For many years our friends in the Finance team have been able to argue that a computer system is a tangible asset, something that has book value. It’s meant that you’ve been able to treat computer systems as capital assets, amortising the cost of them over a number of years in that witchcraft that is the world of accounting.

The challenge for managing IT, however, is that in many cases rather than being a valuable asset to be sweated at the end of their natural lives, computer systems become greater and greater liabilities, taking increasing resource to support and becoming like massive anchors withholding the progress of organisations trying to adapt to their digital futures.

I’ll give you an example: a couple of weeks ago I was trying to change my seat on an aircraft on which I was about to fly. In the whizzy app provided by the airline on my smartphone I was interrupted by an error message that told me that I wasn’t currently able to make a change, and that I should try again within 30 minutes to 4 hours. That particular timeframe seems to strongly indicate that behind the curtain of the modern app there is a legacy of batch-processing systems (early transactional computing systems that had to run processes in batches because of the scarcity of computing power).

That feels deeply incongruous to a user of modern systems. What were batch processing systems still power a lot of the things we do, particularly in travel, finance and utilities billing.

When an organisation looks to move to a more modern platform, it could mean one of a number of things: they could be shifting the underlying server infrastructure to something more manageable like Infrastructure as a Service. Or it could be they are re-writing the systems to run on more modern programming environments. Or they could be completely overhauling the thing entirely.

The trouble is the more important the system is, the bigger the risks associated with change, the less likely it is that an organisation will actually bite the bullet and do what it should. As the UK bank TSB recently found out, completely replacing your core systems can end very badly indeed.


I’ve recently launched Stamp London’s first physical product – a set of playing cards called CIO Priorities. You can find out more about them here, and order a set for yourself here (or simply download the PDF and print them out).

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