September 23, 2020

Legacy Systems & The Opportunity Cost of Inaction


Legacy Systems: Aggravating & Essential

It’s common in many industries for companies to operate using legacy systems, even though those systems represent immense challenges should something malfunction or go wrong. We’ll define “legacy systems” roughly as thus: technologies, processes and workflows that may be out of date and inefficient, but are nevertheless essential to a company’s proper functioning. For instance, mainframes that are irreplaceable and unalterable, or massive physical servers storing all of a law firm’s confidential client data. Another example, the Compaq LTE 5280 laptop from the early 1990s, which was used to program the one hundred McLaren F1s in the world (each valued at USD $1 million) through at least 2016. The Compaq LTE 5280 had been in use for so long, according to Jalopnik, is because “they run a bespoke CA card which installs into them. The CA card is an interface between the laptop software (which is DOS based) and the car).

On the surface, having systems like these seems entirely counterproductive. Why wouldn’t an organization with millions of dollars to its name simply upgrade to a newer, better system? More streamlined design, faster operating times, and quicker resolutions. Simply put, it’s not that easy. Legacy systems continue to be in use because the perform some function (storing data, transmitting data, etc.) that is irreplaceable. Either that, or the cost of replacement is astronomical, with the associated payoff being dubious at best (Getting an entire company on boarded onto a new system? No thanks.)


The Need for Change is Clear

The events of this year have thrown legacy systems and their inefficiencies into even harsher relief. Without describing all of those events using a word that has at this point become cliché (hint – it starts with a “U”), we also cannot ignore that many truths have come to light about traditional business practices and their limitations. For some industries, not much has changed (particularly in the world of software development). By and large, other than working from home, their day to day jobs hadn’t changed that much because they’ve had systems and processes already in place that made remote work a no brainer (thank you GitHub).

Other industries and teams haven’t had it so easy. From education to financial services, organizations that aren’t used to functioning entirely online have had to grapple with new technologies and adapting to them to making their work feasible. When it comes to teams that are largely client facing (customer success/onboarding), this challenge has been particularly stressful – especially if multiple legacy systems (and external parties) are involved. Ensuring that customers don’t get lost in an onboarding process takes a level of attention to detail that is difficult to understate. How essential that attention to detail is in preventing churn is equally difficult to understate.

The legacy systems that various onboarding teams have to contend with are myriad and diverse, depending on the products being sold. Short rule of thumb – the more pieces of the puzzle involved, the more nightmarish the process becomes. There’s seemingly no solution to this problem that isn’t at best astronomically disruptive and costly, and at worst, impossible.

The Cost of Inaction is High

What is needed, instead, is a way of actively tracking where customers are in the stage on their onboarding journey. Teams need to know the customer they’re talking to, what’s been done already, what hasn’t, who the other parties involved are, what their responsibilities are, and exactly how and when things must be accomplished in order to get that customer up and running. Eliminating run around and customer frustration (and thus increasing profits) should be the ultimate goal.

Additionally, relevant parties must be privy to essential knowledge of blockers that will prevent progress. Whether those are necessary integrations, technology incompatibilities, essential steps, etc. Not everyone can be an expert in everything – but having visibility into processes and open lines of communication, instead of siloed teams, will make for a much more efficient experience. With 55% of customer saying they’ve returned a product because they didn’t fully understand how to use it, the opportunity cost of inaction is too high to discount.