We all face the question of when to upgrade our computer systems. Is it a savvy business investment or a frivolous waste of money? This is a very real issue currently facing the government of Canada. The Auditor General of Canada released a report yesterday indicating that the Canadian government needs to spend a sizable amount of money to upgrade its aging information technology infrastructure, perhaps in the billions of dollars, simply to continue delivering key government programs. Treasury Board president Stockwell Day said that the government would find the money needed for such investment. Sounding a bit like a customer forced into an expensive and unnecessary upgrade, he added “As you know, with technology, there are always people who are saying you should have newer and better.”
So what is wrong with aging computer systems anyway? Auditor General Sheila Fraser makes her case with the following points, with my additional commentary:
- Aging systems become increasingly expensive to operate – Anyone who owns an aging automobile understands that sometimes it is just cheaper and more reliable to buy a new car.
- Vendor support may no longer exist – You may be annoyed that Microsoft dropped support for Windows XP, but count yourself lucky you are not Immigration Canada and running a system on a DMSII database, developed by the Burroughs Corporation in 1972.
- Skilled employees in aging technology may be more and more difficult to find – COBOL programmers are few in number, on the retirement track, and no longer trained.
- Aging computer systems may have difficulty meeting current regulation requirements – Laws are changing all the time; is your aging computer system flexible enough to keep up?
- Data access may be difficult – Historic systems are notoriously bad at reporting; this is where the entire business intelligence movement came from.
- Meeting client expectations may be difficult – In a web-enabled world, clients have exceedingly high expectations from your computer systems. Can your systems do what they want?
- Security issues – The arms race between security software and hackers never ends. If your technology is not keeping up, your data security may be at risk.
- Disaster recovery issues – Can you recover a system that has any or all of the above problems? Would you want to?
I know that as a computer consultant, I would be one of those people Mr. Day is speaking of who are arguing in favour of the newer and the better. But I think the Auditor General lays out a compelling case to keep pace with the technological times.