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Solving the Legacy Dilemma

Podcast host Sam Massey | Podcast guest Ashok Subramanian
May 07, 2020 | 28 min 32 sec

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Brief summary

Being able to adapt to change quickly requires resilient systems, processes and people. Ashok Subramanian, Head of Technology for Thoughtworks UK, discusses the hidden legacies that hold organizations back from innovating at the speed they would like. If you are a digital leader wanting to overcome the challenges of legacy modernization, this is the podcast for you.


It is common for people to be frustrated with the systems that they have, with the systems that their customers have. It could be due to ageing systems. That could be one part of it what defines legacy. It could also be the tools, and frameworks, and the process people use.

In the world we live today, the customer experience is much more beyond just that user interface. It could be the expectation of a customer when they use your website online. It could then be, they want to speak to you because they have a query, and the expectation that you know who they are, and the answers to their questions will be easily available and addressed.

One of the challenges to innovation ends up being the systems that the enterprise has grown up with. One of the common themes or patterns that we see across enterprises is that organizations and businesses were designed to be vertically integrated. In those sorts of circumstances where organizations have had to respond to the fact that, as they try and pivot from a vertically integrated enterprise to more horizontal one- where it's not even necessary that they provide all the services, but they might have to play in an ecosystem of other players providing services.

Is the organization actually bought into the fact that something needs to change? Sometimes change is resisted, and when you dig into why, you discover that some people are happy with the current systems and processes. Whilst they may not feel the pain in their department or division, we have to help them understand it for other departments and divisions and end customers.

Not all legacy is bad. For a lot of enterprises, I think one of the first steps is an acknowledgement of the fact that something needs to be done. The second step is that, it is a journey which the end destination isn't necessarily known. There's a temptation to perhaps create a plan which might be with milestones just fixed in there, but this is the change in mindset where you have to look at that as initial plan or guideline of where you want to go, and probably the first few steps of where you need to start.

As part of creating the plan or the roadmap, there are three things for an enterprise to try and understand:

  • What are the kinds of things that you are going to forget? 
  • What are the things that we're going to borrow from in the organization?
  • What are the things that you have to learn?

A common trap to fall into is overestimating the challenge that competitors have or startup startups have because you look at that in terms of how much does it cost you right now to provide the service with the systems and the processes that you have. Forgetting, the fact that actually if you were completely redesigning the offering and looking at some of the newer tools and tech available, especially from the cloud vendors, you could actually build a similar sort of capability for end customers to use for far cheaper. Actually, that cost can then trickle back to the customer for a service that's not only better, but actually cheaper to use as well.

I think the end goal is about making sure that not just the technology is changed, but the tools, and systems, and process that are designed for evolution. There isn't really an end point .

In Thoughtworks, we've been talking a lot about evolutionary architecture and this really has to form the basis of any technology, strategy, an estate for an organization going forward. You've got to embrace the fact that change is there. Changes is inevitable.

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