A Pragmatic Approach to End of Life Technology Strategy

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The best-laid technology life-cycle plans of the IT manager can be disrupted when a vendor declares a product End of Life (EoL).

End of Life Announcements

Careful strategies that seek to maximize returns on infrastructure investments are swept aside when product supply and support are withdrawn, even if reasonable notice is given. On occasion, mergers, acquisitions or bankruptcies can greatly shorten this life-cycle. Faced with the inevitable expense and disruption of migrating to new infrastructure I see too many decision makers who not only jump when the vendor tells them to jump, but are also prepared to stick with the “devil they know” when it comes to their new investment. In the face of EoL or EoS [End of Support] announcements, the IT manager finds him or herself automatically placed in a time, money and resource poor situation from which to make a decision. I recommend taking a deep breath, standing back and objectively establishing the best course of action for clients and internal stakeholders. In doing so, the IT manager hands off a large chunk of EoL risk right back to the vendor who imposed the decision in the first place i.e. the vendor relationship could be discontinued. Moreover, a new product or service adoption should be driven by a value proposition:

Does the new product achieve my strategic aims?

In some cases, vendors claim to be moving you to an upgraded platform that solves the problems that you have suffered for the last 5 years while they were charging you for remediation “consultancy”. In my sector, the claims often refer to a product aspiration rather than a fully functioning, rigorously tested system, either that or the welcome changes that have been made don’t go far enough. In other EoL scenarios, a firm decides to either move you to, or away from, their latest acquisition.

Termination of Service

When faced with an EoL/EoS situation you need to buy yourself time in order to make a fully-informed decision. When the service is terminated there are no more security patches or software updates to maintain integration with other applications. You need to establish whether you can maintain the required level of security and interoperability beyond the cut-off date. External expertise is almost certainly the best way to achieve this. In terms of the cost of extended support beyond EoL, much of the cost to the vendors has been removed as they have declared that they will no longer patch, bug fix or upgrade the product. From a Product Management perspective, I fully understand doing anything to drive the install base into a new product or service. From a client perspective, the very fact that the vendor will have no staff actively working on a product serves to validate third party support organizations.

Extended Life

The rational decision may still be to accept the proposed EoL date or it may be that you can safely and economically prolong the life of the existing platform for a year or more with the support of an expert service provider. You need to establish the relative costs and benefits that can be achieved by either sweating your existing assets or migrating to a replacement system. Essentially you are trying to calculate an optimum EoL date rather than accepting the one that is being imposed on you. Then it is a question of what to move to next. There is going to be a transitional stage for any mission critical technology migration. It’s your job to minimize the disruption and lifetime costs while ensuring that your eventual choice of vendor provides the best outcome for all internal and external stakeholders in terms of process and technology integration, dependability, compliance, security and user experience.

Marketplace Review

Your existing vendor should be included in your marketplace review. However, in recent experience, JP Reis consultants have noticed that the disruption involved in moving to a new system is not generally mitigated by staying with the incumbent supplier, so don’t buy into that line unless there is strong evidence to back it up. Deciding how to provide the best flexible, scalable solution requires a consideration of pure software deployments, the use case for desktop hardware and SaaS alternatives. It may be that a hybrid solution will serve your business unit best and having a wider market visibility will allow you to drive a better deal from all relevant vendors.

This blog is not an attack on technology vendors. Some provide excellent customer service and their new product releases are genuinely in the best interests of clients. If every IT manager could take an objective, fully informed decision on whether to extend the life of an officially obsolete application and what to eventually replace it with, some of them would defensibly do exactly what their incumbent vendor suggested. I just want to see due diligence take place in order that the best decisions are made without the vendors dictating terms.
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