Someone once said that the only constant thing in life is that it is constantly changing, and I find this to hold true in our business as well. Technologies such as artificial intelligence, cloud, and mobile have delivered seismic changes to the way in which we all work, and have brought new tools and methods for people to use to get their work done.
But many organizations are still unable to take advantage of the new and innovative features and benefits that come with modern technology. Why? Because they find themselves tied down by the weight of the past - tied down by legacy applications that provide important benefits, but are often cumbersome to use, and cannot easily be transitioned away from.
So what should an organization do in order to maximize the value of their investment in existing legacy systems while at the same time deploying innovative and modern information management solutions? Well, in the words of Mother Theresa, “Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.”
Why Do I Need A Bridge?
A question often asked is “Why can’t I just replace my old system with a new one?” Ask that question to a user and they’ll moan about needing to learn a new system, that the old one works, and so on. Ask the question of IT and they’ll explain the challenge of ensuring the new system has all the required functionality, the challenges of modernizing legacy systems by migrating to a new solution without causing issues to the operation of the business, and the overall risk involved in the process.
The cautions and objections raised by both audiences are valid, and form a large part of the reason why we still see so many legacy applications in operation in enterprises today. It takes a CIO with a very strong nerve to replace an existing solution with something new.
But there is another way
Think of your existing systems as islands. Moving to a new system is like moving to a new island - you need to pack up all your belongings and get onto the one-way ferry, bound for new pastures. Anyone that has moved houses in the real world knows exactly how stressful this kind of “no returns” move can be.
But what if we didn’t need to move, and instead actually connected the old island with the new one with a bridge - a bridge that could be used to move things between the islands as and when you needed to?
That is exactly what’s happening within innovative organizations today with their information systems. Instead of migrating away from legacy applications (or moving from their old islands), they’re connecting new, modern systems to their legacy applications via technology bridges to get the best of both worlds (or islands!).
What Does a Bridge Give Me?
Think about the benefits of such a bridge. It means that your users can access all of the data and content (aka information) stored within legacy systems, but they can do it from the new system, potentially via the cloud, or a mobile device, or via a sexy new interface. When information systems and content repositories are connected in this manner, users can quickly find the “single source of truth” instead of manually navigating through multiple different systems themselves.
Enterprises can also build new applications on information stored not just within that system, but within other legacy applications that are connected to the platform.
And one really nice thing about a bridge is that it can be two way - any changes to data or content in the legacy system can be seen from the new system, but also any changes in the new system can be pushed back to the legacy system, so those people still wanting or needing to use the old system can still reap the benefits.
Note: Our 4 Reasons to Modernize Information Management infosheet provides much more detail on the benefits provided by a modernization bridge.
Which Bridge Do I Build?
Most organizations don’t just have one legacy system (island) - they have many. So an important question is, “Which bridge do I build first?” Only you can answer that, but here’s some guiding questions that may help:
- Which legacy system is most frequently used?
- Which legacy system stores information that could be of benefit to more users than can currently access it?
- Which legacy system costs me the most to manage and maintain?
- Which legacy system could benefit from access to mobile, cloud, or other new technologies?
The answers to these questions will help guide your decision about which bridge to build first. Once that bridge is built, you can move onto the next one, and so on and so forth until you have a completely interconnected set of systems-your very own ecosystem of corporate information and business value.
How Do I Build This Bridge?
An obvious omission from this conversation thus far is what a bridge actually looks like and what it’s made from. Until recently, the only real way to build a bridge between systems was to construct one from scratch, using custom coding and connecting to systems via application program interfaces (APIs), if they existed. This was entirely doable, but difficult, time consuming, and therefore expensive.
More recently, the introduction of Content Services Platforms (CSP) has made this a lot easier. One of the key aspects of a CSP is that it’s designed to connect data and content from multiple systems - exactly what we are looking to do here. It does this by creating a consistent set of connectors between itself and various other legacy systems - and these connectors provide all of the functionality required to connect and manage information between the old and new systems. This removes the need to create custom code that is different for each integrated system, allowing you to quickly and easily connect one system, then the next, and so on.
As each legacy system is integrated, more and more information can be accessed via the CSP, a new central information hub if you will. This can massively reduce the amount of time spent searching for information within the business, and it also provides a consistent information foundation to build new applications on top of, with data and content from across the business to make use of.
Let’s Build Bridges
Author Rick Warren wrote, “We are products of our past, but we don’t have to be prisoners of it.” For too long, organizations have been held prisoner by software systems that were deployed years ago, are no longer serving the needs of the business, and provide a millstone around the neck of innovation and business effectiveness.
Modern technology can deliver significant benefits to the business, enabling corporate agility, fuelling enhanced customer engagement, and ultimately driving revenue and profit. However, this can only be done in conjunction with the tools and processes currently operating within the enterprise - you cannot simply ignore these, nor can you easily rip and replace them with new systems.
An intelligent middle ground is required - a middle ground that allows modern solutions and legacy systems to coexist for the greater good, without painful and risky migrations. The emergence of Content Services Platforms provides an ideal route to deliver a toolset for organizations looking to do this - to build bridges between the past and the future.
These are exciting times for the enterprise - by striving to modernize their legacy information systems organizations have the ability to shape their future by innovatively and cost-effectively controlling their past.