What Moneyball Can Teach Us About Legacy IT

Modern IT is about balancing speed and risk. It is also about change. Federal IT now faces lasting change, as cloud capabilities, data volumes, analytic complexity and new security threats demand modern architectures.

As agencies enter the next phase of digital change, this transformation can be daunting, thankless work. It means making features of modern IT — such as artificial intelligence (AI), cloud, zero trust and software-defined networking — work seamlessly together to empower end users and diverse missions.

This level of change is a team sport. It applies proven knowledge with upgraded technology to replace outdated habits and processes. After a decade leading digital change efforts, I know there is more. Human feelings of loss, doubt, and discomfort accompany change. But when a team’s knowledge is respected and built upon, the journey’s down times often precede new levels of performance, discovery and satisfaction.

Baseball’s journey into analytics offers a roadmap for IT. Michael Lewis’s famous book “Moneyball” described how the Oakland A’s used analytics for competitive advantage, despite a monetary disadvantage against other teams. Agencies face a similar turning point. To extract full value from innovation investments, they must combine legacy knowledge with modern analytics to keep pace with the speed and risks that shape today’s environment.

IT is not an opposing team

IT is silent when working right. Organizations demand IT to “just work.” If legacy systems are seen as a roadblock when shiny new technologies come along, IT can be treated as an opponent. This is a losing play.

Federal IT is in the early innings of an analytics revolution. Legacy system owners are vital contributors to the next phase of digital change. As the Oakland A’s learned to win consistently with analytics by combining players in unconventional ways, federal agencies need to see legacy systems and their owners as players with unique skill sets. They belong on the field, alongside modern processes, systems and risk management, to find the winning formula.

Snap decisions, judgment calls and determination are part of winning. Analytics are great at finding and exploiting patterns, but humans break patterns. The human brain is still the best multipurpose sense-making tool on earth. Legacy system owners, like veteran scouts watching countless pitches and swings, see organizational patterns and problems up close. They know what IT cannot fix. They are IT’s early warning system.

A winning strategy for data

Agency data strategies require expertise and insight to inform commitments and overcome resistance to maturity. Success with modern, cloud-oriented IT demands legacy knowledge.

Here’s a secret: embrace your legacy IT experts as a critical part of the journey.

IT professionals see new technologies like veteran baseball scouts see a player’s future in their swing. Someone new always comes along to sell leadership promises about cheaper, better, faster capabilities. The old scouts may feel like they slow things down when they raise hard questions, but nothing is slower or more embarrassing than ripping out a technology that was sold as a home run only to strike out.

AI is leading us into next-level data strategy with automated analytics and real-time triggers. This is powerful, and in this new era, legacy knowledge is more valuable than ever. Combined with advanced analytics, it makes digital modernization more likely to succeed and the journey more ennobling for users and missions.

Some in IT stubbornly resist change, but some stubbornly resist failure. Legacy IT owners have brought us this far. Their role and their voice are instrumental to success.

Cultures change by overcoming biases. Baseball shows the way. Over-sold technologies, like overhyped players, do not drive success. To overcome that common bias and succeed now, we must optimize people and systems to execute their roles together.

The Navy’s Program Executive Office for Digital and Enterprise Services (PEO Digital) is an example. They applied their wealth of experience to reorganize while adopting modern architectures. They rebalanced the speed-risk equation by launching bold analytic efforts such as the Integrated Navy Operations Command and Control System (INOCCS).  This enabled them to automate IT network visibility and risk response and ultimately upgrade operational playbooks for IT maneuverability and resilience as they accelerate modernization for years to come.

Winning in IT is a team sport. Combining legacy knowledge and advanced capabilities as one team achieves the real promise of IT.

Mark Fedeli is a Change Management Advanced Practitioner (CMAP) and co-host of Data Reveal, a podcast about why data is remaking our world in its digital image.

Photo by Phil Goodwin on Unsplash

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