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BLOG: It is time to deal with the legacy below the surface

Martha Heller | Oct. 31, 2013
Bruce Lee, CIO of NYSE Euronext, offers CIOs some tips on reducing their legacy problems.

Lee is skeptical that CIOs can delegate this huge architecture re-engineering to their CTOs, "To bring technology excellence into their companies, CIOs have tried to hire CTOs to do the tough architecture work," he says.  "But in many firms the CTO role has tended to become focused on infrastructure, data centers, and networks, and not on the application piece.  Bolted on applications are quickly piling on to the iceberg.  That's where the architectural work needs to happen."

Stop protecting the iceberg.  "Some CIOs," says Lee, "are so protective of their current infrastructure, that they are their own worst enemy.  Every time the CEO says, 'let's go the cloud', some CIOs say, 'But the cloud isn't secure!  We'll suffer from a lack of integration!  We'll be captive to those cloud providers. Rather than do the hard work of rethinking their architecture, these CIOs wind up perpetuating the problem. "  These protectionist CIOs even with the best motives, are often responsible for the size and weight of the iceberg.

Embrace shadow IT.  You know the story.  A vendor has a new database marketing product and meets with the SVP of Marketing.  That SVP comes to you and says, "All we have to do is connect our customer database to this new SaaS tool."  When CIOs stand aside as marketing moves ahead with the SaaS tool, they are often complicit in adding to their architecture problem.  But if they embrace this shadow IT moment as a chance to educate the SVP on Marketing about what lies below sea level, they will move one step closer to dismantling the iceberg.

If the CIO can explain to the SVP of Marketing that we cannot use this new tool easily because we have 18 fragmented customer databases, he has a burning platform. He can seize on this opportunity to say, "If you want this new tool, then we have to change the legacy also."

"Shadow IT is a clue toward where you will get the most support to retool your architecture," says Lee. "Use those moments to get support for some of the fundamental reengineering that reducing the iceberg really requires." 

Change your criteria when selecting outsourcers.  Outsourcing, most CIOs admit, produces diminishing returns.   You outsource initially to get lower labor costs. Three years later, the CFO wants another 30 percent cost reduction, but you can't squeeze anything else out of your outsourced operations.  "The only way to get further cost reductions is through re-engineering," says Lee.  "These days, many of the major outsourcers are revisiting their engagement model and are having the tough conversations with their customers about architecture. 'Which applications do you care about?  Which can you do without?"   CIOs may want to ask themselves, suggesst Lee, which outsourcing partner has the skills to break down the legacy problem, and help re-engineer.  "CIOs who are used to selecting their outsourcers on who can run their operations the cheapest, may want to change their selection criteria," says Lee.  "They may want to start asking which outsourcers have the architecture and engineering skills to get them out of this mess." 


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