Business Agility and the Holy Grail

There was a lot of attention on Visual Basic 6 (VB6) as a legacy platform when Microsoft ended the extended support in 2008. Aberdeen, an IT research firm, performed a survey then to assess the state of readiness among their subscribers. A majority of the respondents (66%) said that they still had VB6 based applications in their application portfolio and that the main top driver to renew the VB6 applications was business agility, followed by risk mitigation.

Five years have passed since then but there are still many companies that run mission critical applications that are built in Visual Basic 6. One of these companies asked us to perform a risk assessment on the platform in general and on two of their most critical applications in particular. The findings were an interesting eye opener to both the client and us. As a consultant, you always run the risk of having preconceived notions based on previous engagements and the latest management fads. I am not saying that business agility is a fad but it was an important lesson to me that it does have to be the Holy Grail to all clients. It was evident during our workshops that we were not entirely aligned with the client’s criteria on the best approach to mitigate the inherent risks with an unsupported platform. In order to bridge the gap, we asked the top management to rank the criteria that we jointly had identified using a simple tool that I presented and provided a link to in a previous blog post. The result was revealing to us and the client. Business agility was ranked as the second least important criteria for the systems at hand as presented in the pie chart below:

Given this framework, we could tell the client that their only critical risk was the lack of
VB6 developers that know the systems. We argued that the technical risks are manageable and can easily be mitigated using virtualization techniques where the systems are isolated in “bubbles” to shield the users from the risks. But, as we told the client repeatedly, it is not only the systems that are put on life-support. You are doing the same to the business agility in the processes that the systems are to support. The client appreciated our concern regarding the business agility but explained to us that the flexibility comes at a price that they were not willing to pay in this instance. I have learned my lesson now, so you can rest assured that I will argue from now on that informed decisions, not business agility, is the Holy Grail for the business community.

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