Legacy Systems: This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

By Qassem Naim (Head of Data and Technology)

A couple of weeks back, I came across the news of a CEO of a major corporate getting raked over the coals for “23 million contraventions” of regulatory compliance due to “ad hoc” legacy systems issues.

Personally, I’m in two minds after hearing the news.

For-Profit Corporate Terrorism

On one hand, I’m both unsurprised and unimpressed by the opportunistic software vendors and integration specialists who are relishing the news that corporate terrorism will inevitably make their quarter, excited to have a topical stick to wave in sales meetings about the dangers their products will help customers avoid so they don’t “end up like those guys”.

There is no turnkey solution for these deep-seated problems, and they won’t be solved by reactive decisions or investments in short-term bandage solutions brought in by external vendors.

Just take a moment, look internally and re-evaluate. Ensure your teams are having the right conversations, that decision-makers have the right information, and at least someone inside the business comprehends the full extent of what needs to be done before looking outwards.

This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

On the other, as a data+tech practitioner who is sick of dealing with bullshit, bespoke legacy platforms that aren’t able to support business requirements from a decade ago—let alone what’s required to support a “digital transformation”—if this case study prompts people to get their shit together, then that’s great.

The fact that so many institutions are still running COBOL systems is mind-blowing. That’s COmmon Business Oriented Language, a programming language from the ‘50s that was, and still is, widely used in financial, telco, and government systems, despite the many advancements that have streamlined programming since, and are more widely used, easier to resource and maintain.

If this news prompts people to sort out their data governance and technology infrastructure, I just hope they don’t forget about marketing along the way.

And that’s not just because I work with marketers every day, and know that they are constantly forgotten and ignored on the journey to compliant corporate systems architecture (although that’s true).

It’s because if you forget about marketing in today’s corporates, you’re effectively forgetting about the customer.

Marketing is the craft of influencing human behaviour, trying to make people think, feel, and/or do things for the betterment of the business, society, and/or the humans themselves, with the best sort doing some combination of all three.

All the interactions you have with customers are in some way influenced by marketing. It is a means of taking an active role in the brand-customer relationship, as all of the outbound, proactive communications customers receive are driven by marketing or sales teams.

By failing to recognize marketing requirements as business requirements and prioritising them accordingly, you are doing yourself, your shareholders, and your customers a disservice.

Hopefully, as we start to wise up to the new rules that have surfaced, learn to navigate the changing landscape of data and technology, and clean up our legacy systems (whether out of fear of punitive legislation, or pure excitement for the opportunity this promises), the end result will be better for everyone.

Date: December 19, 2019