5 Critical Steps to Business Process Improvement

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I know an engineer for a Fortune 500 automotive company. He’s a smart person who manages the safety programs of some of the most popular vehicles in the country. But he is forced to use 3 different laptops every day, one for each of the legacy systems he relies on every day just to do his job. One application requires Linux, one runs on Windows XP, and one laptop is for his day-to-day work. How is this acceptable for one of the biggest companies in the world?

Simple. The applications work. He’s able to perform the most basic parts of his job.

It’s easy to overlook how to drastically improve business processes and how little it can cost to update your legacy systems from an implementation standpoint. Here are some reasons why legacy applications are inefficient, and how the lost efficiency and productivity ultimately impact your enterprise.

So what software aspects are critical to business process improvement?

Infrastructure

Infrastructure Legacy applications require legacy infrastructure. This means you are maintaining an IT portfolio of older hardware, operating systems, apps, databases, and so on. You might be maintaining parallel versions of these things supporting them in different data centers, and otherwise making accomodations simply because they support your legacy apps. This creates many inefficiencies outside the application itself. You have to maintain a whole host of older infrastructure components just to keep running.

How to start creating more efficient infrastructure:

If you have not already taken first steps toward the cloud and virtualization of your on-premise legacy infrastructure, that’s a great place to start. There are good ways and bad ways to migrate to cloud, and you should never bite off more than you need to see for yourself how much of your system you will actually need to migrate. We can help you with that. We can help you assess how much is a enough and how much is too much.

Maintenance

In some ways maintenance can be VERY efficient. It’s the devil you know philosophy. If it’s a legacy system that your team is experienced with, it can be very quick to make small changes without thinking long term.

But this kind of operation is a trap. Those people who are very efficient with that particular legacy system are usually the only ones who are. With Oracle Forms and Reports, for instance, the talent pool is very small and tends to operate on a more freelance basis, and thus not intimately familiar with your long-lived and custom legacy system.

As soon as those key people retire, you’ll have a hard time doing basic maintenance tasks without an involved knowledge transfer process. The loss will be evident to every person who touches the app, but it will also be difficult to quantify. Knowledge loss of losing a senior member is tough to quantify but it has consequences on speed of new releases, of new versions, patching, downages, etc.

How to plan for efficient software maintenance:

Good maintenance is not possible without code documentation. If you don’t have code documentation, you’re playing a dangerous game. We have tools and methodologies to automatically generate the basis of good documentation that your experts can fill with their knowledge of your system. That can end up being a full-time job, so if you need a hand let us know.

Integration

Legacy applications are rarely, if ever, built or updated with an eye on integration. By their very nature, legacy apps tend to be self-contained, and thus the options for integrating them with other databases, PaaS, SaaS, and other tools are extremely limited. These self-contained and difficult to integrate systems are referred to as stove pipes.

This gives the legacy system owners a few options: bolt on integration capabilities with new developments; extract the data or processes you want to integrate into a friendlier platform that allows for sharing more easily; or accept that your integration options are limited to batch imports/exports that will be inefficient for the speed of doing business and will probably require manual work by expert users.

How to begin improving software integration:

Integration is your first and best opportunity to realize new revenue, realize operating efficiencies, and see nearly immediate business process improvements. First, identify the most relevant business value that integrating your system can provide whether that’s to a CRM like Salesforce or a third-party marketplace where you can sell your excess inventory. Building that integration is another story, one we have completed many times. Let’s talk about your integration needs.

Workflow

Legacy systems are inefficient around workflows for several big reasons.

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Database-centric

They are database-centric instead of user-centric. Especially with Oracle Forms, the user interface was built as an extension of the database. It was literally a bolt-on feature to let biz users of data do database operations without writing SQL. There’s a world of difference between a screen built around the structure of a database versus one built around a human’s ease of use and productivity needs. In its simplest form, a database-centric app requires you to know exactly what you’re looking for and where to look in order to do your job. This means sales reps, order processors, and other people interacting with business data must effectively poll the database looking for errors, emergencies, or actionable info. This is a night and day difference from a user-centric app where the experience funnels the user toward actionable info and relevant notifications that deserve their attention. Screens are subsequently designed to help them resolve those specific, actionable events as quickly as possible, which often has no direct relationship to the database and its underlying tables. At a very structural level, this level of efficiency that database-centric apps are not built to realize.
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Not strategic

These applications are updated and maintained in a least-effort, incremental fashion instead of a more strategic and critical fashion. That is done because businesses operate on a least-cost-for-work mindset. IT, who traditionally is a cost-center. Their mandate is to do it cheaply and quickly, resulting in inefficient workflows. Incremental change means that you add a new button, then a new tab, then a new screen, then a pop-up. Each time a change is made, it’s a new tweak. Eventually, the users are swimming in an overburdened user experience; only experts know what is important to the work they do on a day-to-day basis, and which parts of the UI they can ignore for their job functions.
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Expert Users

The result is that you have a stable of expert users where using this legacy app is a huge part of their actual job. In a different world, a more efficient application can be used by anybody who can complete that job function. Instead you have expert operators whose job and this application are married, preventing you from getting the most out of your workforce. They have to feed the app instead of do more high-level thought work. Often they have to do work on others’ behalf when those people could do it themselves on a self-serve basis if the flow of the app is more accessible.
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User adoption cost

Legacy systems as a consequence of the first two reasons are extremely difficult to train new employees. Trainability is vital. It represents a very real cost in time and dollars for making new hires productive. Modern hires are intrinsically productive if given UI they understand.

User Experience

User experience efficiency often speaks for itself. Legacy apps look like legacy apps. Besides their aesthetics, they have densely packed screens with poorly labeled or confusing layouts, they’re not mobile-friendly. In fact, they are seldom cross-platform at all. Because they’re monolithic and difficult to integrate, users always have to treat them as special and in their own little silo instead of a flowing and continuous part of their suite of productivity software/toolbox.

Tips for creating efficient software user experience:

You can start one of two ways: talk to your internal users and really listen to understand where they get value from the application and where it gives them headaches. Option two is working from the software out: review your application according to modern UX standards. Applying modern UX to legacy applications is a tricky business, but we have done it many times. A simple assessment with just the source code can reveal plenty of opportunities that won’t cost much time or effort to implement.
In order to get the most efficiency from your business-critical applications, you need to understand how assess their value, what technical work is critical, and what code is not necessary. Contact PITSS today to begin your journey toward more efficient processes with our industry leading source code analysis.

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