The Final Count-Down of an Outdated Information System

Author: Maarit Meskanen, Senior Project Manager, BCI, Tieto

It is great to contribute some lessons learned about the modernization of an old information system that exists in almost every company. Typically, everybody chats about the old system and about how and when to get rid of it. Usually, the system was purchased and deployed approximately 20 years ago. The technology is badly outdated and people are joking “could we just unplug the server off the socket as it would be so easy?”.

The symptoms of an outdated information system include that it is difficult to find employees to do development or maintenance work, a continuously increasing cost in the organization is becoming a burden and it becomes easy to justify the replacement of the old information system.

First, it should be prepared a proper pre-study including e.g. an analysis about the current situation, the vision and objectives, the size and complexity of the current information system, the functionalities and the information to be transferred elsewhere, the stakeholders, the integrations and interfaces to other information systems, the compliance of the information, and the proposal for a program (project) to modernize the old information system.

By preparing the pre-study it is possible to draw conclusions if the old system could be replaced with one or several new information systems, or other important conclusions about the business policy or an aim for a new technology. It is presumable that during the lifecycle of the old information system, there has been deployed a lot of different additional functionalities. Now, it is possible to check if it would be reasonable and economical to rollout separately a new information system for each different functionality instead of rolling out a one new large information system.

The pre-study should also cover a market analysis about information system(s) for the transferring functionalities and information. The market analysis could also include an analysis whether there is a need for a modernization of the processes in the organization, and if there are available cloud applications (e.g. IAAS, SAAS, PAAS), other ready-made or customizable applications or new technologies available in the market that could be used in the modernization program (project).
If the old information system has integrations and interfaces to the other information systems, it is needed to pre-study, plan and figure out how to close them.

Secondly, it is time for decisions. It is taken into consideration the stakeholders who will make the decisions about the old information system. They are provided the pre-study with the market analysis but also (the draft of) the program plan and the road map. They will decide about the resources, the budget, the time schedule, the priorities of the decisions during the program, the program organization and the final vision and objectives of the program.

Thirdly, the modernization program is started. The program may last for several years and organize in different ways, if the old information system is complex. It might be necessary to have a PMO for supporting the program. In my experience, one approach would be to have a separate shut-down project for the old information system and several rollout projects for the new information systems. The projects should be centrally coordinated, e.g. in PMO, thus enabling the program in a controlled manner to transfer the important data and information to the new information system(s). There can also be critical dependencies between projects.

The huge challenge in a shut-down of an old information system is the data and information transfer and conversion to the new information system. There can be many technical challenges and the amount of data can be enormous. There can also be issues with the consistency of the existing data

model or there may be a need to transfer only the relevant information to the new information system. Typically, the suitable conversion tools or a vendor for conversion work can be difficult to find. The market is full of commercial ready-made conversion tools for different kinds of data type transfers. It is needed to check if there exists a tool that contains enough features for the objectives of the data transfers. It is possible that there is no ready-made conversion tool for the purposes of the shut-down project, or there are bad risks involved in using them.

The option for automatic data transfers is that the end-users check their data and information by themselves. They delete old data that is not needed anymore. They could also transfer the important information to other information systems by themselves. In this option, there should be proper tools and a comprehensive guidance for the end-users about how to pick up and transfer the important information from the old system. It is good to set deadlines for the data and information transfers.

After conversions and data transfers, someone might still have suspicions that there was some valuable relevant information in databases that nobody noticed and has taken care of. It could make sense to store the data and information to a data archive for some time.
When the old information system is finally closed and there are no existing user rights, it is possible to start the final infrastructure shut-down tasks and routines. Then the planned future is almost there – the information systems support the future vision of the business applications in your organization.

Starting the modernization of an outdated information system is sometimes difficult and it demands internal organizing and some work to make the pre-study phase and program planning, but it is possible and worthwhile to proceed with the replacement of an old outdated information system when there are existing many arguments for it.

We can help companies with their projects and programs. If you need support or a partner to your projects and programs, please contact us. Tieto is a forerunner in IT industry and we are very happy to help you.

Maarit Meskanen, Senior Project Manager, Tieto