The Application Decommissioning Struggle: Managing Change

There’s no question that CIOs are recognizing the importance of archiving data from outdated applications and retiring, or decommissioning, legacy systems. Legacy applications are often low value to the business and bring significant cost reductions once retired. By archiving data from legacy systems, our customers are able to provide easier access to legacy data for regulatory purposes and to support ongoing reporting and other business operations while cutting overall IT costs.

As the Director of Operations for Flatirons’ application retirement projects, during the past few years, my team has led the retirement of more than 50 applications across multiple industries. Beyond the technical aspect of application decommissioning project success, I’ve noticed a consistent dynamic that often doesn’t get addressed—change management.

After mergers or acquisitions, IT consolidation projects, or other business events that result in the review of duplicate or aging technologies, organizations often are eager to execute application decommissioning projects. However, they don’t necessarily take the time to consider the impact of application decommissioning on staff who have been using those systems and will need to adapt to doing portions of their jobs differently.

Application decommissioning projects are most successful when resistance to change is recognized and addressed proactively.

Tips to Manage Change

While I don’t claim to specialize in organizational effectiveness, I hope that by sharing these observations your organization can make your application decommissioning project a success.

  1. Communicate the Change. How you communicate the retirement of duplicate or aging systems to the people you lead and influence has the single most important impact on how much resistance to change will occur. Clearly define the direction, the rationale, the goals, and the parameters of the application retirement project. Once you communicate the framework for the change and build a case for why change is needed, your job will be to empower successful execution. As part of the Flatirons approach, during project kick-off, we work with you to define the Business Success Framework that includes the goals, objectives, and success metrics that form the foundation for communicating the change.
  2. Identify the Benefits. Help people to understand what’s in the application decommissioning project for them by supporting the change. A good portion of resistance dissipates when employees have a clear understanding about the benefits the change brings to them as individuals as well as to the group, department, and organization.
  3. Define the To-Be Business Processes. Help your employees identify how business operations and processes will continue once an application they previously used is retired. Employees need to clearly understand how they will access and report on key information. They need to understand what the path from the “as is” to “to be” business processes will be and what their day-in-the-life will look like without the legacy application.
  4. Listen and Empower Employees to Contribute. Expect that employees will experience a full range of emotions, thoughts, agreement, and disagreement when they realize that the legacy application they have been using for years will be decommissioned. Listen to their point of view and give employees control over any aspect of the change that they can manage. Hearing employees in a non-judgmental fashion and allowing them to have control of their own jobs is a key to employee satisfaction.
  5. Own the Change. A natural desire of employees is to want to retain as much functionality as possible from the legacy application and build it into the archive platform. Allowing expanded scope can lead to inflated budgets, missed timelines, and challenges in realizing desired cost savings. Be clear that the legacy application being retired is not being re-created. To do that effectively, Flatirons works with a key stakeholder to control the scope, manage expectations of your business stakeholders, and plan how the change will be successfully implemented.

Since the start of the information technology era, IT projects most often fail when an organization fails to consider the effect on people and business processes, without managing change. If you use an employee-oriented approach to your application decommissioning initiative with transparent communication and strong leadership, you will succeed.