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Sun 23 Sep 2007 03:41 PM

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Know the score

Todd McGregor looks at how organisations can effectively plan a migration from legacy systems - and how to choose the right replacement.

In an effort to reduce their operational and maintenance costs, some IT organisations are choosing to migrate from legacy DBMS, platforms, and languages to a unified set of technologies on either mainframe or distributed platforms. While some migrations will produce savings, don't expect the business to readily embrace these technically oriented migration projects - with such a small percentage of IT resources (20%) earmarked for new projects, business people are reluctant to surrender precious IT resources to migration efforts that produce no apparent business benefit.

Scoring provides objective support for rationalisation

An application scoring mechanism creates a list of criteria by which one can evaluate an application from several perspectives. Whether part of an ongoing programme to increase application quality or an application rationalisation effort, an application scoring mechanism will help firms to objectively rate an application from four points of view:

Business perspective - how well suited is this application?

The opinions may range widely from its users to its owners to the people in other business units, with upstream and downstream dependencies on the executive management team. Knowing the relative importance of the business unit to the company and the relative importance of the application to the business unit enables organisations to make better decisions based on the weighting of proposed work. The business perspective will also include an approximation of the cost, the impact of an application outage and whether manual processes can replace the application for any period of time.

Application perspective - does it effectively serve the business?

Does the application enable a commodity function that is easily purchased as a package? Or does it perform a core function - something that gives your company a competitive advantage? Commodity functions can include accounting, payroll, and human resource functions, whereas core functions may include actuarial applications for an insurance company or underwriting software for a mortgage company. Is it stable and easy to modify, or is it a nightmare to change? What are the metrics around its size, complexity, code quality, frequency of change, or reasons for change? Some of these metrics can be compared with other applications to benchmark and identify which might be the troublesome applications.

IT perspective - does the technology align with architectural strategy?

What is the underlying application platform, DBMS, and programming language? Does that technology align with the company's future technical plans? Is it ascending or waning technology? Is it compatible with service-oriented architecture (SOA), for example, or is it an obsolete 4GL? Are the skills needed to maintain the application readily available in-house? Can you hire the skills easily and locally?

Vendor perspective - how viable is the vendor?

Especially appropriate for packaged applications, these questions also apply to the underlying technology that is used to build, operate, or maintain the application. What is the financial health of the vendor - would you trust leaving your software on its product? Is the product important to the vendor, or is it on a path to replacement? What competing products are available, and what would it take to make you switch?

Devising a scoring mechanism is a good first step, but there is a long way to go from there to make the effort productive. CIOs should be taking stock in their IT investments, evaluating the inventory, and creating a management structure with the wisdom and authority to cut waste and streamline operations wisely.

Todd McGregor is managing director of Forrester Middle East.

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