Can You Support the Weight of The Elephant in the Living Room?

A friend once told me that an elephant weighs in the neighborhood of 3 tons. And that those huge ears represented a hundred pounds or so per ear of the elephant’s total weight. I also learned that their enlarged ear bones as well as sensitive nerve endings in their feet and trunks allow elephants to pick up these underground or infrasonic messages.

So, since we’re talking about “infrastructure” in this edition, I’d like to share my thoughts about “aging infrastructure” in the technology we use. The more common term is legacy systems.

Look, I know it’s hard enough to manage the day-to-day challenges of the skilled labor shortage, cash flow and financing, cost of raw materials and supplies, safety issues etc., and keeping up with necessary technology adoption. If it isn’t broke, why worry about our legacy technology, right?

And, being honest, technology issues have always been a double-edged sword. Each of you enlightened readers recognize the need for technology to provide efficiencies and keep us competitive, but also since we value on-time, in-budget project completion, we find that many technology upgrades don’t run as predictably as the way we run our client projects.

Replacing older technology for many, is the elephant in the living room, and puts you in a situation. You have an issue that must be dealt with, but feel it’s a balancing act between continuing to run older systems as long as possible against the challenges of updating hardware and software. You recognize there will be substantial investments in time and money, and potential for business disruption.

Timing of an upgrade decision, let alone implementation, can be tricky, given that the latest state-of-the-art technology may become obsolete in less than two years. Once a plan is put in place to upgrade, the learning curve begins, and your HQ folks, field people, vendors, and customers all have to get on board with the new tools you’ve invested in.

You may find legacy technology in any piece of hardware or software that was once widely used, but has outlived its useful life. It may not be a function of time in service, but often is outdated technology because a newer version has been released and the vendor no longer supports the system. Sometimes you are in control of the replacement decision, sometimes you are not.

These are not trivial concerns, but ones that require significant time and expertise to develop a plan for technology planning, data migration, training, and commissioning the new installation, as we would with any commercial project.

And then there’s the cost issue. When it comes to replacing legacy technology, it’s not just the cost of making the change, but consideration of the cost of not making the change. Continuing to maintain legacy systems can prove burdensome to any business trying to keep control of IT budgets. In-house and third-party legacy technology is susceptible to a harsh reality—fewer and fewer people understand how it works, or who are able to fix it when it does. It’s important to harness this knowledge while you still have access to it, or suffer the consequences at a future point in time when an upgrade is forced upon you. A point where the floor cannot support the elephant and extraordinary measures are required.

All successful projects have a common element, a good set of plans and specs and a detailed constructability review to make sure the architect and engineering folks haven’t overlooked anything that would impact construction. Same holds true for a legacy migration.

Finally, with new technology appearing daily on the horizon, do you have the discipline to follow the initial migration plan you’ve created, or be willing to pay the price (and risk) of change orders mid-stream?

If you do, upgrading legacy technology will go more smoothly, because nobody wants to see an elephant running amok in their operation.

Jim Kissane is a retired construction industry veteran, having served the design/construction industry for more than three decades. He can be reached at jim.kissane.tampa@gmail.com