Know your enemy…and conquer it

Launching this blog series in my previous post, I talked about the legacy IT challenge confronting LP&I providers, sketched out the ‘big bang’ migration conundrum and introduced the unique hybrid solution (part migration, part modernisation) we’ve developed at Accenture to deal with it. It’s hybrid because, while we all know platform migrations can be immensely daunting, we’re not saying they shouldn’t constitute part of the solution base. In the right circumstances, they may make perfect sense. It’s all about getting the migration/modernisation mix right, tailored precisely to each client’s circumstances and seamlessly introduced through a rigorously coordinated approach.

But more about how we do that in a subsequent blog. The first step for any transformation programme, big or small, is to ‘know your enemy’. That’s why, this time around, I want to focus on the problem: the legacy millstone. While every provider’s IT estate is unique, they all face some common challenges.

First and foremost, the number of platforms. Almost all providers have portfolios of five or more product platforms, built up over the years. Many are coping with over 10. Why’s this happened? The spate of M&A in the 1990s has played a major role. But so have the diversity and complexity of ensuing generations of products and distribution models, and the fact that no single platform can cope with them all. 

It’s why we see platforms administering sets of products based on their functionality (or on which applications / technologies were cheapest to develop when they were first introduced). This points to another challenge: the huge range of technologies within these platform portfolios, all of them fighting for IT budget spend. Some platforms may have been custom-built over 40 years ago, others will be built on modern, open architectures such as FNZ and Bravura. And because of the lifespans of the products they’re administering, most of these platforms will be needed for decades to come.

Although some platforms will be in run-off (closed to new business), the need for skilled support to run them has actually increased, thanks to the deluge of new regulation in the past few years. But of course, as platforms get older, so do the specialists who know how to operate them. Scarcity means higher costs. And risky dependencies on key personnel start to creep in. 

All in all, it can be a toxic mix with potentially serious implications. Typical issues encountered include reliance on legacy mainframe-based applications and proprietary technologies with high cost of ownership, soaring maintenance costs, increased risks (and expensive remediation projects when those risks start hitting home) and high cost of change. And not forgetting the impact on market effectiveness. Customers expect to receive a first-rate digital experience: in some cases and thanks to the legacy millstone round their necks, providers sometimes fall short of expectations.

All these problems mean that the status quo’s sub-optimal, costly and fraught with risk. That’s why IT leadership faces unprecedented demand for change. But what form should that ‘change’ take? In an IT environment that’s grown so complex, and has so much is riding on it, selecting the right strategy is a fraught process.

With that in mind, it’s no surprise that the seductive ‘silver bullet’ approach is wholesale migration to a single, modern platform. This is where another problem rears its head: full historic book migration programmes like that have a dire track record. There are a few exceptions to the rule, but most have either failed completely or been de-scoped and brought to premature conclusions without delivering the business benefits expected at the outset.

Drawing on its leading experience, software company Micro Focus used a recent blog to highlight research by Gartner and Standish into failed overhaul projects. This indicated anything up to a 70 percent failure rate, as well as showcasing some of the problems that crop up most often. We work with Micro Focus in this area, and we’ve drawn on these insights to ensure that the hybrid solution we’ve developed avoids making the same mistakes. Next time, I’ll take a closer look at why ‘big bang’ approaches go wrong so often. When IT’s under such pressure to do something – and do something fast – it should be required reading.

Watch this space.

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