Somewhere in the recesses of most adults' psyches lingers a childlike suspicion that the new is always wondrous, effective and exciting, while the old is inevitably boring, inefficient and predictable. Likewise, in the minds of many CIOs terms like "legacy system" sit quite naturally alongside other words like "millstone" and "impediment". These IT chiefs see legacy systems as a kind of tyranny to either endure where absolutely necessary or else, if the budget and political climate allow, to overthrow at any cost. Vendors are always happy to encourage such inclinations, with a message skewed heavily towards revolution.
However, as CIOs become better at achieving IT alignment with the business, the temptation to heedlessly throw out legacy systems in favour of a clean-slate approach becomes much easier to resist. At Victorian WorkCover Authority (VWA), former director of information services Ian Rodgers found development of an IT strategy became a potent tool against a vendor-inspired push to replace the core system years too early and at vast unnecessary cost.
Rodgers has since left the public service, deeply depressed about its readiness to push IT-inspired change. Nevertheless, his short stint in government has at least managed to help VWA salvage much that might have been lost due to ill-thought out outsourcing policies and years of data mismanagement. It also has undoubtedly saved VWA millions of dollars it certainly didn't need to spend.
It seems fortunate that about the time VWA charged IBM GSA with a review of its legacy-computing environment embracing in part its Y2K exposure Rodgers was embarking on his somewhat short-lived public service career. That was about two years ago.
That VWA would replace its core system, known as ACCTION, was taken as a fait accompli. After all, feelings against the system rated high on anybody's reading of the emotional Richter scale. The legacy system was old and cumbersome, complex to learn and - from a users' perspective - incredibly ugly. There were substantial problems with data quality and, over the 15 years of its life, VWA had spent millions of dollars every year amending and making changes to the core functionality of the product. Nobody liked it. Everybody hated it. Of course, the system was going to need replacing.
IBM GSA obligingly completed the evaluation exercise and concluded that replacing the data centre was not only essential, but also that it would take somewhere between five and eight years and cost somewhere between $80 and $100 million.
Rodgers wasn't having a bar of it. Before he came on board, IBM GSA's advice probably would have been reluctantly accepted, despite the complexity of the projected replacement exercise and the fact that it would run over several electoral terms - a prospect that always makes projects difficult to sell to government. Even VWA's poor history of completing large projects would probably have been ignored in favour of the consultants' advice. However, Rodgers and his IT management team had an ace up their sleeves when it came to automatically going wherever the consultants recommended: VWA had no IT strategy in place. Rodgers immediately set about developing one.
"When we embarked on establishing a strategy that was aligned with the business as a core priority, we discovered there was not really any prevailing business case to replace this ageing legacy system," Rodgers says. "The truth of the matter was the product, over the period of time it had been outsourced to CSC, had been fairly reliable and fairly robust. We concluded there was not a business case to even consider going forward and redeveloping ACCTION. What we needed to do instead was to address a number of priorities."
So after a brilliantly successful proof of concept, VWA has decided to keep its core system a little longer, leveraging its power by using WRQ's Apptrieve to extend the application to a Web environment. Total cost of Web-enabling the entire ACCTION environment? Somewhere between $3 and $4 million.
VWA is finding that getting more mileage out of legacy applications is far more cost-effective than developing or purchasing new host applications, and Apptrieve lets it take full advantage of what it already owns relatively quickly. Better still, the decision gives VWA much needed breathing space to consider a planned replacement strategy over the next five or 10 years while it takes significant steps to improve its data quality and recaptures some of the corporate knowledge lost to it over the years.
Sorting It Out
IBM didn't remain as a consultant for long after Rodgers arrived. Nevertheless, its contribution still proved valuable because Rodgers was able to use its report to highlight the levels of complexity VWA faced.
The Victorian WorkCover Authority is responsible for workers' compensation in Victoria. It also manages the state's workplace safety system, ensuring organisational workplace health and safety are conducted in accordance with health and safety legislation. To this end, VWA conducts inspections across all the workplaces in Victoria by around 300 field officers using mobile office technology. Their job is to ensure Victoria's 160,000 employers and their workers receive information, advice and consultation to help them comply with health and safety and workers' compensation obligations.
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