How SAP Used and Abused the Term Legacy

Executive Summary

  • There is a history of the term legacy systems in IT.
  • SAP provides false information regarding their ability to replace legacy.

Introduction

So as part of my series on SAP as legacy which began with How SAP is Now Strip Mining Customers, I wanted to write an article to describe how SAP and other vendors deliberately misused the term legacy over the past several decades. In this article, I will show how important the adoption of words like legacy is and how they shape opinions and can influence purchase decisions.

So to begin, let us review the term legacy as it applies to systems.

The Definition of the Word Legacy or Legacy System in IT

“In computing, a legacy system is an old method, technology, computer system, or application program, “of, relating to, or being a previous or outdated computer system.”[1] Often a pejorative term, referencing a system as “legacy” means that it paved the way for the standards that would follow it. This can also imply that the system is out of date or in need of replacement. By the 1980s it was commonly used to refer to existing computer systems to distinguish them from the design and implementation of new systems. Legacy was often heard during a conversion process, for example, when moving data from the legacy system to a new database. While this term may indicate that some engineers may feel that a system is out of date, a legacy system may continue to be used for a variety of reasons. It may simply be that the system still provides for the users’ needs. In addition, the decision to keep an old system may be influenced by economic reasons such as return on investment challenges or vendor lock-in, the inherent challenges of change management, or a variety of other reasons other than functionality. Backward compatibility (such as the ability of newer systems to handle legacy file formats and character encodings) is a goal that software developers often include in their work.Even if it is no longer used, a legacy system may continue to impact the organization due to its historical role. Historic data may not have been converted into the new system format and may exist within the new system with the use of a customized schema crosswalk, or may exist only in a data warehouse. In either case, the effect on business intelligence and operational reporting can be significant. A legacy system may include procedures or terminology which are no longer relevant in the current context, and may hinder or confuse understanding of the methods or technologies used.”Wikipedia

The term legacy should not be confused or mingled with the term obsolete.

Secondly, a legacy system does not have a specific timeframe for replacement.

An Implied Timeframe for Replacement?

This is explained by more of the quotation from Wikipedia:

Organizations can have compelling reasons for keeping a legacy system, such as:

“The system works satisfactorily, and the owner sees no reason to change it. The costs of redesigning or replacing the system are prohibitive because it is large, monolithic, and/or complex. Retraining on a new system would be costly in lost time and money, compared to the anticipated appreciable benefits of replacing it (which may be zero). The system requires near-constant availability, so it cannot be taken out of service, and the cost of designing a new system with a similar availability level is high. Examples include systems to handle customers’ accounts in banks, computer reservations systems, air traffic control, energy distribution (power grids), nuclear power plants, military defense installations, and systems such as the TOPS database.”Wikipedia

All of this illustrates the fact that a legacy system can still be adding a great deal of value.

However, through time SAP never applied this concept to the term. Instead to SAP, designating a system as legacy was seen as a way to identify it as the replacement, and as a replacement by a SAP system of course.

How the Term “Legacy” Evolved Over Time

The final portion of the definition from Wikipedia on legacy demonstrates that the term legacy evolved.

“Alternative view[edit]
There is an alternate point of view — growing since the “Dot Com” bubble burst in 1999 — that legacy systems are simply computer systems that are both installed and working. In other words, the term is not pejorative, but the opposite. Bjarne Stroustrup, creator of the C++ language, addressed this issue succinctly:

“Legacy code” often differs from its suggested alternative by actually working and scaling.

— Bjarne Stroustrup
IT analysts estimate that the cost of replacing business logic is about five times that of reuse,[citation needed] and that is not counting the risks involved in wholesale replacement. Ideally, businesses would never have to rewrite most core business logic; debits must equal credits — they always have, and they always will. New software may increase the risk of system failures and security breaches. The re-examination of attitudes toward legacy systems is also inviting more reflection on what makes legacy systems as durable as they are. Technologists are relearning that sound architecture, practiced up front, helps businesses avoid costly and risky rewrites in the first place. Poorly designed systems often don’t last, both because they wear out and because their reliability or usability are low enough that no one is inclined to make an effort to extend their term of service when replacement is an option. Thus, many organizations are rediscovering the value of both their legacy systems themselves and those systems’ philosophical underpinnings.”Wikipedia

Legacy Equals “To Be Replaced by SAP”

And in fact, many of the systems designated as legacy by SAP were never replaced by SAP. This was one of the common disappointments on the part of companies that purchased SAP, particularly SAP’s ERP system, who often purchased SAP ERP, and other ERP systems to obtain a simplified system landscape and to drive down costs.

However, the proposition was never particularly accurate as SAP ERP never maintained the breadth of functionality necessary to decommission so many legacy systems. And the concept of best practices contained in SAP was also similarly oversold. This is explained well by a quote from KC Richards, a consultant with decades of database and development experience.

“My first encounter with term “Legacy Systems” was during the adoption period of RDBM systems, mid to late eighties. Yes, there was a time when you could put your job in jeopardy in even suggesting that you would include a “Relational Data Base Management System” in a software architecture. ISAM, flat files, and other creative indexing techniques where the safe way to go. In the decade before, Dr. Codd (IBM System R – “In Codd we Trust”) and Michael Stonebraker (Ingres) where competing over definition of what exactly made up a relational database and what was the most logical data manipulation languages. SQL or QUEL?

Each of the pioneers of relational theory were working on their own products. Larry Ellison was porting his RDBMS on every hardware platform her could find. Sybase was working with Microsoft to license “Data Server”, a database product originally built to run on UNIX computers. That work led to a product called Ashton-Tate/Microsoft SQL Server 1.0 (I remember being a beta user). Anything on a RDBMS was Avant-guard, everything else became “legacy”.

Repeating Historical Patterns in IT

I found this point of KC Richard’s quotation, particularly of interest. Here is why and it is quite pertinent to SAP. According to SAP, relational (actually row oriented) databases are now legacy, and column-oriented databases are recommended by SAP.

As I have covered in multiple articles on HANA such as When Articles Exaggerate HANA’s Benefits, this is an oversimplification. Column-oriented databases have a specific purpose, and their benefits do not generalized to all usage types.

Let us continue where KC Richards states:

“Then came the next generation of “legacy” markers. “If you were not GUI, you were chewy” Then “Legacy Systems” were those not written in “newer” object oriented languages to take advantage of newer hardware platforms. “Legacy Systems” became those that didn’t have GUI screens. Windows 3.1, Macintosh, and OS/2.

Legacy has become that term used to conveniently play on the fears of a company that get define where its sunk costs rest, usually because they have lost track of what they expect of a system. Oddly enough, data entry is still more efficiently on green screens than GUI applications. Legacy systems are simply what you have when you get them.”

This gets to a great point by KC Richards.

What is legacy?

  • Is legacy a term that we simply accept as what is trendy at the time?
  • Is it about usage or about what is new?
  • Are software vendors using this term honestly or is this marketing and perception?

SAP’s Relationship with the Word Legacy

They would simply declare all systems that were developed in-house as legacy.

But that it not a correct use of the term. Legacy systems are the systems for which companies want to reduce their maintenance and future investment. But they are not necessarily systems that can be economically replaced. For example, there were many things that home built systems did that still were required and that SAP would never do.

Porting the functionality to SAP does not solve this basic issue. You are simply porting code to SAP, but that does not mean SAP is “actually doing it.” That is just ported code.

Also, as we are on the topic, why port code to SAP in the first place? Why not simply keep the existing system working and integrate these systems to SAP. When porting to SAP, it means portion what was in most cases an open language like C to a proprietary language of ABAP which does not have a similar development efficiency.

This means that maintenance and costs invariably increase. This is how SAP radically increased the costs for a large number of companies. The TCO for SAP systems was far higher than anyone anticipated, and the costs of customizing SAP was higher and is now more rigid than creating customizations in open systems. SAP’s own development approach, as well as ABAP, can be considered the “legacy” of going with SAP, which meant adoption of their vision of development.

The Statements About All Non-HANA Databases as Legacy

This is from SAP’s website.

Here SAP proposes that all other databases are outdated technology. They also imply that only HANA has in-memory architecture and that it is revolutionary. We will address each of these claims.

This is where the term Legacy is used.

SAP went on to expand on how all non-SAP databases were legacy in the following quote from the PR release, SAP’s Bet Seems to be Paying Off.

Yesterday’s databases can’t solve modern problems, SAP HANA can. That’s the message that SAP will keep repeating as its Spotlight Tour travels the world. The business users will no doubt be eager to hear about how digitizing their enterprises will unleash new opportunities. The geeks in the audience will want to get their hands on cool, new tools. But someone is going to need to do the work and pay the tab.

In a world of open source, and what may appear to be cheaper solutions, getting the C-suite, IT and accountants on the same page may not be an easy job. But SAP has a huge customer base and more than four decades of marketing experience to rely on and, so far, it seems to be doing something right.

Oracle 12c, MySQL, Microsft SQL Server, PostgreSQL are not yesterday’s databases. This is a titanically inaccurate statement that would only be made by someone intent on misleading the reader. HANA does really only one thing well, and cannot beat out databases that are also designed to do that one thing (read access for reporting). SAP does keep repeating this message, but it just happens to be false.

Enterprises are already digitized. This occurred decades ago. Digitization means when information is placed into ones and zeros. Who this statement is tricking is a mystery to us.

The clear direction in databases is towards open source. Google built its infrastructure on open source. AWS is mostly open source. HANA is the most expensive database we track and has been relentlessly exaggerated by SAP and their surrogates since its introduction, as covered in the article When Articles Exaggerate the Benefits of HANA.

What SAP Did with Casting All Non SAP Databases as Legacy

SAP said that all data was loaded into memory. Now, naturally, there is data copied to disk. But SAP stated that everything was loaded into memory all at once, and they put down other vendors that performed memory optimization. Years ago we found the contrary in SAP’s technical documentation around HANA. But the opposite (all in memory) was a major marketing and sales point for HANA, and vendors like Oracle and IBM and others that proposed this was not realistic were called “legacy databases.” SAP still calls all other databases it competes against “legacy databases,” even though HANA mostly follows the same design (it specs massive hardware and memory, but HANA cannot effectively address the memory). This leads to one question

“why are other database legacy?”

At SAPPHIRE 2019 Hasso made the claim that over 200 peer review studies all proved that HANA had produced these great benefits over “legacy databases.” This is not possible. Furthermore, we found these studies do not exist as we covered in the article How Accurate Was Hasso Plattner About SAP HANA Publications?

Evaluation of SAP’s Claims

First, SAP is a more recent database than IBM BLU, Oracle 12c, and Microsoft SQL Server. However, SAP is in no position to call any of these databases legacy. This is because these databases outperform HANA, as we cover in the article What is the Actual Performance of HANA?

Legacy means that the item is near obsolete.

This a ludicrous claim for any of these databases, all of which have many times more installations than HANA, and unlike HANA, all three of these other databases are used outside of SAP with non-SAP applications. SAP cannot claim this, which provides an inkling as to the competitiveness of HANA.

This claim is so exaggerated that….

Ding Ding Ding!

We award SAP a Golden Pinocchio for making this proposal.

The comment is so divorced from reality and so false that there is no other conclusion than to say SAP is undoubtedly aware they are deceiving readers by publishing these statements.

Other Claims

Now let us review the other claims made in the SAP statements.

  • All other Databases are Outdated Technology?: That is an enormous claim. What evidence has SAP produced that this is true? Information coming back from actual projects indicate that HANA cannot keep up with the performance of previous generation databases outside of data warehouse type queries, (where it loses against the updated versions of these other databases). The details of this are covered in the article HANA as a Mismatch for S/4HANA and ERP.
  • HANA has Revolutionary In-Memory Architecture: This claim is also false, as we cover in the article How to Understand Why In-Memory Computing is a Myth.
  • ACID Compliance?: ACID stands for (Atomicity, Consistency, Isolation, Durability). They are fundamental requirements of a database. Every single one of the databases that HANA competes with is ACID compliant! And they have been for decades. This is tantamount to General Motors saying that its cars are better than competitors because they use spark plugs. Why would SAP say such a thing? Most likely because their readers do not know what ACID compliance is, and therefore they think it is some type of differentiator.
  • Only HANA Can Support High-Speed Analytics?: This is news to every database vendor that competes with SAP. All of these databases can support high-speed analytics. Again, HANA loses against its primary competitors in analytics, if those databases are the most up to date versions. The older version will lose against HANA in analytics because they lack the column-oriented store. SAP is continually attempting to have HANA compete against databases from vendors from six years ago when HANA was first introduced. Of course, HANA on new hardware will beat other databases on older hardware. Something that is quite obvious, but which is missed by IT departments that implement HANA on new hardware and discuss the improvements — without accounting for the percentage of performance which is solely due to the hardware. We covered this topic in the article How Much is Hardware Responsible for HANA’s Performance?
  • Only HANA Has Application Services?: Application Services are a bit of a nebulous term. But they are applications. Oracle 12C, IBM Blu, and MS SQL Server run applications. Applications sit on top of them. Therefore, this is a curious way to differentiate HANA. This seems to imply that HANA is unique because it can interoperate with applications. If it couldn’t then what would it be doing?
  • Only HANA has a Flexible Data Acquisition?: Why is that true? More flexible than competitive offerings? A database stores data. Data acquisition is normally performed by middleware. Of course, it depends upon the definition. If SAP’s definition of acquisition is that data can be loaded in different ways into the database, then again all of the competing databases have this ability.
  • HANA has a Single Platform?: HANA is not a platform. HANA is a database. If SAP means that both the applications are offered by SAP as is the application — then this is true. But because SAP is not as good with databases as their competitors this also means that buyers of HANA give up specialization and many other factors to buy their application and database from the same vendor.
  • Only HANA has no Data Duplication?: It is unclear why HANA offers less data duplication than competing databases. In fact, because of bizarre license restrictions, we are aware of scenarios where HANA has a 100% level of data duplication. This is explained in the article HANA Police and Indirect Access Charges. Here SAP requires companies buy a second license of HANA and replicate all data between the two HANA instances to allow data to be moved to a third database.

Misuse of the Term Legacy

There is a distinction between legacy and obsolete.

Let me provide a specific example, which is the US rail system.

The US Rail System

The US has roughly 98,000 miles of railroad track. This track is old, but it is not legacy. And why not provides important insights as to how the term legacy should be used.

  • Rail is far more fuel efficient and cost-effective than motor transport.
  • The US would have a very difficult time delivering freight without this rail system.
  • Maintenance should not be minimized on the US network of rails; in fact, maintenance should be kept to a high level. The US should not shrink the total number of miles of track (as we have in the past) but should expand them to take freight off of the roads, which is a highly energy-intensive and polluting way to move freight.

Now let us look at another system.

The US Road System

The US has around 4 million miles of roads. Most of these roads were built after the rail network. There have most likely been too many miles of roads created. This is primarily because they were created during a time of low-cost oil. Due to global consumption versus attainable supplies, this looks sure to not be the case in the future. In fact, the proliferation of the automobile is causing human civilizations to use up the global petroleum stock far faster than it would have the automobile not seen such wide usage.

Therefore, while some of the 4 million miles of roads are needed, some are probably going to be legacy as auto travel will need to come down in the coming decades.

So while the road network in the US is partially legacy, none of the rail networks would qualify as legacy. Thus, the age of the items is not the primary driving factor in determining whether something should be considered legacy. Legacy is all about usage or expected usage.

That is legacy is all about usage or expected usage. Not age.

Towards an Accurate Usage of the Term Legacy

In this article, I am attempting to describe the term legacy by its objective definition. I don’t make more money if people use it correctly, I don’t make less money if people use it correctly. However, the same cannot be said for software vendors.

I don’t know how all the software vendors use the term legacy, but as I study SAP documentation and SAP statements and I know how SAP uses the term legacy. When SAP uses the term legacy, they mean any applications that were built by their customer. Or when that application is developed by a competitor. SAP used the term legacy to describe all CRM systems that are not SAP’s CRM system.

SAP used the term inaccurately and in the most self-centered and disrespectful sense to diminish the systems that the customers already had. SAP very much pushed forward the concept and the highly dubious concept of best practices which seeks to propose, and to propose falsely that all business processes either fall into SAP’s software flows, or they are illegitimate. In fact, SAP continues to make this argument regarding customizations for their new ERP system, S/4HANA.

“Another key “how” question we hear S/4HANA adopters frequently debating is their approach to customization. Typically, customers have tended to heavily customize their existing SAP ECC on-premise deployments and, in moving to S/4HANA, organizations can rethink their business processes, which may result in more simplicity and avoid the need for a lot of customization.”ASUG

*This quote is from ASUG, but as ASUG is simply a marketing arm for SAP, I do not draw any distinction between statements from ASUG and statements from SAP. This is SAP’s position on customizations. SAP was wrong when it proposed that customers would be able to move to “best practices” with earlier versions of their ERP system, and they will be wrong again when S/4HANA is broadly implemented. 

Conclusion

SAP misused the term legacy on countless sales engagements. They used the term as a term of propaganda. So what does that mean? When a term is used this way, it is used not to describe something accurately, but just the opposite. The intent of the user is to describe inaccurately and to make the listener more amenable to what the message.

A second important characteristic of what defines when a term is used as propaganda is that and often without having to provide evidence to support the claim. And if we observe how SAP used the term legacy, there was never a case by case analysis at companies whether the functionality could be replaced by SAP. Whether it was a good idea to customize it into SAP if it could not be replaced, etc.. That would have taken a lot of work, and in many cases, the outcome would have been both that SAP did not have the functionality and that it made no sense to port the functionality to SAP. But most executive buyers preferred to not do this work, and buy whatever was trend (what everyone else was buying).

It was much easier to simply use the blanket term legacy, to paper over or obscure all of that analysis. Rather than being analytical, the use of the term legacy seems specifically designed to appeal to emotion and to fashion. To a concept of there being an “in crowd ” and and “out crowd.” Companies wanted the new great stuff that SAP offered, and did not want to be stuck with “legacy.” One wonders how many decisions to go with SAP or other similar vendors when this term was in its heyday, simply to present the impression that the company was hip and with the times.

The fashion industry is based upon a premise that its customers need to get the new items, which have higher social status. If you don’t buy the newest items, you are stuck wearing legacy garments. Companies are presented in business school textbooks as highly rational, and one would generally not think that decisions work the same way. However, the term legacy is essentially the same strategy to motivate purchasing behavior as the fashion industry.

The Problem: Tolerating False Information

The misuse of the term “legacy” is a clear example of deceptive practices on the part of SAP and the SAP consulting firms. It is amazing to how many of the clients accept lying from both SAP and the consulting firm. By not calling out the lying, the client encourages more of it. The fact is both SAP and SAP consulting firms lie, and they lie a lot — and we have the evidence to prove it.

The intent of the lying is to be able to charge more for things that are often not true and to cover up previous lies that were told to try to sell or otherwise influence. Many customers seem to have a problem processing that they are being continually lied to by these companies.

The more lying is tolerated, the more SAP and the consulting company will continue to lie.

Being Part of the Solution: What to Do About Leonardo

We can provide feedback from multiple SAP accounts that provide realistic information around SAP products — and this reduces the dependence on biased entities like SAP and all of the large SAP consulting firms that parrot what SAP says. We offer fact-checking services that are entirely research-based and that can stop inaccurate information dead in its tracks. SAP and the consulting firms rely on providing information without any fact-checking entity to contradict the information they provide. When SAP or their consulting firm are asked to explain these discrepancies, we have found that they further lie to the customer/client and often turn the issue around on the account, as we covered in the article How SAP Will Gaslight You When Their Software Does Not Work as Promised.

If you need independent advice and fact-checking that is outside of the SAP and SAP consulting system, reach out to us with the form below or with the messenger to the bottom right of the page.

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Financial Bias Disclosure

Neither this article nor any other article on the Brightwork website is paid for by a software vendor, including Oracle, SAP or their competitors. As part of our commitment to publishing independent, unbiased research; no paid media placements, commissions or incentives of any nature are allowed.

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References

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legacy_system

https://www.cmswire.com/big-data/saps-hana-bet-seems-to-be-paying-off/

https://www.asug.com/news/asug-research-what-asug-members-tell-us-about-sap-s-4hana-and-sap-hana-cloud-platform-adoption

The Problem with the Term Digital Transformation

Executive Summary

  • Digital transformation is a misapplied term that has been popularized by SAP, but which makes no sense, there is a major problem using the term to describe IT implementations.
  • This is a good example of how SAP adopts misleading terms to control the narrative.

This chameleon can transform itself. And it can do so without the benefit of any digital technologies.

Introduction

Digital transformation is a common term used in the IT space and in particular in the SAP space. It is a recent term and also a highly problematic term. I now come across the statement that some SAP application was implemented for digital transformation or part of a digital transformation program.

So what is digital transformation?

The Definition of Digital Transformation

It that turns out to be a much more interesting question than before I looked up the definition. It is important to see the different aspects of the definition of digital transformation so we can determine how the term is presently used.

“Digital transformation may be thought of as the third stage of embracing digital technologies: digital competence → digital usage → digital transformation, with usage and transformative ability informing digital literacy. The transformation stage means that digital usages inherently enable new types of innovation and creativity in a particular domain, rather than simply enhance and support the traditional methods.[2] In a narrower sense, “digital transformation” may refer to the concept of “going paperless” and affects both individual businesses[3] and whole segments of the society, such as government,[4] mass communications,[5] art,[6] medicine,[7] and science.[8]” – Wikipedia

So in this quotation, we can see that digital transformation is supposed to lead to something new. Using digital technology allows one to “reimagine,” redesign, transform how something is done or perhaps how something is used.

The Example of Digital Transformation with GPS and Google Maps

If we take a simple example, we can certainly see how GPS and mobile phones with Google Maps have transformed road navigation.

I recall getting around using maps and guidebooks, and I both missed out on exciting things to see, and the overall process of folding maps, organizing maps, buying new maps, spilling coffee on my maps, and so on was never all that efficient. GPS demonstrated the superiority of using this transformative technology.

I was an early adopter of GPS and began using a GPS unit with what must have been a 2 inch by 2-inch screen. However, even that primitive GPS unit, by today’s standards, was a significant upgrade over using paper maps. What always impressed me was the ability of the unit to recalculate the route constantly. Unlike a route on a map, which once you switched out a location had to be reviewed, even the earliest GPS units allowed you to change your trip regularly, and it would adjust. As someone constantly on the road, the GPS and now the Google Map enabled phone or tablet has truly been transformative. It is also true that what was previously done by maps and human calculation was activated with digital technology (GPS in this case). Therefore this is a suitable example of digital transformation.

Digital Technology and True Transformation of Tasks

So digital technology can transform, but let us hold that thought for a moment because I want to use the example of the GPS, and the Google Maps enabled phone or tablet as a contrast to most IT implementations.

Let us move to the next quote on digital transformation as this brings up the topic of how old the term digital transformation is.

“In 1703 Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz explained and envisioned the concept that would be known as “digitalization” in his publication Explication de l’Arithmétique Binaire.[9] Initially developed as a base-2 numerical system, representing two values: either a 1 or 0, the system was further developed and complemented by scholars such as Boole (1854),[10] Shannon (1938)[11] and George Stibitz during the 1940s.[12]”

Here we can see that the definition of digital transformation goes way back. 1703 is quite a ways back indeed.

Pre-computers, Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz was proposing a concept of the binary system that is the foundation for how computers store and process data today.

But this cannot be the type of digital transformation that most companies are describing today when they explain that implementation is part of a digital transformation. Moving to a new system that stores and processes data in a binary system already happened decades previously.

The Broader Implications

Let us see another quote on digital transformation to understand the broadest implications of the term.

“Finally, digital transformation is described as “the total and overall societal effect of digitalization”.[14] Digitization has enabled the process of digitalization, which resulted in stronger opportunities to transform and change existing business models, socio-economic structures, legal and policy measures, organizational patterns, cultural barriers, etc.[16]

Digitization (the conversion), digitalization (the process) and the digital transformation (the effect) therefore accelerate and illuminate the already existing and ongoing horizontal and global processes of change in society.[14][15]”

Here the term is used to describe society’s general move towards using digital technologies.

If we think of the different dimensions of the definition of digital transformation listed above, only the first dimension can be said to be specific to IT implementations. However, there is a problem with digital transformation, and I want to get into that next.

Digital Transformation in Word Processing

I am currently typing this article on a 7-year-old MacBook Pro. If I were to purchase a 2017 MacBook Pros and use it, would it be digitally transformative compared to what I am currently doing?

No.

My workflow would stay about the same, the data would be stored the same way, but I would probably benefit from using a faster computer. But would it make sense to describe replacing an old computer with a new computer?

I recently visited Hemingway’s’ house in Key West. And at the center of his work studio where over a nine-year period he wrote books that are now considered classics in literature. At the center of the room was a very small Royal Quiet de Luxe manual typewriter. As a writer who often uses three screens and two computers at once, I am amazed by what Hemingway accomplished with that small machine. All of that great work came out of that single, tiny little typewriter. If Hemingway had lived longer, he would have typed on an electric typewriter. Electric typewriters had many advantages over manual typewriters, but they are only electric, not digital in any way.

Charting Hemingway’s Potential Digital Transformations

  • If Hemingway had lived into the 1960s, we could have used the IBM Selectric, and that would have been an “electrical transformation” of his writing.
  • If Hemingway had lived into the 1970s, he could have used a Wang computer with some of the first-word processing software that used a CRT screen.

Word processing did, in fact, go through a digital transformation, as the following quotations attest.

“The labor and cost savings of this device were immediate, and remarkable: pages of text no longer had to be retyped to correct simple errors, and projects could be worked on, stored, and then retrieved for use later on.”Wikipedia

The Degree of Transformation

The degree of transformation is illustrated by the effect that word processing had on secretarial work as well as management work.

“In 1971, a third of all working women in the United States were secretaries, and they could see that word processing would affect their careers. Some manufacturers, according to a Times article, urged that “the concept of ‘word processing’ could be the answer to Women’s Lib advocates’ prayers. Word processing will replace the ‘traditional’ secretary and give women new administrative roles in business and industry.”

A 1971 article said that “Some [secretaries] see W/P as a career ladder into management; others see it as a dead-end into the automated ghetto; others predict it will lead straight to the picket line.” The National Secretaries Association, which defined secretaries as people who “can assume responsibility without direct supervision,” feared that W/P would transform secretaries into “space-age typing pools.””

Digital word processing was so transformative that it was difficult to predict how it would change what was a specialized task of typing and remove it from specialists (secretaries) and distribute it to everyone.

“The article considered only the organizational changes resulting from secretaries operating word processors rather than typewriters; the possibility that word processors might result in managers creating documents without the intervention of secretaries was not considered—not surprising in an era when few managers, but most secretaries, possessed keyboarding skills.” – Wikipedia

But when did the digital transformation of writing occur?

Well decades ago.

After the 1970s, the distribution of word processing widened quite significantly. But we are now at the point where most of the population has little experience using a typewriter, and they are now museum pieces.

Why Use the Term Digital Transformation Decades After it Would Apply?

A problematic feature of the term digital transformation relates to when this term has begun to be used. The enterprise software space is mature, relatively speaking.

Why has this term surfaced at this time? What about previous IT implementations, if they were successful were they not also “digital transformation?” If nothing dramatic has changed other than hardware becoming faster (which is part of a long-term trend that is always occurring) and software seeing a slight improvement, why at this point in time are we using the term digital transformation to describe system implementation?

Does, for instance, the increase in the use of SaaS/cloud as a software delivery mechanism mean that software is becoming “more digital” that it was before? No. Whether software is hosted on the customer’s premises, hosted by the vendor as part of a private cloud, or is true multitenant cloud delivery in each case, it is the same amount of digital.

If we look back at the transition from manual computation to using mainframes back in the 1970s, wouldn’t that stage of computer history be more digitally transformative than moving to a slightly faster ERP system or implementing a new CRM system?

Conclusion

The term digital transformation is a throwback to an age when digital technologies transformed processes, but at this point, it makes little sense to use it as a term as what is currently happening is that new hardware and software are simply replacing older hardware and software.

The term digital transformation, as it is presently used, is a term of propaganda. The term does not carry any information but is an attempt to place a spin on an initiative. For example, as soon as a company states it is implementing software, it is already understood that the software will be digital. It is unnecessary to add the flourish that it is part of a “digital transformation.” Therefore, users of the term are not describing something as much as they are promoting something through the use of a term which is an undeniable redundancy in language.

If you intend to purchase an automobile, it is well understood that you want to use it for transportation. One does not announce to one’s friends and family that one intends to purchase an automobile for “transportation transformation.” That term may have made sense back in 1910 if you were buying a Model T, and when you were replacing your horse. But over 100 years later it is unlikely that your previous vehicle of transportation was a horse, and that this new car you are purchasing is your first experience with something that uses wheels to get around.

So what will happen with the term digital transformation?

My prediction for the term is that its usage will continue until it gradually runs out of steam, and it will be replaced by another term that seems sexy and topical. A big part of attending the best schools, going to conferences, and participating in business meetings is simply learning the terminology to use. Using the term digital transformation is a good way to show that you are part of the “in crowd.”

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References

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Analog_signal

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_transformation

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Word_processor