How does social collaboration affect my legacy systems?

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"The biggest barriers to adopting employee social networks are legacy systems, legacy thought processes and legacy people."
David Cush, CEO at Virgin America 

The above quote might be a bit harsh; nevertheless, legacy systems pose an interesting challenge each time an organization enters a new era, whether that's in software or of thought.

"Social collaboration" is popularly described as inserting the word "social" in front of every work activity. But it's so much more than that - it's a dramatic shift in how companies, departments and teams work together. A file server becomes more than just a place where you store your files; it's now a place where I can find expertise on a particular subject and ask questions. Plus that knowledge - from the files themselves to the unstructured questions and answers - are preserved in the system so that people after me can benefit from what I asked, did or discovered.

Most legacy systems are hopelessly outdated and cannot handle this collaborative aspect. But that doesn't stop most organizations from feeling their legacy systems fill a purpose and fill a vital role. So, when the inevitable happens and you board that social intranet train, you'll have to ask yourself: What will I do with my legacy systems?

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The simple answer is there are two ways of dealing with legacy systems in a social collaboration environment.

1. Integrate it

The first option is to integrate the system into the new platform. This means keeping the legacy system as it is and even continuing to work in it as you always have. By integrating with the new social intranet, you can find, share, comment, like and discuss its content - just as you could if the legacy system itself had all those collaborative features (which, of course, it doesn't).

The upside is that you don't have to alter the legacy system at all - it stays the same. The social intranet's integration capabilities are all that matters, and you can simply check most platforms' extensive integration lists and to ensure your systems are compatible.

The downside is that you keep you old system; your environment retain all obstacles, security issues, and hardships - and merely postpones the inevitable exchange of the complete system. You buy yourself time, but do not have to worry that much about transition problems. And your legacy users are often quite happy, since they may keep their old babies.

2. Exchange it

Another way to deal with the old system is to completely exchange it with some other feature in the new collaboration platform. This approach will possibly also change how your organization does things today. This might sound like a cumbersome and expensive process, but it doesn't have to be. The secret is to allow enough time for the transition.

Here's how the process usually happens. Whenever a larger customer asks for help with an Incentive implementation, they often have requirements, like integrating product X with Incentive. Once we start planning and help the customer with the integration, in about 50 percent of the cases, they end up questioning if they really need product X and why. They gradually discover new ways of doing things and get new visions and ideas. Those legacy systems rarely fit into these grand plans. Eventually, what was at first a hard requirement is withdrawn in favor of the new solution, in favor of a new way of doing things. 

So that original plan that required the legacy system to be integrated with the new social intranet is scrapped so that the old system can be exchanged once new ideas start to grow. Change takes time.

3. Leave it alone

Okay, we snuck an extra one in here. There's actually a third way, which is - quite unsurprising - just to leave the legacy system alone. Let it be, and discover how the new social collaboration platform slowly makes it less important. Discover how you gradually become less dependent on the legacy system, and it eventually fades into the oblivion. 

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One such legacy system might be email. While you'll likely never get rid of email just because you have a social collaboration platform, but you might want to integrate it with the social intranet.

So...leave email alone, but make yourself less dependent. Quit sending internal emails, for example. Use a chat room, a discussion board, comments on important items, workplaces or projects - use those functions instead of email. You'll save that precious resource - time, and you'll have everything gathered in one place, a central repository of knowledge, instead of spreading it out in people's inboxes.

You'll still need to send external emails, too, until you realize that you might as well invite some external users to your collaborative environment, and those emails are eliminated. Gradually, you'll make yourself less dependent on email, a legacy system that lives a life of its own. It's ok, because you keep it under control and know that whenever you can cut down on it, you're ready to do so.

The biggest barrier to adopting social intranets is not actually the legacy systems themselves, but the legacy thought processes and legacy people that come with them. The legacy systems are there for a reason, even though that reason might be outdated. The other two are not. Focus on getting rid of legacy thought processes and convincing legacy people that those processes need to change, and your legacy systems will follow.

What's Your Incentive? Click to learn more about Making the Transition from Email