Dave’s Trifecta – Boomers, Legacy, and the Cloud

Most of you have probably heard or read about Gartner’s ‘Nexus of Forces‘.  The basic premise behind their digital business platform are the four influences – Social, Mobile, Information, and Cloud.  The Open Group also mentions it and adds IoT (Internet of Things) and big data to their interpretation.

I’d like to take a different spin on these same concepts, but look at it from what I’m seeing in the business world and how the next five years are going to look significantly different in the way in which we design enterprise systems.

What are the parts of Dave’s Trifeca?

  1. Baby Boomers are/will be retiring
  2. Legacy systems are reaching their end of life
  3. Cloud-based, distributed data models

Baby Boomers

Boomers are those people born between the years 1946 and 1964.  Gallup reports the actual average age of retirement is now at 62, although when asked, the average age of expected retirement has consistency been 66.  Using 62, the oldest boomers started retiring in 2008 (on average) and the youngest will retire in 2026 (again, on average).  If we look at the median age (year) of 1955, that group will retire in 2017.  Pew reported this year that Millenials are now the largest group that represents the American workforce.  Why does this matter?  Because Boomers hold the business rules logic that have built the systems that underpin the operations of information systems that fuel our organizations.  So what?  Keep reading.


Legacy Systems

Wikipedia states “In computing, a legacy system is an old method, technology, computer system, or application program, “of, relating to, or being a previous or outdated computer system.”[1] Often a pejorative term, referencing a system as “legacy” often implies that the system is out of date or in need of replacement.”

As of 2012, Federal agencies were spending about 70% of their IT budgets on legacy systems and only 30% on developing new systems.  Of $79 billion, $54 billion went into current, legacy systems.  This is just the federal agencies, of which have said that their outdated IT systems could be a bigger problem than Y2K.  Only 6% of government IT systems are in the cloud, which is much different than other sectors.  This report also states that Federal agencies are focusing (still) too much on legacy systems.  A more recent report also states that Government IT managers say their systems are still stuck in the 90’s.  There are some success stories with a new focus on digital government resources.
As a comparison, here are some other data points:

Healthcare cloud usage stats can be seen here.

EU stats of cloud usage can be seen here.

It’s predicted that 78% of small businesses will have fully adopted cloud computing by 2020.

Mulesoft also states that 75% of North America and European enterprise IT budgets are spent on operation and maintenance of legacy systems.


Cloud-based, distributed data models

“You know why I don’t like the cloud?  Because I can’t go down to the data center and touch my server.”

No lie.  Direct quote from a person I interviewed for my XaaS EA framework research.

I don’t think I have to recap all of the reasons why cloud-based solutions are changing our landscape.  But, if you need some stats, here are two from Gartner and Cisco

The interesting thing I learned from my Cisco friends recently was their idea of Fog Computing.  You can get the low down here.  What is this important and what does it have to do with this post?  It changes the way in which we (should) view how we handle data.  How so?  As we grow into more and more on-demand SOA-based data processing, we’re going to see data NOT be brought back to the center or even to a level in the hierarchy.  We’ll make decision right then and there (at the edge) about the data.  We’ll only bring it back when we need to store it permanently or make some other complicated relationship based off of it.  Edge-based, distributed data collected closest to the user (or machine; BTW 43% of future data generated will be M2M – machine to machine) will become the new data processing model.  You thought we’ve had big data before.  Wait until M2M data collection and processing is happening without you knowing about it – and it’s almost half of the data generated.


So, where does this take us?

The new model of systems integration is moving from ‘planning, buying, and running/maintaining’ to ‘assessing, renting, and integrating’.  On-demand, elastic services are changing the landscape of how we integrate and implement solutions.  Sure, everyone understands cloud-based services, but it’s the behind-the-scenes integration and systems life-cycle development that’s changing as a result.  Make the tech adoption faster, the life cycle is going to surely change.
The old model.  Spec out your server (or ask IT to do that) given the system parameters, order said server, install the OS, Db, and App, (or virtualize it), and make it secure.  How long did that take?  I mean, even if the server is in stock and you have a really fast IT shop, maybe a week at best?  OR several months if you’re in a big shop.  This decision making cycle is shrinking around us.
The new model.  Water.  Wait, what, water?  What does that have to do with this?  Water takes the path of least resistance.  That’s where shadow IT came from.  People were/are tired of waiting to be served.  That includes developers.  People take the path of least resistance.  Now, a business unit or a developer doesn’t have to wait to get the necessary services in order to get a service/app/stack up and running.  In fact, Vendors have been going straight to the business units for some time.  Only when that unit asks for data to be integrated does central IT know about it.  Or if something breaks and they need their help.  Make technology available and more flexible and people will seek out that path of least resistance.
What’s this have to do with boomers?  We need to recognize that they hold a vast amount of experience and knowledge about the business, their decision making ideology, and the reasoning behind all of those business processes tied up in our legacy systems.  So, what’s going to happen is all of these legacy systems are going to need to be converted to these new mobile-first, cloud-based, distributed data-based platforms.  It’s a much different systems design framework.  It’s more than a new SOA design philosophy.  The way in which we are (and will with IoE), handle data processing, decision making, and NOT moving the data back to center for every single decision is going to look much differently in the very near future.  Mulesoft saw this, but they haven’t quite moved to the extreme / IoT edge.  But, I suspect they will.  Back to boomers.  If any of you work with one who will be retiring in the next five years, take them out to lunch, thank them for all that they’ve done, and ask them about the systems they’ve built.  You’ll learn a lot.
Are we likely to convert all of the legacy systems before the boomers exit stage left?  Probably not.  Believe it or not, by the time the last of the boomers retire, we’ll already be on to the next generation beyond the millenials.  What will the current millenials, soon-to-be millenial IT/EA (Enterprise Architecture) leaders do?  Follow the path of least resistance.  There’s a ton of knowledge and business process logic buried in the brains of our boomers and our legacy systems.  The problem is that millenials aren’t currently being put into a position where they can access that knowledge.  My prediction, they aren’t going to wait.  Things are moving way too fast.  So are they.  They see things more dynamic than I did to be honest.  They see elastic, on-demand resources as the way it’s done.
These tweener years between millenials coming of age into their leadership roles and the boomers wrapping up the latter part of their career are going to be a very interesting time.  We are between legacy systems still running a large portion of our business infrastructures while we have explosive growth in XaaS and extremely flexible resources, all the way down to on-demand CPU cycles.  Why is all of this a concern.  Because THE WAY IN WHICH WE ARE NOW DESIGNING SYSTEMS is MUCH different than before.  How we (should) view data, service resources, client access, security, and the pervasive user experience IS DIFFERENT than before.
So, as we’re replacing older systems, don’t forget that things are much different than when those systems were originally built, the boomers who built them are still around, and are extremely valuable.  The next generation of IT/EA leaders have a unique opportunity during these tweener years to learn from the past and build extremely agile and flexible on-demand solutions.

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