Companies have been warned that they need to overhaul longstanding outdated IT systems, rather than just keeping existing legacy systems ticking over.

The Leading Edge Forum the recently launched independent research unit of leading IT services firm, Computer Sciences Corporation (NYSE:CSC) has conducted extensive research into the current state of IT infrastructure, finding that there is a pressing need to clean up old systems that are often poorly documented and hard to maintain.

Extensive interviews with CIOs across a broad range of industries revealed that IT organisations are struggling to manage software code that is often several decades old and the result of continuous piling of new applications on top of old. Keeping these older systems up and running is requiring an ever-increasing share of IT staff time, and is adversely affecting business agility.

CEOs and CFOs often remain unaware of the magnitude of this problem as IT directors are sometimes reluctant to report to the board the extent of old technology issues. It is very much in the psyche of IT professionals to convey an air of coping, to say that they can manage the problem indefinitely, if necessary.

During the boom years, there was tremendous investment of time and money put into IT applications and software, but there hasnt always been necessary attention to ensuring that the obsolete stuff is cleared out, said Kirt Mead, Research Associate, of The Leading Edge Forum. This means that down under the new systems there are often ancient systems that are rigid and hard to maintain. IT has not always been as open as they should have been at delivering hard messages to CEO and CFO level executives on the need to invest in cleaning house. There is a strong temptation to leave the problem to the next generation of leadership.

But now, not unlike our environmental legacy, we are reaching the point of no return. The reality is that many IT departments are struggling to cope and this has serious implications in terms of future enhancements and reliability, so companies must sit up and acknowledge the problem before it is too late.

According to Mead, the survey confirms his view that the solution is to replace the old code with more standard infrastructure.

Over the past decade, companies have installed comparable systems at considerable expense, he continued. As a result, these systems have become generic and offer little to no distinctiveness meaning there is no advantage gained by company-specific applications. Though these systems are different in detail, all the systems are comparable from the customers point of view.

A general cleaning up exercise needs to be undertaken. People are tired of diversity in IT when it doesnt confer any competitive advantage. In considering how to replace old systems, the business should seek to standardise their system. Standardising improves agility, cuts costs and speeds up responsiveness, as standard service suppliers take over the onerous activities associated with software upgrades and maintenance.

The report gives details of how this simplification and standardisation could be achieved. The crucial first step is to agree with the business on which processes and systems have become generic and can be replaced with standard solutions. But perhaps most importantly, IT and business management must have a frank discussion about the state of their companys underlying infrastructure and its threat to organisational agility and even stability.

Organisations today standardise, simplify and even outsource many generic business functions and processes, both to reduce cost and to improve responsiveness. The same strategy is the only way for IT to extricate itself from low value IT work to be able to participate more in the creation of advanced services and smart products.

About the Leading Edge Forum

As part of CSCs Office of Innovation, the Leading Edge Forum (LEF) provides clients with access to a powerful knowledge base and a global network of innovative thought leaders who engage technology and business executives on the current and future role of information technology. The LEF stimulates innovation and thought leadership through two core offerings:

The LEF Executive Programme helps companies leverage IT for business benefit through an annual retainer-based service that provides CIOs and other senior executives with access to a client-driven programme of research, conferences, information exchanges and advisory services.

The LEF Technology Programs offer CTOs and other senior technologists opportunities to examine timely technology topics and explore innovative initiatives by leveraging CSCs technology experts, alliance partners, research centres and events.

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