New technologies offer more and better possibilities and allow us to do things online that we have not been able to do before. Greater connection speeds, processor power, screen resolution, etc. benefit us and support a greater number and more complex activities. Skype and internet telephony, VoIP, IPTV, dynamic database driven web pages offer a vast range of new uses.
This is all brilliant and very welcome by the world-wide web community. However, from an institutional or organizational point of view there is one real downside, and it’s growing: support services that eat up human or system resources. In all this development frenzy one paradox stands out:
*old technology does not go away*.
Once a tool is introduced to an organization there is an inherent resilience that prevents or at least hinders replacement. There are several factors to this:
1) the human factor:
Introduce your staff to a new tool. They like it, adopt it and integrate it into their daily working process. Something better comes along, but replacing the old tool is near impossible without causing great upset and legacy maintenance. A good example of this is MS Internet Explorer. As a browser it has not developed since version 6. But would it be an easy thing for an IT department to decide to rid the institution of IE and use Firefox or Opera instead – no, not easy.
2) the system factor:
Integrated systems are the buzzword of the day. New tools are evaluated by their interoperability. Once integrated it is not a simple matter to dis-integrate and replace it with what maybe a better newer system and achieve the same level of integration. Try e.g. to replace your library system or e-mail system, will the calendar function still work in the same integrated way?
3) the proprietary factor:
Institutions buy into a number of commercial systems, e.g. Microsoft servers, Office, Novell Netware, Blackboard, and so forth. These are deliberate decisions at the time maybe following rigid procurement procedures. It is a well-known experience that replacing them is either a major upheaval for the organisation or simply impossible. A recent experience on my part was the decision to no longer support Active Server Pages (.asp). Suddenly we noticed how many MS Access databases connected to asp pages on our webservers. Some of them we were contractually bound to hosting them.
What this all boils down to is that newer technologies will normally be introduced into the institution as an additional application, not as a replacement for something outdated. This additionality comes with extra service provision (authentication, maintenance, back-up, etc.) that are tightly connected to human resources available.
Cut a long story short: We need to get much better in getting rid of old technologies and replacing them with new services. This would allow savings of service time provision storage space, server space, bandwidth, but most of all human maintenance.