First of all, let me tell you that I am a big fan of certain things from the 1970’s. Peter Frampton really did come alive in 1976. The 70’s also brought us the 1973 oil crisis where oil prices peaked at near current levels, and while this was not a great thing it was an important inflection point in automotive design. Also, shag carpet is very comfortable especially with bare feet.
Quite often as a customer of an organization with legacy systems I am presented with an immovable barrier to getting the kind of response and results that I am looking for. In these “Computer says no” moments, as a designer of modern banking solutions I reflect on the kind of system constraints that are preventing me from getting the experience I expect. Then I think about the time period in which this system was developed and how just as our world would be unthinkable now, their world is equally foreign. Think of the office of the 70’s: smoking, steno pools, typewriters and carbon paper, Telex, waiting a week or two for a mail response, waiting several work days for funds to move between accounts or a few weeks for a cheque from another city to clear. These concepts and practices were fully accepted in the 1970’s — these days not so much.
Fundamental design attributes such as a lack of real time integration between systems results in very perceptible customer service issues. Front line staff often shrug and point to the system for why customer needs (although reasonable and often logical) cannot be met. Many systems have outlived their useful life.
Like a worn out lime green shag carpet the inflexible legacy system is still there regardless of how much you spend on drapes and furniture. I’m not saying that it needs to be ripped out over night, but let’s not pretend its hardwood.
Too many times as a consumer I’ve been presented with a slick front end and been impressed for a few minutes until I get to the functionality and then when I’m underwhelmed it’s clear that the constraints lie in the foundations of the core systems.
These systems often have many layers that have evolved to try and add flexibility to a rigid base, this wrapper effect adds significant complexity as each of these layers becomes a stakeholder in change. The end result is increased cost as one small change gets amplified through the layers. Adding to complexity does not create simplicity, simplicity requires rethinking and removing components to reduce the total count of actors in a design. That additional layers and elements will create simplicity on top of legacy is a misconception — addressing complexity takes measurement, planning and execution.
The 1970’s didn’t end because of changes in style or fashion — they just ended naturally. It was time to move on and move forward. Our thinking evolved. Our world changed. Now it’s time to let go, pull out the lime green shag and plan for the next era.