies to support the exponential growth seen in the dot com era led to the creation of Software as a Service (SaaS). Cloud technologies have made it simpler, easier and faster for the business to obtain new functionality. But these technologies have also established expectations that are not always possible in the legacy platform architecture that many organizations are left supporting. Additionally, SaaS has often created unrealistic perceptions of what is possible as it relates to the legacy systems capabilities, especially in regards to seamless integrations to the overall organizations IT ecosystem.
As helpful as SaaS has been, it has also created challenging business owner expectations and for many large organizations it is nearly impossible for SaaS to completely replace all legacy systems due to the sheer volume of legacy systems that organizations have accumulated as well as the substantial investments that they have made over decades in those solutions. SaaS does not immediately replace the many complex integrations an organization has, and services like AuthN and AuthZ are just one example of an integration challenge that phases an organization seeking to modernize and simplify their ecosystem.
The varying ages of systems across large organizations creates user frustration and a poor IT experience. It is extremely difficult to hide the interfaces of system designed in the 1990s compared to a responsive SaaS product built on today’s modern technology platforms. Far too many organizations have experienced the situation where a poor, manually intensive business process is automated with technology. The resulting outcome is a quickly executed, poor business process and—in the most extreme cases—is something that must be undone or deactivated immediately.
To enhance customer and staff experience, an IT ecosystem needs to be focused on simplification. Partnering with the business should be a primary goal of any new system, such that historical business processes are reviewed and efficiencies that modern technologies can provide are properly aligned with the refined business workflows.
Consolidating existing shadow or duplicative systems is another vital strategy in creating a strong and sound IT infrastructure. Multiple systems that similarly do the same thing can cause great user confusion and delay work productivity. Organizations should prioritize retiring legacy systems in favor of a modern SaaS alternatives. Transition can be challenging and will not effectively happen overnight. Reducing dependencies on legacy technologies will be important when simplifying your overall IT ecosystem. When retirement, consolidation and replacement are not an option, the organization should consider an integration broker to manage the complexity of a variety of integrations across disparate systems.
IT leaders need a multipronged strategy to simplify the ecosystem they support. No one approach will work holistically; there is no silver bullet. However, by assessing your organization’s technical debt, identifying systems that can be retired, consolidating duplicative systems and replacing legacy systems with robust SaaS IT organizations, you can make substantial progress. When your organization decides that the scale, magnitude and volume of systems currently integrated is near overwhelming, consider a dedicated integration broker service or product to more effectively manage the complexity of your ecosystem.
More and more, IT will be expected to increase the strategic advantage of your organization. Having a boat anchor of technical debt in the form of complex organizations will severely cripple your ability to partner with the business and deliver success.
Author Perspective: Administrator