Merchants, Don’t Make This Mistake – Go Around Legacy Technology!

November 18, 2016 Matt Bertulli

ecommerce, website design, demac media, sunk cost, business change, technology cost, ecommerce platforms

This post is for retailers, brands, and wholesalers who have a decade or more of business history and are carrying a good amount of technical debt in their organizations.

And boy there’s a lot of you!

For every new piece of technology you introduce into your business I want you to start asking this question:

“Do we REALLY need to integrate this new technology into our existing technology stack?”

I want you to be desperately honest when you answer this question. It’s easy to just answer “yes” and leave it to someone else to figure out, so unpack the reason behind the yes. Understand why you think it needs to all be integrated.

Why do I want you to ask this question?

Because most companies that have a decade or more of business history are integrating technologies that simply shouldn’t be integrated. This perpetuates the fallacy that your existing systems are critical to your business and can never be removed for fear of bringing the entire house down.

This is a giant mistake. HUGE!

Go Around Legacy Technology

ecommerce, website design, demac media, sunk cost, business change, technology cost, ecommerce platforms

I strongly urge you to approach technology with zero bias to what exists today. This is very difficult, given the sunk cost bias we inevitably all have weighing down our decisions.

I was recently consulting for a bricks & mortar client that has 20 big, beautiful showroom style stores. These stores have been around for 20 years, some more than others. There was a ton of legacy technology in this business. Actually, all of the technology in this business could be classified as legacy. The vast majority was being developed and maintained by an in-house “IT” team.

As soon as they started telling me about their technology stack and the processes built around it I knew that we’d be going around this legacy stack instead of going at it head on. What this really meant is that I urged them to not bother integrating anything new into this legacy stack, but rather I wanted to build up all the new systems and processes in a way that created a support structure for the business so that one day in the future they could rip out all the old, dead weight tech that was holding them back.

Rip that Bandaid Off

ecommerce, website design, demac media, sunk cost, business change, technology cost, ecommerce platforms
That can sound a little scary. Particularly if you’ve got a lot of history with your business and you know that there are hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars invested in some of these systems and processes. Often it just has to be done. You need to rip that bandaid off at some point!

If you don’t have a strong technical product manager type-person on your team that can lead this charge, I urge you to find one (check out my 2 part post on hiring an eCommerce manager). Creating the technology and process stack that will support your business for modern day retailing is complicated and getting more complicated by the day. There’s a lot of stuff that the average merchant needs and even more stuff they don’t.

Start small by focusing on technologies that can operate fairly well without direct integrations into your back-end legacy systems. This probably means avoiding ERP, WMS stuff for now. If you happen to be implementing something that is capturing customers/orders (i.e. – eCommerce platform), then also investigate putting an order management system (OMS) in place to help bypass your legacy back-end technology.

The goal is to create as few hooks into your legacy systems as possible.

The reason is to remove dependency on these legacy systems so that they don’t become relics of the past that require a shrinking pool of people to maintain (“green-screen” AS/400 anyone?).

Watch below as I explain why technology roadmaps are important for retailers and brands!

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