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The Pharma and Life Sciences have a reputation of lagging behind in certain technology areas, either because of fears around regulatory concerns or the cost of migrating legacy applications. Founded or not, companies with a legacy set of applications face a challenge of how to move to modern solutions like Cloud, robotic process automation, micro-services, AI/ML, AR/ VR, and the host of other acronyms you read about daily.
Add to those concerns, from a pure financial point of view, it rarely makes sense: retiring a fully capitalized system with very few resources supporting it cannot be justified in a vacuum. But the reality is that your legacy systems are the anchor that will keep you moving forward.
It’s more than the fact that newly hired employees may prefer to work on more modern applications. It’s more than the issue of silos working separately, and not overall outcomes based. Legacy applications will always be the long pole in the tent.
You can certainly put in an integration platform, but you will always find yourself throttled by the underlying legacy systems. So where do you start?
First, start with a vision … something akin to “We will be 100% cloud-based by 2023” and pivot your entire organization to that goal. Don’t create multiple separate initiatives with as many architects. Instead, create a cross-functional group that understands the vision and has the technical abilities to create.
This may mean pulling people out of their groups into a “Vision 2023” group. Focus them on how to power outcomes, getting your data ready for future technologies, and blueprinting thigs like AI/ML but delivering on the practical. Whiteboard your pain points and divide into two categories: “Simple” and “Complex.”
The simple should be simple; complex should be possible. Often, we make the simple complex and the complex impossible. For the “Simple” ones, just do them. Don’t debate, don’t create committees, don’t let internal politics stop you. If you cannot get past the simple, you’ll never get to the complex.
For the “Complex” ones, break them down so they can be simple and put them out on a Horizon Chart: Horizon 1-3. Spend time on what Horizon 3 should look like, but agree to a clear vision on how to get to your end-state. Getting from “here” to “there” is never onestep, but a journey. It is, however, a journey needs that needs an endpoint.
As you make your journey to cloud-only, new initiatives should be cloud-first … don’t go and create “new legacy” applications simple because you don’t think your organization is ready. You can make it ready thru leadership. Use new initiatives as an opportunity for “mini disruptions.”
It’s not a technology issue but a cultural one. Your SOPs can survive the move to the Cloud, don’t think otherwise. The major cloud players have already figured it out better than you can … or at least, have some trust that they have. Pick one of the major players and let that be your architecture: don’t get lost in the “best in breed” mentality, pick the environment that works best for you. Mostly a Microsoft shop? Go Azure and move on. Same thought process with Google and AWS.
Finally, remember modernizing IT never stops. The legacy applications of today were the forward-thinking ones of yesterday. As you move away from your legacy applications, legacy data centers, legacy business process, legacy anything, remember that what you replace it with has the danger of becoming the next evil legacy application. So never forget to keep your applications regularly updated, exploring the next “new” thing and decide if you should advance your applications in that direction.
Small, iterative upgrades will keep you current and avoid the situation many are in today with systems that were left on auto pilot, but have nowhere left to go.