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How to deal with re-platforming

How to deal with re-platforming

Some time ago, doesn’t matter when, I was doing a training session for some guys from a provider along with a friend. After lunch, to beat the graveyard lull, we decided to do an “ask us anything” session during which they could ask us about competitors, gossip and scuttlebutt or, well, anything really.

Most delegates, especially if they are in sales or marketing functions, ask about the competitors that cause them the most pain on a day-to-day basis. Some ask about functionality gaps, others about pricing.

This lot were different. They only asked about themselves and how they were seen out there in the market.

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The reason for this is that they were going through the first stages of re-platforming and they were wondering how it would affect them when they got their shiny new technology in place.

I explained that although they were all lovely people who always gave up their seats to old people on public transport, they shouldn’t be surprised if advisers who didn’t use them already gave them a wide berth until the whole re-platforming thing was done and bedded in. I may have said that I’d do the same thing if I were an adviser, which for the sake of all your PI premiums you should be thankful I’m not.

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This caused some consternation and shaking of heads. ‘But it won’t make any difference while it’s happening!’ said one delegate, and then told The Great Lie.

The Great Lie really is a great lie, and it is one IT directors have to practise for years before they’re allowed to tell it in the real world. I’m going to tell it to you now, and if there’s no column next month it’s because I’ve been assassinated by a team of pasty people with serious Minecraft habits. Here we go.

“Yeah, well, it really doesn’t affect the day to day, right, because the development happens on a different system over here, right, and we test that somewhere else again. Then when it’s all working, right, we run it alongside the existing system, OK, and gradually switch bits of the old one off and the new one on, so it takes over all seamless like. Don’t worry, we do this all the time.”

This is reassuring for people because it sounds plausible, and because it’s much better than the truth, which is that re-platforming is a screaming nightmare. Even if everyone is at the top of their game and never even takes a seat on public transport in case an old or gravid person gets on (look it up) then it’s a screaming nightmare.

The only analogy I can think of is trying to replace the carburettor on your vehicle. While driving it. Round the Nürburgring. At 120 miles per hour.

It’s natural for anyone going through this to try and minimise its importance to users of the system. But that’s a mistake. During any re-platforming weird things are going to go wrong. Someone working on making address fields sit very slightly to the left of where they were will find they’ve knocked out the entire adviser charging functionality suite or something similar. This will happen; it always does (OK, maybe not the address thing). Teams are getting smarter all the time as they get practised at doing it, but the systems get more complicated too, and everyone’s learning all the time.