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How to know when change is "worth it"

By shiny_topadm ·
I have done some consulting for small businesses who sometimes come up against some very big decisions. I'm looking for suggestions for how to tell when making a big change (expensive in terms of time and money) is worth it. My case (hypothetical, of course): a small, privately-held, business in a very unique market niche has their own (in-house developed) software [written in a "not very popular" environment] running on a modern unix box. There is a constant need for maintenance to match changing business rules of their biggest customers. There is no "off-the-shelf" solution to run this business, or at least nothing that would not need extensive customization. The applications are currently maintained by an employee who wants to retire. The choices seem to be: find a replacement employee who knows this environment; Find a company to contract out the support; work on replacing the environment (with a very significant price attached); or something else that I've not though of.

The difficulties seem to include: The environment is not currently taught in colleges and is not "popular" with young IT people, which means job applicants are very experienced and "senior-level", which means highly-paid; there seem to be few agencies willing to provide service and support of this environment (as opposed to, say, Oracle, or SAP, or some MS products); the company doesn't apparantly have the cash available to even consider software in the US$200,000 and up price range; I'm not sure if the company would be able to survive the "trauma" of re-aligning its business practices to new software, since it has apparantly never done that (and has been "computerized" since 1979!

I'm open to suggestions of any direction and approach for this type of problem...

Thanks, ---Will

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Another option

by jdmercha In reply to How to know when change i ...

Hire a capable person who is willing to learn the system. This then doesn't have to be a high priced employee. Get them in ASAP so they have some time working/training with the current experienced person.

If the retiring employee is leaving too soon, offer them a part-time consulting contract to train/assist the new employee.

Then look at converting/updating to a more common environment.

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Two routes here

by Tony Hopkinson In reply to How to know when change i ...

given that the only survivable option is a replacement of the in house resource.

You either get someone with experience in the tech they have. This might not be a problem, if it's a niche environment there could easily be someone out there begging for a chance to get away from it, before their career goes down the pan. Lets face it the US IT market for domestic talent is pretty poor at the moment, you might get someone at a firesale price.

Or you choose what tech you want to move to, get someone for that and have them pick up the current environment.

Note you are only going to get a worthwhile someone if there is a real commitment in the business to move away from the unpopular technology.

A good developer can cope with the syntax and the OS, the real problem will be how much documentation exists, how long the current incumbent will be available, how big the burden of current maintenance is and how modular the code and the system. (So you can attack it in pieces).

Pity I'm in the UK, sounds like an interesting challenge, course I am current and senior, so not cheap.

Has anyone held their hand up for the abysmal failure of management that this situation is?

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by Tony Hopkinson In reply to Two routes here

This is not a job for a newbie, unless they are slated to be the next god of IT.

I'd say you are looking at some one with 5 - 10 years in coding and design at the sharp end in the real world. They need to be au fait with the business and practical sides of things as well.

In fact in your shoes, I'd be tempted to look for the right attitude and general experience in design, then look at specific technologies.

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