Legacy attitudes

I work mostly with large financial services clients, which means that there’s a lot of legacy software around. They seem to be pretty good at updating the hardware to avoid the threat of an unsupported system outage, but most of the custom software just keeps getting older and older. In many cases, large portions of the software aren’t even used any more, but have been superceded by functionality of newer systems or processes; however, no one has the time or budget to go in and prune all that unused code out of the production systems. Very much of an “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” attitude, but unfortunately that results in a lot of unmaintainable garbage that still, somehow, has to be maintained.

As big of a problem as legacy code is, the bigger problem in some organizations is their legacy attitudes.

One example of a legacy attitude is that regarding corporate software standards. There have been huge benefits for companies that standardize on a small number of software vendors, such as licensing deals (at first) and IT training costs, but somewhere along the line, the practice of barring all vendors except those on a rigid corporate standards list is going to come back and bite these companies where they least expect it. Not only are they potentially blocking best-of-breed vendors from coming to the table with business solutions, they’re potentially blocking new delivery mechanisms such as software as a service. As Chris Lindquist, CIO Magazine’s technology editor, recently wrote:

The big problem for these [software as a service] providers until recently has been mindset — software as a service just sounds dangerous to a lot of companies that have built themselves on foundations of millions of lines of customized code wrapped around software from a handful of vendors.

There’s a lot of other legacy attitudes out there, from IT career paths (why would a company force a brilliant technical mind to become a mediocre project manager in order to advance?) to the use of IM (if someone is responsible in their communications and corporate safeguards are in place, why does the medium matter?).

Challenge legacy attitudes at your own risk, however; in many cases, the people who put them in place are now in management positions, so tread lightly when you call their baby ugly.

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