Legacy Stability, Mobile Speed: How to Bridge the Technology Generation Gap

The need to enable rapid development of user-friendly, mobile-enabled applications that solve today’s business problems by accessing data from yesterday’s legacy software systems is challenging enterprise IT groups. Bridging the gap between these environments is “an evolution that IT organizations struggle to keep up with,” according to Ed Anuff.

How to bridge the technology generation gapWriting in WIRED magazine, Anuff contends in Reach Two-Speed IT with APIs that “To succeed, a new approach is required; one that enables agile and web-scale innovation so that IT can meet evolving business requirements while enabling existing systems to continue running reliably, efficiently, and securely.”

He refers to this approach as “two-speed IT,” and writes that it “manages the trade-off between the agility required to build, deploy, and run applications and experiences for customers, partners, and employees, and the reliability and control required for the systems of record…Embracing the digital economy requires a new API-centric layer in the enterprise stack, one that enables two-speed IT: agile and web-scale innovation, alongside stable and secure IT systems with key components that enable speed, agility, data and analytics, APIs and scale.”

The article makes a number of compelling and timely arguments, but four are worth exploring further here.

Leverage your current technology…

“Two- speed IT is about enabling (both sides) of the IT equation — that which controls and secures the operational systems of record, and that (systems of engagement) which enables the agility and speed to build, deploy, and run the applications and experiences through which customers, partners, and employees now interact with a business.”

Developing intuitive, web-based and mobile-friendly systems of engagement that interact with core legacy enterprise systems of record enables enterprises to rapidly and cost-effectively meet today’s business challenges without costly and disruptive “rip and replace” implementation projects. By leveraging their (often considerable) investments in core management and control systems, enterprises can pursue an evolutionary rather than revolutionary path to technology-business alignment.

…but not using traditional middleware.

Traditional middleware technologies will not meet today’s needs. “This approach was effective when middleware projects were few in number and had lengthy implementation timeframes. However, the processes for implementing and operating these integration systems are labor-intensive and do not scale when the number of connected systems increases.”

So true. As noted here previously, point-to-point integrations are “difficult to scale and nightmarish to maintain,” while legacy middleware works well for high-volume with low changeability, but not volatile and ad-hoc process.  An agile service integration strategy offers a better approach, allowing data and messaging to be centrally integrated and managed across systems via a workflow automation engine, using APIs or other common communication methodologies.

And empower your business users…

Technology must empower business process experts. “Companies that enable a new agile ‘high-speed’ IT put the developer at the center, and implement self- service systems and processes that empower those who implement the new types of applications required by a digital business.”

Process automation and other business task workflows are best designed by those who know the processes and business needs best. Providing these individuals with graphical workflow mapping and associated low-code tools enables those business experts to resolve their own issues with minimal IT assistance.

…but don’t overwhelm them.

Give users the information they need—and no more. “The API layer is strategically placed at the center of the application data stream, where it…enables a complete feedback loop and drives actions…common examples of this (include) decision-support dashboards used by customer service personnel. With an integration-based architecture, wiring up this kind of feedback loop would be cumbersome at best.”

Many IT service desks still manage issues and requests via components of comprehensive enterprise IT management suites. While this software is very powerful, it’s also often quite complex. When a support representative is trying to resolve an issue for a caller—or the user is submitting an issue report or request online—no one involved wants to fill in field after field of information.

Such systems should be “smart” enough to prefill fields with known information; ask for only the additional information absolutely necessary to resolve the issue; and branch to new questions based on answers to previous questions. This is enabled through a simple, intuitive system of engagement interacting with the underlying IT management application.

Anuff concludes, “IT organizations face a major challenge: defining how to implement systems of engagement quickly and responsibly while retaining the checks and balances needed to maintain business-critical IT operations.” The key is to utilize tools that empower business users to build their own process flows while adhering to security and governance requirements—and which are flexible enough to work with the legacy applications an enterprise has in place today as well as whatever it may have in place tomorrow.

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