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How one CTO is building a plan for legacy code replacement

Legacy code removal leads 2019 digital transformation plans for CTO Niel Nickolaisen. Learn how his team is prepping for the implementation of a new codebase.

In the first part of this SearchCIO Q&A, O.C. Tanner CTO Niel Nickolaisen discussed how his team handled a fluctuating 2018 IT budget as it was forced to navigate unplanned costs stemming from talent retention, vendor replacement and the rapid evolution of technology. Here, in part two, Nickolaisen looks ahead to O.C. Tanner's 2019 plans, and discusses a big Q4 initiative that will tackle legacy code replacement at the human resource company with over 3 million users.

Editor's note: The following has been edited for clarity and brevity.

What are O.C. Tanner's goals for Q4 2018?

Neil Nickolaisen: We do have one large initiative: We've got a legacy codebase that was part of our ERP that is just massive. We have a couple million lines of code that no one alive even knows what it does -- and we'd like to replace it with something that's off the shelves but have always been frustrated by [the options offered].

One of our projects for 2018 was to find a commercial alternative to this -- and we found one. We just finished a two-month-long proof of concept to find out if our new solution worked. Now, we're planning a meeting with the board to approve a six-month project to replace about two-thirds of our legacy system.

Will this project also lead your Q1 in 2019?

Nickolaisen: Yes, we would start almost immediately. The goal is that by the end of the first quarter of 2019, we're testing the legacy code replacement.

Neil NickolaisenNeil Nickolaisen

We also have to plan to deal with the implications of code replacement in 2019. We anticipate that it will replace or make different a lot of things our employees do each day.

If this big legacy code replacement doesn't pan out, it will be a major issue we'll have to tackle. But we've vetted it pretty well. I'd be surprised if we're surprised.

In addition to the legacy initiative, what is in focus for early 2019?

Nickolaisen: There's always a pretty big backlog of new software products we're working on. We also made a decent investment in productizing our data projects. We're going to be getting really rich data and making that available to ourselves and our customers using some machine learning and artificial intelligence algorithms that we've been building.

That's a big 2019 plan for us -- to finally unleash our data and actually have some output resulting from that. Data sovereignty is another big goal. We are working toward being able to segregate data regionally.

About two-thirds of my team is external product development and a third is internal product support. We'll have our internal, big project that wipes out a bunch of our legacy code and a lot of the other stuff like productizing our data and data sovereignty is for our external clients.

Our 2019 plan is to just watch ongoing modernization, assess which vendors we've used and evaluate if they're evolving as rapidly as we plan to.

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