CTO _CTO Magazine - The Darling Dilemma

When to Replace Legacy Systems with Emerging Technologies

 Here’s something you may not want to hear -it could be time to kill your darlings. Legacy frameworks, apps, and governance procedures likely came long before your CTO stint- and removing those systems is emotionally, physically, and fiscally complex. However, balancing legacy systems and emerging tech is a key component of revolutionizing your tech stack to be more competitive. 

This balance begs the question: how do you know when its beneficial to let go of an idea you’ve toyed with for months or the same tech tool you’ve used for the last few years? When is it a waste of effort and resources to pursue a new tool that waylays your team?

 It’s a complicated dance. CTOs need to be prepared to take a step back and examine their comfort zone and the unpredictability of new tech to problem-solve and take action when confronted with the challenge of deciding between legacy tech and emerging systems.

Identify your comfort zone

Take a minute to think about how comfortable you are with change. Are you someone who thrives on novelty and new experiences, or do you prefer stability and familiarity?  

Checking your comfort zone before embarking on something new ensures you have a sturdy foundation. By assessing where you currently stand, you can gain some self-awareness that will allow you to approach new things with a better understanding of what might challenge you and what you are already equipped to handle.

Similarly, start by examining what parts of your tech stack feel so deeply ingrained in day-to-day procedures that life without them makes you uncomfortable. Then, think of what systems need to go. Start with the latter, than eek your way into the middle. What tech has the opportunity to be improved, even if it mostly works for your team?

Pushing the boundaries of your comfort zone can also foster resilience and adaptability, enabling you to navigate unfamiliar territory with greater ease. A mindful evaluation of your comfort zone is a compass, guiding you toward new tools or experiences that can stimulate growth. 

Perform an audit on cost/benefit

If you’re leaning toward trying something new, take a small, manageable step to test the waters before fully committing. This can help you gain confidence and assess if your choice is the right one.   

Performing a cost-benefit analysis is a crucial step in determining whether to retain an old legacy system or transition to a new technology solution. This analysis involves assessing the expenses associated with maintaining and supporting the existing system against the potential benefits of adopting a new one. Factors such as the cost of upgrades, maintenance, and ongoing support for the legacy system are weighed against the anticipated advantages of implementing a modern solution, including improved efficiency, enhanced functionality, and reduced risk of obsolescence.

By conducting a thorough cost-benefit analysis, organizations can make informed decisions that align with their strategic goals and optimize their technology investments for long-term success.

Tech leaders have a real opportunity to lead the way in fostering a culture of innovation. Companies should give experiential learning a try, and that starts with you. Come up with a solid plan for introducing new technologies and then safely test it to see whether it works. No one wants to make a big, expensive mistake, and thinking about how to try new things while keeping legacy systems in place as long as need be is sometimes the ultimate goal.  

Ask your direct reports. Then ask their direct reports.

Gathering input from multiple employees is paramount when assessing whether to retain an old legacy system or transition to a new technology solution. Each employee brings a unique perspective shaped by their role, experience, and workflow dependencies.

By soliciting feedback from various departments and levels within the organization, decision-makers can gain a comprehensive understanding of the system’s strengths, weaknesses, and its impact on daily operations. This multi-faceted approach ensures that all relevant factors are considered, including user experience, functionality requirements, integration capabilities, and potential workflow disruptions. Additionally, involving employees in the decision-making process fosters a sense of ownership and buy-in, leading to smoother transitions and increased adoption rates for any new technology implementations.

Ultimately, leveraging the collective insights of employees enables organizations to make more informed decisions that align with their business objectives and empower their workforce for success.

In brief

Ultimately, after you take some time to think about tools and technology in your org, it’s sometimes best to “kill your darlings” and try something new. But that desire needs to be tempered by a cost/benefit analysis and real discussions with your team about where new tech will make the most impact.

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Lindsey Giardino

Lindsey Giardino is a freelance writer based in Iowa. She's worked with clients ranging in industries from higher education to healthcare to technology and beyond. She dubs herself a lifelong learner, an avid reader, a sub-par cook, and a tries-her-best mom to two little boys.

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