As one of the contributors to recent Gartner EXP research into legacy assets observed: "A legacy system is a hindrance that fills a business need — so you can't just get rid of it."
The sad truth is that most of today's applications will end up as tomorrow's legacy systems. And in some industries that have been using enterprise computing for a long time — such as life insurance and banking — legacy systems can represent the vast majority of IT's financial worth.
The good news is that not all legacy systems are equal in terms of the difficult choices they represent to the business. Systems with low risk and low value can easily be tolerated, or eliminated when they can't. High-risk, low-value systems too can easily be eliminated. Low-risk, high-value systems are what every CIO and business executive wants in the application portfolio.
If migration from a high-value, high-risk legacy system is intended to get the business "out of a hole", then a key goal for CIOs is to avoid digging a new hole
But none of those simple choices is appropriate for high-value, high-risk systems. As the saying goes, the business can't live with them and it can't live without them. They must be significantly upgraded or migrated, with either approach involving major investment and change for both IS and the business.
Because the stakes are high, and the choices are neither easy nor simple, the CIO's legacy strategy must focus on high-value, high-risk systems. The strategy has two parts. The first focuses on whether, when and how to migrate. The second focuses on preventing new high-value, high-risk systems from being created again.
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