Whenever I hear someone refer to a “legacy” system, it conjures up visions of an old proprietary system that nobody wants to keep around – a system that only people near retirement age work on, or who were assigned to the position and can’t find their way out to work on new generation technology. However, I know this is a misperception. Some systems that are labeled as legacy aren’t out of date at all. As an example, I know some people who refer to all mainframes (even the most recently announced IBM EC/13 platform) as “legacy.” This is way too generalizing. An IBM EC/13, one could argue, is one of the most advanced hardware platforms in the world.
So, what is a legacy system anyway? By definition, legacy means not current or out-of-date. But, for those systems that are old, labeling a system as a legacy system still doesn’t explain a more important aspect of the environment – the value of the system to the company. Some legacy systems truly are no longer delivering the value they once did, and are a major drag on resources. Oftentimes, these systems keep lingering on because nobody wants to commit the effort required to replace them and would rather prioritize resources elsewhere to work on new initiatives. So time ticks and the old system gets more and more outdated.
Other legacy systems continue to run at the most reliable and optimal level and deliver outstanding return year over year. To help distinguish between these two legacy systems, I thought of an idea. What if we started calling the value delivering legacy systems “classic legacy” and the other, no value systems “throwback legacy”?
Classic legacy is good, like a classic car, or a classic rock song – old, but good and worth investing time and money to maximize the value. Like a 1969 Pontiac Roadrunner or Frampton Comes Alive. Throwback, on the other hand, is painful to look at, like Art Garfunkle’s hair or that Throwback Thursday Facebook picture of yourself in a leisure suite, or, in the case of Information Technology, painful to maintain … like a DEC Alpha running VMS.
Nobody would want to touch (or invest) in a throwback system.
Lots of people want to work on classic cars, listen to classic songs, or work on classic systems. If you believe that words matter and you can influence decisions by the way you describe things, then see what you can get done in your organization by calling that old inventory system a throwback and your old reliable reporting system a classic – and see what happens.