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With IT resources tight, which is more important: legacy application modernization, or a BPM user-driven approach that improves operations?

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A question prompted by David Chassels: With IT resources tight, what is more important for an enterprise, legacy application modernization, which is driven by a systems architect, and tackles the complexity of legacy systems, or a BPM user-driven approach to improve business operations and is driven by the business analyst?

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  • The real challenge is that the CIO is stuck with maintaining legacy applications and that takes, by most estimates, three quarters of the annual budget. Moving anything forward, like a user-driven BPM approach, must come from 'extra money' from the business or by dropping something legacy, two very difficult things to move.

    I would argue that the best of all approaches is to forget IT for a little bit...the best user-driven BPM approach starts with the people, not within IT. It doesn't require IT budget or even IT involvement. At some point, it must be supported but maybe it will always be SaaS and come from the business budget.

  • I think you need to know what your purpose is to answer this question.

    What does the business need and want to do to align with its strategy?

    Then the answer may be
    - removal of duplicate application systems and standardization (similar to what Chris said above)
    -or improving specific enterprise processes and seeing how IT would contribute to that.

    Both should be driven by the business with a process owner but with IT a key member of the team

  • What a coincidence! My mom was asking me this exact question yesterday.

    Well, OK, not this exact question. What she actually wanted to know was if she should dump a huge amount of money into fixing her existing car, or just get dump it and get a new one.

    The analysis is the same. How much mileage can you still expect to squeeze out of your legacy apps, and how much unrecoverable investment are you willing to make in order to keep them running?

    My mom's car has plenty of life left in it, but most legacy apps do not. So in the majority of cases, I'd say it's time to trade in that clunky enterprise gas guzzler for a sleek new BPM solution. BPM is more responsive, consumes less fuel, and—let's be honest—looks a heck of a lot better in your driveway.

  • We are going on a car journey. What is more important, if you can only do one?

    1. All agreeing on where we are going
    2. Making sure the car engine is tuned

    We'd all say 1.

    BTW This is thinking about BPM from strategy and an end to end operations perspective, NOT BPM as a clever app building tool. Which is why my answer and Scott's seem to be in conflict.

  • This is where business and IT sit at each end of the table.....with the CEO and CFO managing shareholder expectations sitting in the middle. I think Christopher sums up where we are at the moment with "BPM" projects slipping under the IT radar as business grapple with solving their own problems. But this is not a sustainable position.

    Big players are pushing "modernisation" of legacy. There is no doubt large companies have serious issues and there will be a correspondingly large cost to fix; well the big suppliers are banking on that? But what if the investment decision swings to what I call the BPM “outside in” approach where technology can support people at the operational side of business to improve efficiency? My argument is that this user focused technology could become mainstream gaining support from more business driven CIOs. As business software reaches commoditisation where the code does not change yet builds and can support change any application utilising analysts’ skills which will give BPM practitioners opportunities to manage the delivery of the end to end agile solutions not just giving advice. All this significantly reduces complexity and speed to deliver that is attractive to business and supporting IT whose resources are already stretched.

    I am not sure the CEO or CFO are ready to commit to spend significant sums fixing a legacy technical issue with which they probably will not have much empathy if there are alternative quicker and lower cost wins for the business. A good BPM supporting application technology could also be part on the modernisation program leading to old legacy to being “retired”. Have a read of this http://www.forbes.com/sites/markfidelman/2012/05/24/microsofts-view-of-the-future-workplace-is-brilliant-heres-why-2/ Cut out the “toys” the underlying software has to change to user driven and this puts BPM initiatives on the agenda. So all pointers suggest the winner in attracting investment would be BPM initiatives. But when did logic apply to big vendors selling software solutions….but the West is in trouble so new rules may apply?

  • With regards to a particular IT infrastructure, I don't think it is possible to set rules that would apply to every case. Some legacy systems are merely annoying, while other are decrepit and significantly slowing work down.

    Most IT departments are somewhat conservative and avoid change, preferring the evil they know over the uncertainty of change. However, in most of the cases I know of where the old system was ripped out, and new system installed, after a brief period of grumbling, most people are very happy with the change, and wonder why it took so long to decide to change in the first place.

  • Two observations:

    1. The choice is a false dichotomy - BPM is almost always used to entend or wrap other applications. Done correctly, this should create a path to systematically improve and replace the legacy architecture.

    2. The choice is rarely made logically or based on the analysis of facts. If IT is in the driving seat on the project then they will take a systems-led approach to fix their legacy application problems. If the business management controls the agenda then a BPM or user-centric approach will win out.

    The interesting side note here is the implied challenge this raises for enterprise architects and their ability to be relevant to the business.

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