• October 20, 2020

Why “Legacy” Shouldn’t Be a Bad Word

I used to avoid the word “legacy” to describe the stalwart IBM Z, IBM i and other platforms that have long been in their golden years.  I called them “exotic” systems, as though that made them more dramatic, like a special type of coffee bean. “Legacy” felt negative. 

I searched for a different word. Something that would capture the truth of these systems:

  • Historical – that felt just as dated
  • Reliable – sure, but not differentiating
  • Stalwart – fetch me my dictionary!

Nothing worked. And, when choosing words, it matters that we all agree on their meaning. The systems in question were commonly known as “legacy systems.” So, that’s what they are. 

A legacy is what you build and leave behind for time and history to judge. These systems are legacy in that they have been left to us (or are going to be left to future IT leaders) from a prior time. 

But, they are a positive legacy.

The image I like to evoke isn’t one of Grannie’s musty china that may look pretty on your Thanksgiving table. It’s actually Aunt Agatha’s spectacular cast iron pan that has made generations of corn bread. Or Uncle Cecil’s woodworking tools that your son is presently using to carve a duck in the backyard. Functional, reliable, and laden with the decades of seasoning that make them work just right.

It’s in this way that we like to use “legacy” here at Rocket Software. We’re reclaiming the word on behalf of all the IT folks out there who continue to run core business systems, year after year, with these incredible applications and platforms.  

Legacy powers legendary, we’ve declared. With this new mantra, we’re demonstrating our commitment to so-called legacy technologies and the businesses that use them.

We hope that with our commitment to legacy technologies — including the term “legacy” — we can help reshape the narrative. 

If we can take a moment away from the endless parade of shiny new technologies and truly look at our IT infrastructure, we’ll find those legacy systems in almost every business. Not only are they there, working tirelessly, but they have been there for years – or often, decades. In our constant press to try the novel and invest in the hottest things, IT leaders rarely spare a passing thought to the absolute workhorses at the core of their operation. 

This misplacement of priorities isn’t just a theoretical problem: It can and has had major impacts on numerous companies’ bottom lines. In my time in the IT space, I’ve heard countless stories of companies trying to build new products to replace their legacy systems, only for those new systems to perform basically the same function, except usually a little worse. That’s millions of dollars down the drain. Meanwhile, companies that hold onto proven tech that’s reliable and works, and gradually extend or update the system as needed, tend to avoid these kinds of meltdowns and budgetary sinks.

But what of innovation? Isn’t innovation the absolute key to success in the technology space — and also totally impossible with legacy platforms? I think the issue with that take is that it conflates an organization’s system of records — i.e., your mainframe program or MultiValue database running in the background — with the organization’s system(s) of innovation. 

It’s not at all clear that a company would even want its system of records to be “innovative.” They need to continue to evolve, supporting changes to the business. But, they aren’t often pressed into serving up the razzle dazzle. Other systems, often closer to the customers themselves, are better suited to bells and whistles, supported by the data and business logic on the tried and true core systems. 

Having a 20 or 30 or even 50-plus-year-old platform (in the case of some mainframe programs) handling the basic data transactions doesn’t preclude you from delivering innovative new customer experiences or mining your data for insights to optimize your operations. It doesn’t even stop you from conforming to contemporary trends in IT, such as the move to cloud and managed IT. With today’s solutions, companies can actually relocate their core mainframe and IBM i programs and databases away from on-site machines and into a public cloud, such as one of IBM®’s managed environments.

So, how do we proceed? It’s going to take a little bit of everything:

  • The data that supports modernization over re-platforming, like in our recently-published IDC study
  • Highlighting the actual innovation happening on these legacy systems, and telling your stories from the rooftops
  • Reclaiming the word legacy – unapologetically – when we talk about these exceptional technologies, and the people who bring them to life.

Yes, it’s legacy. And it’s flexible, reliable, and innovative. And, most importantly, it’s ours – and it works for our company.

Lilac Schoenbeck

Lilac Schoenbeck 5 Posts

Lilac Schoenbeck is the Vice President of Go-To-Market Strategy in the Power Systems Division at Rocket Software. With two decades of experience in enterprise software, data center technology and cloud, she focuses on the IBM i and IBM Power and how Rocket can best meet the unique needs of these core IT markets.

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