Organisations Beware: The Legacy Skills Gap Will Stop Modernisation


With Singapore organisations continuing to modernise and position for growth, digital transformation hurdles leave decision-makers scratching their heads. Cybersecurity is one that immediately springs to mind, and so does human capital.

The numbers speak for themselves. According to a local survey, 83 per cent of Singapore companies reported talent shortages and difficulty hiring in 2022. Information Technology was the top in-demand role with a 79 percent shortage.

As these numbers testify, the skills shortage is a hindrance to tech initiatives across all industries. Specifically, the gap in technical legacy talent presents unique risks that organisations can’t afford to ignore.

The Spectre of a Legacy Technical Skills Shortage

Today, the legacy technical skills shortage can be boiled down to the simple fact that the IT talent of yesterday is gradually making way for the new breed in the jobs market. The latter are digital natives, hungry for innovation, and also trained for a different kind of technology environment. Essentially, this means that local businesses are finding it hard to hire the right talent to manage legacy systems.

While advocates of modernisation will intuitively call for the reliance on legacy technology to be shed by the enterprise, this is easier said than done. The fact is some reliance on legacy systems is probably necessary for many businesses as they transition through their digital transformation journey.

This being the case, local organisations must then rethink how their new tech deployments interact with long-entrenched legacy systems. And that hinges on having the right mindset - one that supports updated policies, and a more collaborative, resourceful approach to work - while being able to bring together disparate systems in a unified digital architecture.

Equipping Legacy Systems with Modern Capabilities

Technologists love solving problems, but the technology ecosystem they use to develop these solutions is also a huge part of the draw. Singapore organisations still need to maintain their legacy systems but to attract talent, they must modernise the way they use them. This means adopting modern tools that interface with current systems and augmenting them with new capabilities. 

By bringing AI, automation, and low-code/no-code to their legacy operations, organisations can simplify workflows, improve service delivery, and develop applications faster with fewer resources. This allows more space for innovation and problem-solving, which makes legacy-based work more rewarding.

Passing Down Institutional Knowledge

For businesses, the conundrum of finding ways to ensure future talent has the know-how to maintain legacy systems applications is a major sticking point. The answer can be found, firstly, by adopting tools for capturing and centralising that knowledge so that new blood has a template to work with. 

Beyond that, organisations should invest in tools that can extrapolate knowledge that’s embedded in legacy data. They should also adopt modern integration tools that capture application rules and decisions as employees make them, so development is documented in real-time.

Embrace WFA

The technology part of the modernisation equation can be relatively straightforward, it is the change in mindset that often proves to be the main obstacle. 

To attract the best of the new crop of talent, organisations must also modernise their internal culture and policies. Embracing flexible schedules and remote work will be a huge draw, and while some would argue that the end of the pandemic has made work from anywhere (WFA) redundant, the fact is that remote work did result in productivity boosts.

In Singapore, hybrid work is the preferred choice for employees. Not only did employees achieve more with less, but many also thrived in the added flexibility it offered them, and want the arrangement to continue. Organisations that insist on “in-office activity” or domicile-related limitations will only drive away talent who can find more flexible policies from disruptors.

As an alternative to training new talent, organisations can acquire legacy skills by outsourcing them. There are many consultancies whose sole purpose is to help organisations maintain legacy systems, including mainframes. 

By modernising their capabilities and culture, organisations can derive more value from their existing investments and make work more enticing to digital native talent. This is what will help bridge the legacy skills gap, improve service delivery, and ensure continuity in mission-critical legacy systems.
Bridging the Gap With AI

The benefits of artificial intelligence (AI) are certainly causing quite the buzz. AI also holds the potential to complement existing employee skills and could enable organisations to minimise the legacy skills gap. However, there is the caveat that this is almost worthless if data is siloed. Having a robust data ecosystem is crucial to freeing staff. This will result in employees being able to focus on value-add initiatives, not spreadsheets. At the same time, it will boost cost efficiency by automating manual processes.

 Meanwhile, in the short term, organisations can maintain their digital transformation momentum by minimising the impact of the legacy talent shortage. There already exists generative AI tools that radically simplify integration and the automation and management of integration-related IT operations. The Singapore government recently announced an initiative called AI Trailblazers, to explore various AI use cases for enterprises and the public sector.

At the end of the day, mitigating risk is critical to any business. 
Organisations should first do an honest risk assessment of both their skills and technical capabilities. From there, they can map a course of action for managing risk as they modernise and integrate their legacy systems with new systems and tools.

Partners are available to help organisations mitigate the legacy skills risk by accelerating the connections between legacy and modern tools. And the result will be a more connected IT ecosystem, with significantly less complexity and disruption - which, ultimately, reduces risk.

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