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Victor Anderson, editor-in-chief, Waters

October 2012: As Good as a Holiday? Really?

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They say that a change is as good as a holiday. Generally, they—whoever “they” might be—are right: It provides us with a shift in perspective, and with that, much needed introspection. Change can often be like spring cleaning and stock taking rolled into one.

But not always. It can also be unsettling, especially when you feel you’re not in control of the decisions and the overall rate of change. After all, we’re pretty much all creatures of habit, which means that we tend to feel insecure when we’re forced to makes changes to our routines and the way we are used to doing things, ranging from the time we wake up each day to our choice of cereal and the way we navigate our favorite websites.

This is especially the case for heads of IT departments within capital markets firms, who routinely try to defer change or instead manage it in their own timeframes and on their own terms, which leads to procrastination, inertia, and in some cases, a refusal altogether to make the necessary changes, which can have far-reaching consequences for the effectiveness and efficiency of the business. 

Steve Dew Jones’ feature takes a cursory look at the variables involved in the process by which firms go about upgrading or replacing their legacy infrastructure. I use the adjective “cursory” intentionally, given the impossible task of conveying in 1,800 words the vagaries that impact some of the most perennially vexing challenges facing technology executives. But regardless of how much resistance to change CIOs might exercise, change transpires nonetheless, and when it comes to legacy systems, the challenges are particularly acute.

Legacy technology is, by definition, outdated. But it can also be vital to the normal, day-to-day functioning of an organization, although that doesn’t make it any more current and therefore exempt from the chopping block. Often, firms have grown up to be reliant on certain applications—many of which were developed in-house and feature proprietary technologies with auxiliary apps vulgarly hanging off them—making the weaning process all the more painful. It’s safe to say that the “rip and replace” approach is simply not a viable option these days—incremental change is the way to go, where every decommissioning project is managed in a disciplined fashion, discretely and objectively.

But regardless of how well change is embraced within financial services firms, it is still accompanied by a lot of pain and upheaval. So spare a thought for capital markets CIOs next time you quote cereal box philosophies about the virtues of change—that is a clique content to live without any change. Ever.

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