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2 April 2020

Businesses are facing an unprecedented disruption. How to ensure that short-term actions don’t impact long-term viability?

COVID-19 has had a significant impact on businesses and their environment. Movement restrictions and physical store closures have seen a dramatic shift toward digital services.

The areas most affected by this shift are:

Scaling and performance – Digital services are not able to scale up to meet increasing user demand

Digital engagement and retention – Customers are more reliant on digital services. If the experience isn’t great they will swap to a competitor’s service

Operational excellence – Cost control is important for business survival. Repurposing dev teams to enable better digital services or scaling down can help cut costs

Digital commerce – With many new customers switching to online shopping, the first purchase/experience must be smooth or they will go somewhere else. Businesses without a digital presence must build one up quickly

Can’t see the forest for the trees?

Businesses are frantically trying to identify, diagnose, fix and repair issues caused by the COVID-19 induced digital shift. Keeping the business alive is priority number one. All focus is directed into hotfixes and hacks being rushed into production to ensure that digital services can scale and customers aren’t being lost.

Normal design processes, post mortems, architecture reviews, and governance are being skipped in favour of speed. While all of this is undeniably essential for right now, what about in the months to come? This explosion of technical debt will have a considerable impact on businesses down the line.

So how do you balance immediate business survival and long-term business viability?

The most important thing is to make all changes consciously. This doesn’t mean reinstating the full processes, but having a “just enough process” approach to remember what was done and why.

A simple way of doing this is to use records. Let’s call them SYSTEM CONTINUITY RECORDS (SCR). These records document the immediate issue, the actions that were taken, why they were taken, and the impact it has on the system.

Such actions could be business decisions, architectural decisions, operational decisions, technical hotfixes or hacks. A simple text file with the following format would provide the minimum level of detail required:

Title – (brief) Services are regularly running out of resources

Status – (Proposed/Implemented)

Context – (Facts about the issue) Resources are being consumed 3 times as fast as normal. Services are crashing when running out of resources

Actions – (description of the actions taken) We will deploy 3 times the normal amount of services

Impact – (positive/negative/side effects) Should handle current load. Extra resources consumed on a permanent basis.

These records could be stored in the same repository as the code or in a centralised location. It doesn’t really matter where, as long as the information is stored in the first place.

Every cloud has a silver lining

The current situation will eventually subside, and when it does, the priorities will change. The urgent need to adapt will be slowly replaced with a more business-as-usual approach. However, this is the time when businesses can capitalise on the SCRs that have been collected.

Prior to COVID-19, businesses were seeing legacy modernisation as a top challenge. Some were already ahead of the pack and had completed their journey to modern architectures, others had started their journeys while the rest were still waiting to start. No matter what stage your business is in, SCRs provide detailed insight into your systems.

SCRs can also play a major role in helping businesses modernise their legacy systems. Legacy systems are defined as outdated systems that cannot keep up with growing business demands BUT run your business. But, what are those business demands and why can’t our systems keep up? These are the most common questions faced by businesses.

A disruption, such as COVID-19, provides a unique opportunity to answer these questions. Being able to objectively identify why legacy modernisation is required and what is important to you is crucial for success.

There is another benefit to having these SCRs – knowing what was done. This has traditionally relied on human memory. Let’s just say that the results have been vague, at best. SCRs, on the other hand, don’t forget. They capture the accumulated technical debt, letting businesses bring it back under control. This, in turn, contributes to the long-term viability of the business.

“In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity” – Albert Einstein

While COVID-19 is causing unprecedented disruption, it also provides a unique opportunity to learn about our businesses. Decisions and actions made in the interest of business survival must be conscious and informed.

SCRs (System Continuity Records) can enable this conscious mindset. When the current disruption subsides, SCRs will be invaluable. They will help to objectively identify where the business demands come from and how well the systems are able to meet them.

Read the next part of this blog post series, Fast movers in legacy modernisation will dominate the digital business of the future, and this is why, to see why modernising your systems is important for more reasons than just COVID-19. While you’re at it, why not also check out the newest post, What is legacy? A misused term that’s vital to your business resilience

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Written by

Ewan Maley

This guy thinks fast, talks calm and has the most charming way to solve problems related to modernising legacy systems.