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An SMB reaches its tipping point with legacy tech

Clint Newell Auto Group took a bold step when it decided to jettison its legacy tech for the cloud. Benefits ensued. Here's how to determine your cloud tipping point.

Clint Newell Auto Group launched a new virtual reality app for customers in the market for cars and trucks.

Moving into this cutting-edge technology is a big step for a small business. And it's one that the Roseburg, Ore., company might have missed if it hadn't taken another bold step in recent years, said Ryan Parker, who, as the CTO for Clint Newell Auto Group, oversees IT operations and innovation.

Over the past two years, the dealership, which employs 85 people, has ditched its legacy IT systems and moved into the cloud, a change that is allowing it to seize upon virtual reality and other business opportunities it couldn't have imagined undertaking while still tethered to its legacy tech.

"We decided to start offloading pieces of architecture because of how old it was and how expensive it was for the company to maintain," Parker said of the decision to make a break for the cloud.

Determining the tipping point for legacy tech

Several years back, well before launching the virtual reality app, Parker encountered a scenario that many IT leaders are now facing: how to determine when to scrap aging technology and move onto something new.

Ryan ParkerRyan Parker

It can be a tricky determination to make, according to IT and business executives as well as management and strategic consultants. They broadly agree that legacy tech systems need to be decommissioned -- at some point -- in order for any given organization to stay competitive and seize the advantages that newer technologies can deliver.

Yet, they also acknowledge that switching off old, entrenched systems for newer applications is a difficult proposition, particularly in larger companies where thousands of workers may still rely on older platforms to handle core tasks and where legacy technologies can hold reams of critical organizational data.

We were having too many problems with our network. The daily bang-our-heads-against-the-wall-because-something-was-down was wearing me out.
Clint NewellCEO, Clint Newell Auto Group

So, how, then, do businesses know when they've reached that tipping point?

Experienced IT and business leaders said organizations must be deliberate in determining when they've hit that point. They need to recognize when they're throwing good money after bad into systems at a cost that exceeds the total cost of adopting newer technology. When that happens, it's time to move on, no matter how complex and painful the upgrade may be.

"Economics and competitive advantage have to drive the decision," said Larry Wolff, president and chief operating officer of Ouellette & Associates Consulting Inc.

Multipronged goal in moving to cloud

Competitive advantage and economics certainly were the driving factors for Clint Newell Group's embrace of cloud computing, but the decision to jettison its legacy technology didn't happen overnight, Parker said.

Parker joined Clint Newell Auto Group as CTO in 2012. He first took back the company's IT operations from an outsourced provider. He then focused on improving the management and governance of the existing technology stack. He made selective equipment upgrades to improve the user experience where he could. Desktops, for example, were replaced with zero clients in conjunction with Citrix's XenDesktop software.

But he soon realized the old technology was a drag and that incremental improvements weren't enough to balance out the hindrances created by the legacy technologies.

Clint NewellClint Newell

Three years into the job, around mid-2015, he began advocating for a complete overhaul, articulating to his business peers and to owner Clint Newell that taking such drastic action was needed if the privately owned business wanted to be competitive.

Newell said he, too, saw that his company had passed tipping point with its old technology.

"We were having too many problems with our network. The daily bang-our-heads-against-the-wall-because-something-was-down was wearing me out. And when I looked at what I was spending on maintenance just to fix stuff, that was driving me nuts," Newell said.

Parker and Newell decided cloud was the right way to go, seeing that it could deliver several advantages to the company.

"We had a multifaceted goal: to solve our security concerns, our infrastructure concerns and our cost concerns. We felt long term it would make more sense to do a cloud migration. We could make some of these things go away instantly, and we could make other things go away going forward, such as continual investment in hardware and keeping up with the times. With the cloud migration, we felt we could reduce that," Newell said.

Parker said he considered a few different vendors before settling on Citrix Cloud, in part because the dealership had an existing relationship with the company and had had success using its other products such as XenMobile to manage its fleet of mobile devices.

Today, the company's IT environment includes approximately 80 Citrix Zero Clients and a handful of Macs. Parker said the company still maintains some on-premises products but expects to be 100% cloud by the middle of 2018, using a mix of Citrix and Azure clouds to run applications.

ROI, post-legacy tech

The move allowed Clint Newell Auto Group to avoid $100,000-plus in Capex costs while gaining more and faster access to both applications and critical information sought by employees and the dealer's customers.

Newell said that although he doesn't have firm figures yet, he already can see the new technology delivering returns. "We're a lot more stable now, and we have the capital piece of it behind us. There's a lot of maintenance expense that's now gone," he said.

Wolff said IT and business executives are right to consider the cost of implementing new technology and the challenges that go with ripping out the old when determining when to finally rid themselves of legacy technology.

But Wolff said organizations should consider other factors, too, including:

  • whether they'll be able to find workers to maintain old systems;
  • how much that talent will cost; and
  • whether existing systems provide a competitive advantage or whether a newer technology would.

Organizations need to consider all these points together to determine whether their legacy systems are on the fast-track to the trash heap.

"My advice is to look at components of the system and ask: Are there pieces that I can swap out, or can I bring in a new solution, whether it's cloud or on premise, that will increase my agility, refocus my IT organization, lower costs and add value?" Wolff said.

Of course, an organization may opt to stay with a legacy technology even when it's costly and even if it hinders advancement if it decides other IT or business projects are higher priorities, he said.

He noted that mature IT organizations, where IT executives are working with their business-side colleagues to understand the company's objectives and goals, are in the best position to make assessments on legacy systems, identify what must go and what can stay, and then prioritize the work.

Wolff also said that IT departments should be assessing legacy tech on a regular basis -- yearly, at least -- so they don't fall so far behind that they miss opportunities that could propel the organization forward in their marketplace.

Parker said he understands that mentality.

The new technology has allowed Clint Newell Auto Group to move forward with projects such as the virtual reality app that it couldn't have undertaken with the old systems, he said -- a sure sign that the company's IT upgrade was due.

"Now, instead of [dealing with] a fire drill every other day, IT has turned into more of a business development center where we can do proofs of concept, where we can plan for the future, where we have the additional resources to do our road mapping," Parker said.

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