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Feeling Lucky?

And here we go again, another IT systems failure at RBS; RBS appear to have been having a remarkable run of high-profile core-system failures but I suspect that they have been rather unlucky or at least everyone else has been lucky. Ross McEwan, the new Chief Executive of RBS has admitted that decades of under-investment in IT Systems is to blame.

Decades seems to be an awful long-time but may well be accurate; certainly when I started working in IT twenty-five years ago, the rot had already set in. For example, the retail-bank that I started at had it’s core standing order system written in pounds, shillings and pence with a translation routine sitting on top of it; yet many of these systems were supposed to have been re-written as part of the millenium-bug investigations. Most of this didn’t happen, whole-scale rewrites of systems decades old and with few people who understood how they worked, this was simply not a great investment; just patch it up and move on.

RBS are not going to be the only large company sitting on a huge liability in the form of legacy applications; pretty much all of the banks do and many others. Applications have been moved from one generation of mainframe to the next and they still generally work but the people who know how they really work are long gone.

Yet this is no longer constrained to mainframe operations; many of us can point at applications running on kit which is ten years or more old on long-deprecated operating-systems. Just talk to your friendly DBA about how many applications are still dependent on Oracle 8 and in cases even earlier. Every data-centre has an application sitting in the corner doing something but no-one knows what it is and no-one will turn-off just in case.

Faced with ever declining IT budgets; either a real decline or being expected to do more with the same amount; legacy applications are getting left behind. Yes, we come across attempts to encapsulate the application in a VM and run it on the latest hardware but it still does not fix the legacy issue.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it…but the thing is, most software is broken but you’ve just not yet come across the condition that breaks it. Now the condition that breaks it may well be the untrained operator who does not know the cunning work-around to keep an application running; work-arounds simply should not become standard operating procedure.

Question is as we chase the new world of dynamic operations with applications churning every day; who is brave enough to argue for budget to go back and fix those things which aren’t broken. Who is going to be brave enough to argue for budget to properly decommission legacy systems, you know those systems who only have one user who happens to have a C at the beginning of their job title?

Now it seems that Ross McEwan may be one who is actually being forced into taking action; is anyone else going take action without a major failure and serious reputational damage? Or do people just feel lucky?




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