Business tech leaders reveal that modern application platforms ensured their organizations met the customer’s needs during the pandemic.

The pace of change in business today leads to technology and processes rapidly becoming out of date. As a result, technology teams require platforms and leadership that enables constant agility in the race to keep up with the demands of customers, business partners and markets. 

Removing legacy from an organization is not just a technology program though, business leaders from the Scottish government and the wholesale sector tell CIO Talks that business processes, skills gaps and culture have to be addressed to ensure the organization truly benefits from technologies such as rapid application development platforms

“Legacy is technology that no longer supports the needs of the business,” explains Laura Lucas, IT Director of National Records Scotland. “So as your business grows, changes and adapts, then at some point the technology becomes legacy,” she adds of the constant challenge IT leaders face. National Records Scotland is part of the government in Scotland and carries out national registration for births, deaths, marriages and changes of name; the organization is also responsible for the national archives of Scotland and is, therefore, the curator of some of the most historic and important artefacts in the nation’s history. 

“The challenge is, and always will be how do you get off legacy technology and keep the organization going forwards,” adds Tony O’ Halloran, Director of Information Technology at Total Produce, the world’s largest wholesale supplier of fresh fruit and vegetables. O’ Halloran has been leading a major modernization program at Total Produce for the last seven years, a challenge, as the Dublin headquartered business is also highly acquisitive, so the IT Director always has some new legacy to deal with. 

Both business technology leaders revealed to CIO Talks that the largest legacy reduction challenge in an organization is the dependency on systems and processes that may not be as modern and efficient as possible.  “The legacy technology usually works quite well, but the real problem is the manual processes and the spreadsheets and data downloads they create,” O’ Halloran says of not only old technology, but heritage working methods that become entrenched in a business. Both technology leaders joined their current roles from financial services and revealed the sector is rife with legacy business models and technology. 

“You have to measure against the risk,” O’ Halloran says of combating the organizational belief that cheap to operate legacy technology should remain in place. The IT Director adds that this leads to further problems such as a skills gap in the organization, as it fails to refresh the abilities of its staff.

Lucas and O’ Halloran have helped their organizations begin to remove the legacy technologies and business processes in place. As a result, both National Records Scotland and Total Produce have become more agile as businesses and - fittingly for 2020 - more resilient. When Coronavirus became a global pandemic in March 2020, National Records Scotland and Total Produce had to change the way they operated, with teams working from home and the delivery of different services to their customers. In the case of Total Produce, traders that bought and sold fruit and vegetables on the open market had to work from home for the first time, and for National Records Scotland the staff had to take on the archive searching work for customers and prepare digital assets.

O’ Halloran says the modernization of the Total Produce business processes and technology estate enabled the organization to not only work from home, but also deal with a sudden change in its customer demands. The food services business that typically supplied cafes and restaurants saw its marketplace drastically reduced, but as shops and supermarkets witnessed a major increase in sales, Total Produce was able to respond. 

“A platform like OutSystems gives us an alternative channel, so we could deliver applications in an agile way without the need for a major migration,” he says.  The need to be adaptable in how services are delivered to customers led to Total Produce adopting rapid application delivery technology. A contract that required a paperless process led the Dublin business, which operates in 39 countries, to reconsider its processes and therefore technology. “We looked at a number of ways of addressing our legacy technology, including outsourcing and then we looked at rapid application delivery platforms. We faced the prospect of losing an important piece of business, and we only had a short time frame to move away from a paper-based approach, which made us jump to this platform,” O’ Halloran says. 

A lot of the work we did over the last four or five years in terms of consolidating our legacy systems, migrating to a common platform and moving out of old data centers has come to fruition in 2020, as we got people working from home in very short notice,” he says. “Some of the work we did in terms of building new applications, particularly web-based applications, meant that we kept the supermarket shelves stocked.”

Total Produce continues to use the platform as they begin the process of changing enterprise resource planning (ERP) software within the business. A component-based approach is seeing the rapid application platform deliver new tools to the end-users of the business. 

“We had completed the journey to a consolidated platform in March of this year,” Lucas says of how her organization had the infrastructure in place to respond to the pandemic. “A new network was delivered during the lockdown, and we are migrating to new data centers early next year,” she says of the modernization she is leading. Next on Lucas’ to-do list is the modernization of the application estate. 

Delivering a Legacy Migration

Both technology directors state that removing legacy technology is a business change program that has to be done in close collaboration with the areas of the business that will be impacted. O’ Halloran says this approach will see the role of the IT team change too. “The biggest difference this program has achieved is the perception of IT. No longer is the department seen as a cost center, today it is a partner to the business, and there is not a technology strategy, but a business technology strategy.”  Both Lucas and O’ Halloran advocate that it is important to agree on the return on investment (ROI) that removing legacy technology and business processes will achieve. 

“We built decommissioning cost benefits into the business case. Because we had six silos and a complicated active directory we could see savings in time as well as technology costs,” she says. 

Although technology will become a legacy of the business if the demands of the organization change, and both leaders believe this is unavoidable, they believe it is vital to keep focused on delivering technology that enables the organization to respond to whatever market dynamics it may face. 

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