2007 called, they want their systems back
Outdated IT systems, with their limited flexibility, are damaging productivity, hobbling corporate growth potential, increasing IT risk and potentially putting unnecessary strain on companies’ bottom lines.
That’s the view of Denis Bensch, CIO of FlowCentric Technologies, who says many organisations subscribe to the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ philosophy when it comes to their IT systems. However, IT has changed considerably since the adage was coined by Thomas Bertram Lance, Director of the US office of Management and Budget during Jimmy Carter’s late-1970s presidency.
“The problem often is that the system isn’t necessarily broken – it’s still doing what it was intended to do, albeit not as well as it could. That can make justifying expenditure on a system overhaul difficult,” he explains. “However, it always amazes me how many companies fail to recognise that the lifespan of their IT hardware and software assets is finite, just like that of their other assets such as their fleet vehicles or drilling or manufacturing equipment. No one expects their delivery van to run forever. IT needs to be managed in the same way: Serviced and maintained regularly, with patches or upgrades, and end-of-life (replacements) must be anticipated and catered for.”
A January 2021 Forrester Consulting study noted that good intentions and plans to update creaky IT infrastructure and systems are often pushed back to make way for “more urgent” or “more important” demands on IT department time and budgets. This is a growing trend with 70% of responding organisations admitting to having delayed infrastructure refreshes several times in the last five or more years – up from 61% in 2019.
According to Bensch, new generations of IT systems are not only functionally capable of far more than their predecessors, but failure to implement them could have negative implications for the organisation in the short, medium and long term, in ways that affect profits, processes and people.
While some organisations may regard the cost of upgrading systems as unnecessary, even wasteful expenditure, the reality is that older systems generally have more problems, and thus higher maintenance and repair costs. Hidden costs arising from disruptions caused by faulty infrastructure and software also cannot be discounted.
Then there is the impact outdated systems have on the company’s key stakeholders – customers, suppliers and employees. Diego Lo Giudice, principal analyst at Forrester, warns that outdated core applications risk slowing down customer journeys, preventing them from even working.
Bensch points out that outdated technology may thus give customers – and even suppliers – the impression that a business is behind the times, leading them to seek offerings from businesses that allow them to interact with the company in more technologically advanced ways.
The organisation’s internal stakeholders are also not immune. A Gartner study found that having to work with slow, outdated and complex technology was among the top 10 reasons for employees to resign their jobs.
There are also security risks associated with outdated IT systems. More than half the IT decision-makers surveyed in the Forrester study reported infrastructure-based security issues and vulnerabilities following a delayed refresh.
“We live in a connected world in which systems are exposed to new threats all the time; the most prevalent currently is ransomware attacks as these can cripple companies. Hacking is no longer a hobby, but often a state-sponsored (with some of the most dangerous groups sponsored by Russia, Iran, China and South Korea) and criminal enterprise activity undertaken by highly skilled professionals. Old unpatched systems provide environments that can and will be easily exploited by these cyber criminals,” Bensch explains.
“Operating systems and frameworks must be constantly updated to close security loopholes – yet it can become increasingly difficult to do so, particularly when older operating systems are no longer supported by their manufacturers.”
Finally, and possibly one of the most overlooked reasons to overhaul outdated IT systems, is data.
In 2020, the amount of data created, replicated and consumed reached a new high, estimated at over 64.2 zettabytes. This was far higher than had been anticipated, and was driven by increased demand as more people worked and learned from home during the COVID-19 lockdowns. By 2025, the total amount of digital data created worldwide is estimated at 163 zettabytes, ballooned by the growing number of devices and sensors.
“A business that modernises its IT can exploit this data explosion to get more insight on its customers and its own operations,” Bensch says. “Older, legacy systems simply don’t have the computing capacity to handle these volumes of data and attempting to do so will not only be extremely slow, but it could also cost a fortune. Modern systems incorporate efficiencies that reduce costs – think of cloud services that scale to offer computational power for data processing at a fraction of the usual cost.”
Bensch maintains that organisations should review their IT systems and IT polices at least once a year – but more often if the company is significantly changing its products or services, opening an overseas office, implementing BYOD, hiring remote workers or adapting to new laws and regulations.
IT systems should also be re-examined and updated if there is a noticeable increase in misunderstandings or poor connections between employees, customers or suppliers.
A dilemma many companies face is whether to update or upgrade an existing system – or to just replace it
Because of the considerable investment companies have made in their IT systems, Bensch believes that, where possible, it is preferable to integrate and extend the life and functionality of existing systems.
“But there are times when the realistic lifetime of a product has come to an end. In these circumstances, it would be better to rip and replace the entire system rather than try to plug the proverbial crumbling dam wall. However, a rip-and-replace effort should always be driven by the business, not by IT, with technology merely the enabler of a clearly defined business process and efficiency strategy,” he concludes.