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August 04, 2017

Legacy Technology, IT Modernization and the Time Travel Machine

By Special Guest
Rahul Deo, Vice President, Digital at Mphasis

It takes agile, newer technologies to delight and surprise customers, but most organizations are staggering under the weight of legacy infrastructure. Application Program Interfaces (APIs) are the magic time travel machines that facilitate legacy modernization strategies, by linking legacy systems with the latest functionalities. What’s more, it’s at a fraction of the cost it would take to embark on elaborate projects to migrate from the legacy.

Start with the end in mind

Most companies find it easy to make the connection between customer experience and their own success. It’s harder to create the experience they want to provide for customers, as opposed to the experience that they deliver in conformance with their existing systems. In other words, when technology is used in support of customer experience, it can come from anywhere. What most companies end up doing instead is try to make sure that the obsolete, quasi-obsolete and bordering-on-obsolete technology they have at their disposal is being used. Even the most cursory examination of any organization that is outpacing competition will tell you that they pulled ahead by refusing to let technological capability design customer experience.

There is an important and practical business lesson here. Think about how different your customer experience would be if you began by asking what incredible benefits you could give them, instead of sitting down with the development team to figure out what awesome technology you have and what it can do. This approach is encapsulated in the oft repeated quote by Steve Jobs (News - Alert), “You have to start with the customer experience and figure out how to work backwards to the technology.”

Bridge the gap between legacy systems and futuristic innovation

All the sunk costs of hardware, software and code add up to what is known as a technology debt. The term refers to a company’s failure to leverage newer technologies, thereby missing opportunities to make improvements in business processes and operations. Add the burden of inefficiencies, and the extra work of maintaining outdated or out of control technology architecture, and you have a CIO’s nightmare. One way to tackle the issue is to make a clean sweep of old systems and modernize with a new technology stack. However, the drawbacks to this approach are that the costs and time for an undertaking of this scale are high, as are the risks of execution. Software and hardware systems are likely to become outdated almost as soon as the modernization drive is complete. Above all, the benefits the business receives are hazy.

On the other hand, recognizing the full scope of technology debt allows organizations to take a long-term approach. They can create opportunities to restructure their IT resources and link their functions and processes to their advantage. Legacy systems are more capable than most companies realize, and connecting an API directly to the back-end legacy system could achieve the same functionality and much more, at a fraction of the cost.

Use APIs to time travel between past, current and futuristic technologies

APIs allow software applications of all generations to communicate and exchange information. It is a blend of routines, protocols and tools that can be used to build software applications and state how various components should interact. The technology can be effortlessly deployed across all omni-channel mediums of interaction—including chat, mobile, Web and other third-party integrations. 

APIs are a boon for CIOs trying to modernize their legacy systems without a complete, expensive overhaul. It allows organizations to choose new systems based on specific company requirements and introduce them quickly. The opportunity to modularize the transition process allows systems to be built and tested before any changes in operational procedures, minimizing the disruption often encountered. Moreover, having an abstract layer that works with legacy technology to deliver customer value buys time to upgrade to modern platforms.

Meet your customers where they are

It’s the application economy. Customers interact with your business via responsive websites, custom mobile apps and other intuitive digital interfaces. APIs are remarkable at collecting data on customers’ purchases, interests and associations, thus enabling companies to create digital experiences that make customers feel their needs are understood.

Organizations can start with customer intentions, needs and expectations, and make minimal changes to alter the computing environment to enable the desired customer experience. Also called Minimal Viable Product (MVP), the technique offers a head start, which can later be scaled to implement sustainable modern IT systems. If applied holistically to all aspects of IT, this method has potential to yield benefits many times greater than traditional modernization methods.

Look left and right before crossing

A great API makes it easier for programmers to pull together the building blocks needed to provide seamless technology based on business needs. It also makes it easier for organizations to create and integrate evolved technologies to keep up with the ever-changing technology and customer landscape. However, many businesses are reluctant to take this step because of security and compliance implications. What’s needed is the ability to examine and assess the implications of APIs according to business rules. There are no compliance implications of the use of APIs that do not already apply to data that’s exposed via a Web application or file transfer system. Industry standards apply to APIs just as they apply to other systems.

The very first Web APIs were used for non-sensitive information such as weather forecasts and maps. Today, APIs are used for everything from mobile payments to healthcare to financial services. APIs are a mature and popular technology choice that comes with a variety of security best practices that can ensure every single API interaction is authenticated, authorized, encrypted and audited to guarantee that no data protection policies are breached.

Deliver business value

Would this layered approach deliver business value? Undoubtedly, yes. APIs leverage scalable and reliable infrastructure and are built on solid existing platforms to deliver the customer experience that is critical for business success and brand building. Involving IT as an integral part of business empowers IT to deliver business value in return. While other companies start with the technology and force customers to figure out how to use it, businesses that can recognize legacy technology as a key component of the overall system can take that same technology and make it simpler. In this context, everything changes—the development of compelling customer-centric enterprise applications will drive the business forward and act as a primary lever for differentiation.

About the Author

Rahul Deo is an experienced Digital practitioner. In his prior role, he had been a digital adviser to Insurance clients, of the likes of Metlife, Manulife, Prudential, State Farm. He has lead conversation around back and front office transformation for his clients. Such transformation includes, but is not limited to, sales, marketing, service, etc.

He is a computer science graduate with a MBA degree from Cornell University. With 20 years of IT experience and based out of New Jersey, he augments Mphasis' commitment towards the digital engagement with AIG.

If you’d like to learn more about APIs, be sure to check out TMC’s (News - Alert) All About the API event, which is collocated with ITEXPO and is taking place February 14-16, 2018. 


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