Recent reports have painted a picture of a UK public sector struggling on with old IT systems that waste thousands of hours a year and put core services at risk. In June, the UK government’s Chief Operating Officer, Stephen Kelly, reported that his computer takes seven minutes to boot up and that this equates to civil servants wasting three days a year waiting for ageing IT equipment to start working each morning.

In August, The London Assembly’s Budget and Performance Committee lambasted the ageing IT used by the Metropolitan Police, where officers regularly have to wait up to thirty minutes to log in to their computers. In September, the UK’s National Audit Office (NAO) reported that ninety per cent of the UK central government’s revenue-generating services are running on legacy IT. These services, including the Department for Work and Pensions and HMRC, are reported to be worth £480 billion.

The NAO warns that running such crucial services on outdated IT exposes the government to an array of risks, including hardware or application failure; increased costs through vendor lock-in and new cyber threats. The NAO outlined three strategies: no change; enhance and maintain; or replace.

Legacy IT Is Not Just A Government Issue

The legacy IT issues, highlighted by the NAO, are not confined to the public sector. We have worked with enterprises experiencing exactly the same issues in the banking sector; media; transport and aviation, where custom applications have been built to run business-critical processes. As hardware and software are upgraded, organisations are forced to redevelop their bespoke applications, in order to preserve vital business functions such as ERP, payroll, CRM and financial transaction processing.

End Of Windows XP Support

As has been widely reported, Microsoft has announced that it is ending support for its Windows XP operating system on 8th April 2014. This removes the “no change” option for organisations, because security vulnerabilities will no longer be patched. The end of support will also mean that the “enhance and maintain” strategy will become more costly for organisations that have built niche, but vital, apps that run on top of XP.

Avoiding Lock-In

When planning migration projects, I advise CIOs to assess precisely what functionality their business needs and to identify whether the same functionality could be delivered by off the shelf applications. By understanding what technology assets are in use today and what technology is required to support the business in the future, a plan and detailed roadmap can be created to map out the journey.

I have found that creating a visual model of technology assets facilitates a clear process. This enables CIOs, IT managers and network managers to use the visual reference model of their entire software, communications and hardware estate to discover dependencies and duplications and decide whether to retain, upgrade, or replace legacy hardware and applications.

As an example, working with one of my enterprise customers, I undertook some discovery work and identified that there were 700 custom apps that fed into its ERP system. Each time the ERP vendor’s software was updated, all of the apps had to be refreshed, trebling the upgrade costs.

Tried and tested technology roadmapping meant that I was able to provide a detailed plan to outline the sequence of events that the customer needed to follow in order to move to a cloud-based system, removing the option for IT staff to customise apps.

Replacement Is Not A Panacea

Even when organisations opt for a full hardware and OS refresh, old configuration problems can be transferred to the new system. Over time, enterprise IT systems can get bogged down by layer upon layer of scripts such as group policies; application deployment policies; login scripts and user profiles. Each script adds anything from a few milliseconds to several minutes to the startup time. When multiplied by a few hundred processes, boot up periods become noticeably drawn out.

In one case, my customer stopped its roll out of Windows 7 to 28,000 users because the CIO realised that the same boot up issues were manifesting on the new operating system, despite the enterprise investing in a new OS and hardware.

Exiting XP

As stated, those organisations that are still running on Windows XP are likely to be dependent on custom apps that support business-critical functions. Because Microsoft is ending support for XP in April 2014, these organisations will be forced to engage in a costly migration of all the apps built on top of the old OS. In most enterprises that we work with, an application refresh programme takes 15 to 24 months to complete, so organisations should be implementing their strategies now.

As stated, legacy IT is not just a government issue. We work with organisations in banking, transport, energy and facilities management that face exactly the same issues as those highlighted by the NAO. For any organisation facing a major technology change, my advice is to start by implementing a three step plan:

  • Create a technology roadmap that clearly identifies all of the hardware, communications systems and apps that your organisation depends on and estimate how long it will take to upgrade or replace them
  • Look for off the shelf apps that can replicate existing functionality
  • Stop any customisation that contributes to vendor lock in, or encourage your organisation to adopt cloud-based apps, to remove the ability to customise apps in-house.

The end of support for XP should not come as any surprise to experienced technology managers. Change is inevitable in any organisation. The key is to identify which business processes are supported by which technology and to replicate that functionality, while retaining the flexibility to accommodate future change. To achieve that goal you need to have clear visibility of what your technology estate looks like now and where you need to take it to support your organisation’s current and future requirements.