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AIIM: Fish or cut bait on IT legacy systems? The answer's not so simple

The Association for Information and Image Management (AIIM) was founded 70 years ago to help information professionals understand current and future challenges of managing information. AIIM President John Mancini met up with SearchCIO's Linda Tucci at the Kodak Alaris Global Directions 2013 conference this fall. In part one of this two-part Q&A, Mancini talks about the difficulties of dealing with legacy IT systems amid rapid technology change and why CIOs have no choice but to march forward -- fast.

In your talk this morning, you said we're at a fundamental inflection point in how technology is used and viewed in the enterprise. Tell our viewers what you mean by that.

John Mancini: I think we've gone through a period where enterprise technologies were basically defined by how expensive they were and by how complex they were. What's happened over the course of the last five years is that there's been a radical change in terms of how people deliver solutions and how they want to buy solutions. A lot of that's been influenced by what's happened on the consumer side of the ledger. Right now what we have is this really interesting time where end users are simultaneously trying to maintain their IT legacy systems, which usually cost a lot of money and are very complex, and trying to buy new SaaS [Software as a Service]-based solutions and buy solutions that grew up on the consumer side of the ledger.

As they make that navigation, it's a complicated and interesting time because it gives people way more choices than they ever had before, way more opportunities. That dovetails with the importance technology has, which is far more than it has ever had before. You put those two together and it's a time of a lot of really radical change.

So would you say the integration of IT legacy systems and these new technologies is a tough challenge for CIOs?

Mancini: It's a very tough challenge, and it's tough on a couple of levels. One is that, in terms of legacy systems, even the legacy systems don't communicate well with each other. We did a survey just recently with Kodak Alaris that looked at this question of how those back-end systems connect, and the fact of the matter is, in most organizations your CRM [customer relationship management] system doesn't connect with your ERP system and doesn't connect with your content management system. So that's one area in which there are a lot of gaps.

The other area is connecting the older systems with the newer systems, and that, too, is pretty challenging for people because there's a temptation sometimes to just run down the path of implementing brand new things. We call those systems of engagement, not even thinking about how they connect with the back-end systems of record, and that's not the right solution either. So both of those areas, I think, are very, very challenging for organizations.

What are you advising people, to go slow, or…?

Mancini: I don't think people have the luxury of going slow, unfortunately, at this point. They have to march ahead. And so, we encourage people to take what they're trying to accomplish, keep their eye on the business objective, and try to split it into as many discrete parts as they possibly can, because the days in which somebody could say, 'Oh, well, this project will have a two-year implementation cycle," just doesn't hack it anymore. Businesses are thinking on the quarter level, and organizations have to be conscious of that as they think about their technology solutions.

You made a good point when you said companies need to begin with the why, not the what and the how.

Mancini: Yeah, [author] Simon Sinek does a lot of really interesting work on that -- starting with the why. In a cluttered environment, where there are so many solutions out there, I think at any level, whether it's the consumer level or the B-to-B level, you've got to be very clear about the value proposition of why you do what you do. Then go from there to how you do it, and then ultimately to what you do. Unfortunately, most people do it the other way around.

Go to the second part of this SearchCIO video Q&A to hear Mancini's views on the future of big data in the enterprise, the relevancy of the CIO role and the sorry state of social collaboration at most companies.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Linda Tucci, executive editor, or on Twitter at @ltucci.

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