The drag of legacy technology on innovation is one the primary challenges facing any CIO. This problem has three aspects:
Technical obstacles that interfere with the ability of IT to offer modern services to end-users. For example, allowing users to access all corporate services from mobile devices or providing them with sophisticated analytics tools can be difficult when the legacy infrastructure requires bolt-on products, patches, and workarounds. The CEO of Pegasystems, Alan Trefler, calls this the Frankenstack; similarly, the CEO of Workday, Aneel Bhusri, refers to it as Frankensoft, based on observations from ZDNet's Brian Sommer.
The cost of maintaining legacy infrastructures can crowd-out the company's investment in new technology. Research from Forrester indicates that only 28 percent of IT investment goes toward innovation; the remainder supports old technology.
Users may resist adopting new technology even when better alternatives are available. The so-called diffusion of innovation is an old problem, identified in a book first published in 1962, by Everett M. Rogers.
The former chief technology officer of Portugal Telecom, Manuel Rosa da Silva, said:
Our legacy holds us back. Hiding all this legacy is like putting on cosmetic cream to hide wrinkles. Unless you take a machete to your legacy and kill applications, you won't get anywhere.
During a conversation on CXOTalk, the current Chief Information Officer of Accenture, along with his predecessor, explained that user perceptions and interaction with technology such as email, telephone, and social collaboration change over time. As user needs change, IT must remain on top of their expectations, to maintain ongoing relevance to the business.
Technology change is a naturally occurring part of the enterprise environment. As a result, a fundamental decision point for CIOs is how to incorporate innovation as an active force in the IT agenda.
However, developing a CIO innovation agenda depends on numerous factors, including:
- Ability of the CIO to drive leadership on this topic within his or her organization
- Receptiveness of executive management toward accepting IT as an innovation advisor and trusted partner
- The type of organization, industry, and skills of people who work there
Regardless of the difficulty and challenge, top CIOs will find a way to develop an innovation agenda that overcomes the drag of legacy technology.
CXO-Talk brings together prominent executives, authors, and analysts to discuss leadership, transformation, and innovation. Follow me and co-host Vala Afshar every Friday for a new episode of CXO-Talk.