Time to Trade In Your Enterprise Software

One of my favorite Superbowl ads this year was the Justin Bieber/Ozzy Osborne ad for Best Buy, lambasting the rapid progress in mobile telephony technologies to pitch their new tech buy-back program. Best Buy is not alone – not only to consumers expect to upgrade their phones every year or two, but there is also a massive “cradle to cradle” movement that seeks to recycle all manner of used tech, keeping it out of landfills.

Replacing old technology with new is not unfamiliar to enterprise IT either, at least when it comes to the desktop and laptop computers in the organization. Placing such tech on a three or four year replacement cycle is a well-established best practice. As a result, the processes inherent in this cycle are well understood, and the vendors are only too happy to support such efforts among their enterprise customers.

Enterprise software, however, is another story altogether. Purchase an enterprise application, middleware package, or other infrastructure software, and the moment you install it, it becomes instant legacy. The vendors are only too happy to support this approach, of course, as they make most of their money on the maintenance – so the longer you have to pay, the better. But even the vendors eventually weary of maintaining old software, letting it fall out of support. Customers now face a tough decision: keep unsupported software around and risk new security holes and incompatibilities with newer products, or go through the difficult, expensive process of replacement.

SOA was supposed to address this problem, as we wrote back in 2005 in our Sunset of Legacy ZapFlash, and it has to some extent. But while abstracting the interfaces of legacy software can lower the cost and risk of application modernization somewhat, such initiatives are still extraordinarily high risk, expensive, and time consuming.

Where are Justin Bieber and Ozzy when you need them? (OK, don’t answer that.) Why aren’t enterprise software vendors offering buy-back programs? Best Buy offers 10% to 50% of the original purchase price as a credit. Why can’t, say, SAP and Oracle offer the equivalent?

There are two main reasons. First of all, they don’t have to. Enterprise software pricing is obscure for a reason: it lets big vendors play games with their prices. They don’t need to offer a formal buy-back program, because they already have ways to give repeat customers discounts. But more significantly, they haven’t designed their software to be replaceable.

Now, replacing a mobile phone with a newer model is quite a bit simpler than replacing an ERP system – but the differences are simply a matter of degree. Your phone contains your address book, your apps, and all their configurations. Fortunately, the mobile phone vendors try to make it easy to transition those elements to a new phone (which is admittedly easier if you don’t change brands). What would it take for your ERP system to have a corresponding upgradability?

Abstracted Service interfaces are essential, but they’re only the starting point. Those interfaces must support deep interoperability as well. Even more important, however, is a high level of modularization – what we call next-generation modularization, part of the Democratization of Technology Supertrend in our ZapThink 2020 vision. Vendors achieve next-generation modularization when they are able to deliver modular elements for flexible assembly and deployment – and replacement.

If you are currently involved in an application modernization or consolidation initiative, ask yourself these two questions: how replaceable is our legacy app? And how replaceable is the app we’re now considering to replace it? If your new choice isn’t far more replaceable than the legacy you’re retiring, then all you’re doing is perpetuating inflexibility by supplanting old legacy with new legacy. On the other hand, including replaceability in your requirements for any new software will lower your long term total cost of ownership. You’ll also be doing your part to push the vendors to offer next-generation modular software.