Improving the customer experience is a key concern of every business, and delivering omni-channel communications is an essential requirement of these strategies. However, delivering transformation in this space is hampered by legacy customer communication systems. They typically produce paper-based communications, using complex and old business logic. The risk and cost of change is prohibitive, so doing nothing is the easy option. While politically safe, ultimately, this can cost the organization dearly in lost customers and profits.

Modern customer communications management (CCM) is at the heart of digital transformation, enabling businesses to leverage technology in ways which drive improvements in customer service, engagement, and overall experience. In reality, however, many businesses are still using several CCM systems, some of which are legacy. These old systems are typified by hard-wired, monolithic architectures, which are difficult to change, hard to integrate with modern technologies, deliver little real-time information, and provide a print file with no electronic output.

By their nature, legacy CCM systems have elements that are patchworks of various other system parts to meet the diverse needs across individual departments. This patchwork approach—usually undocumented—inhibits the ability to share data across departments or with customers. While it is impossible to collate the sum of all interactions a customer has with your company, the rigid, hard-coded nature of legacy systems makes the task of bringing all this data together especially challenging. Teams must spend valuable time updating and reconfiguring data just to make it accessible to all stakeholders. With that approach to data management, how can an organization ever be certain that the information they send to their customers is consistent and correct?

The Legacy Problem

Poor systems and the lack of responsiveness from information technology (IT) teams has led departments and users to develop their own makeshift output systems, creating data and process fragmentation across businesses. Typically, a combination of spreadsheets and Microsoft Word documents are used, resulting in multiple versions of the same data presented with different layouts and styles. The data created locally is soon out of date or even changed by mistake, and there is little chance of an audit trail.

Even with such intervention from individual departments and users, most enterprise organizations spend much of their IT budget on maintaining their legacy systems, and this burden limits an IT team’s ability to pursue digital transformation in an effective manner. Additionally, the efficiency of maintaining legacy software is also a false economy. Large organizations using legacy systems typically spend weeks and months changing, building, and testing new templates. These tasks are usually carried out by expensive (and increasingly rare) IT staff familiar with green screen technology and old application code. Thus, IT departments are forced to commit a lot of time and valuable resources just to maintain and update applications and data links, despite the availability of more cost-effective and modern solutions.

Modern customer communications management (CCM) is at the heart of digital transformation.

Many CCM systems are still running on legacy platforms. Considering their obsolescence, legacy systems continue to provide a competitive advantage by supporting unique business processes with invaluable knowledge and historical data. They have usually been developed over many years and represent a huge investment in intellectual property (templates, business logic, and application calls).

Upgrading these CCM systems, with the risk of losing the huge investment in IP, is one of the most difficult challenges that chief information officers (CIOs) face today. Given the age and complexity of systems—combined with often poor documentation—many assume that the only solution is to "rip and replace." This is a costly, time-consuming, and a high-risk option. There are alternative solutions that remove the need for a rip-and-replace approach, allowing organizations to modernize their CCM systems (without losing the valuable IP). Building an excellent customer experience from a legacy base can appear daunting, but it is possible to take the inputs, processes, and outputs of legacy systems and replicate them on a modern platform. For CIOs, an initial focus should be applied to a couple of simple and clear objectives, with the aim of delivering some "quick wins" to build confidence and commitment from the rest of the board.

Start with Omni-Channel Customer Experience

Customers now expect digital by default, so organizations should aim to deliver interactive digital output in whichever formats they prefer. The first steps should be to find out where and how data and content is created, captured, and stored and how it can be best used, integrated, and shared by the CCM solution.

A good place to start is a proof of concept, which ensures the solution is possible and to give all stakeholders the opportunity to see what the new environment could look like. This also builds confidence and provides valuable insight into the resources needed to implement the full transformation project. Treat the proof of concept like any other project: Identify the stakeholders and build an accountability matrix to nominate key personnel and to ensure that everyone is aware of their role in the project.

Migrating from your “as is” solution to the future environment will require careful planning:
  • Start with the initial discovery, identifying where data is originating from and where the output gets stored. Use this to build out the detail of the proof of concept.
  • Set clear objectives and agree on the outcomes. For example, are the documents reproduced identically in the new system, and if there are differences, what is an acceptable tolerance? This part of the project should be time-constrained and deliver several working templates that can be tested against legacy counterparts.
  • At the end of the proof of concept, it is important that all the lessons learned are collated and communicated. Document which elements of the proof turned out better than expected as well as those that did not go according to plan. From this insight, estimate how long it will take to implement the transformation and what internal resources will be needed.
Templates range in their complexity, so organizations should try reproducing a range of types and compare them to the output from the legacy system. Businesses should not rely upon manual inspection to find errors and omissions but instead use automation tools to perform most of the work and concentrate on the exceptions. Potentially, automation could reduce the testing overhead by 90+%. The objective is to create an integrated, omni-channel, personalized customer experience that can deliver interactive output, which is accurate, relevant, and timely.

There are options in the market, which can enable painless, cost-effective transitions to modern solutions in a way that leverages existing intellectual property rather than replacing it. For those charged with exploring legacy replacement, it’s essential to fully consider options beyond the initial expectation of "rip and replace."

Steve Reynolds is a Director of Icon UK Limited and has experience in solution selling, software as a service (SaaS), cloud platform, and information technology service management (ITSM) across organizations in both the public and private sector. He is committed to helping organizations unlock step-change cost reduction and deliver the best communications experience for their customers.

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