Planning for Retirement. The World According to IT… and Me!

This blog post originally appeared as an article in the June/July 2015 issue of the AircraftIT MRO eJournal.

At the recent Airline & Aerospace MRO & Operations IT Conference in London, I asked how many of the attendees to my presentation had an active application retirement program running within their organization. I was met with a resounding silence. Not one person was prepared to admit that they had such a thing. I wasn’t expecting a huge number of positive replies, but I was hoping for at least one or two. There was a mixed audience of technologists and maintenance personnel and even if one or the other department was driving such a program, the other ought to be aware of it.

Obviously this is far from a scientific study, but I was still a little shocked to find out that at an aerospace technology conference where delegates were taking a keen interest in the latest and greatest emerging trends in MRO IT, not one delegate had a program in place (that they were aware of and prepared to admit to) to actively review and retire legacy technology and applications.

Perhaps, most airlines and MROs retire legacy applications on a case-by-case basis when they implement new management information systems, but we know from studies that the majority of large organizations devote around 70% of their IT spend on maintaining and supporting legacy technology. We also know from experience that the path of least resistance is maintaining the status quo. It is easier to keep signing the invoices for licenses and support for legacy applications than it is to actively and permanently turn a system off. However, it is clear that when there is an explicit plan to build a roadmap of legacy technology retirement, significant cost and resources can be freed up for next generation technology improvement and innovation.


What if you stopped running the report? Would anyone notice?” I suggested…


When it comes to planning for application retirement, I’m reminded of my experiences as a system administrator at an MRO provider several years ago. One of my colleagues in the logistics department was having a couple of issues with an obscure stock report. On investigation I found that the report was half-baked, had been developed by her predecessor and was not generating meaningful, reliable or authoritative data. It was going to be easier to ditch the report and start again with a new development rather than trying to fix what was already there. I inquired as to when the report was needed in order to schedule my time around a deadline. Turned out that it was being run and distributed every Monday morning to a large group of management and she had been doing so every week since she started working at the company almost 18 months before.

“Who runs the report when you’re on holiday?” I asked.
“I suppose nobody does it when I’m off.” she replied.
“What if you stopped running the report? Would anyone notice?” I suggested…

Nobody could have been looking at the report with any scrutiny. It simply wasn’t telling them anything accurate or meaningful. Sure enough, the following Monday, I supervised my colleague in not running and not distributing the report. Nobody mentioned it.

A couple of weeks went by, and nobody had said anything about the report. In the end I deleted the report and removed links to it from our reporting portal. I’m pretty sure that nobody noticed and I’d provided a valuable service to my colleague with almost zero effort on my part.

This experience taught me that it’s always wise to challenge the status quo and secondly that retiring legacy is a satisfying experience, freeing up valuable IT resources to do more interesting and productive things. Or at least that’s how I see IT.