Picking your way through the productising minefield

clock • 3 min read

Learning to ‘just say no’

Plenty of tech companies face the same dilemma; how to 'productise' their legacy software solution so they can scale it through cloud-based technology and ultimately satisfy the difficult questions all future investors or acquirers will inevitably ask. While the easy answer may be to start again, that's rarely an option. No CTO worth their weight would recommend a greenfield rewrite, and more importantly, doing so often just perpetuates a cycle that never solves the core issue.

Before getting involved in technology, Paul Kearney was in the military. Our first non-executive AitemologistTM Paul says: "I once found myself in a minefield in Afghanistan. The nature of minefields is you only find out you've entered them when you hit a problem. Or should I say, mine. At that point the battle drills say reverse out slowly but combat, much like product development, rarely accommodates textbook solutions.  In this case we were within range of enemy forces and my only viable option was to move forward as quickly as possible."

If your legacy software solution is servicing the bespoke requirements of multiple clients, then you're probably facing two types of debt:

  1. Technical debt will already be familiar to you, as your CTO probably complains about it at every opportunity. While the solutions are painful, a well-executed cloud migration programme should (in theory) get you to a better place in a reasonable timescale.
  2. The second type of debt is more insidious; it's called ‘Product debt' or more simply, ‘YES debt.' YES debt is endemic in practically every tech start-up as these companies respond to the dramatically different needs of multiple clients. The net result is your nice, neat, logical start-up software acquires all sorts of additional appendages and fast resembles something built in Frankenstein's lab. Or to borrow the technologists' term, a ‘Frankenstack.'

AitemologyTM co-founder Luke Thomas explains: "A Frankenstack is a mishmash of hardware, software and bespoke requirements, the performance effects of which are catastrophic. Piecing together DIY systems architecture to support bespoke customers means your core product is no longer optimised. Instead, your databases slow down, your security is at risk and your path to cloud becomes opaque."

By settling for a Frankenstack, software start-ups continue to promote heavy customisation of their off-the-shelf products to meet a client's needs. They become grounded, lacking the time, budget and/or skills to re-platform their application into a more SaaS (software-as-a-service) version that can continue to support old and new customers alike.

So, what's the answer? While saying YES to every client adds to the technical debt and ongoing maintenance pain, the real problem is leadership. The only solution is to define the product roadmap and just say NO. While turning down business may feel counterintuitive, in the early days this downtime will help leaders establish a product-led strategy, plan their cloud migration and truly SaaSify their offering. Short-term revenue will undeniably take a hit, but in the long run these start-ups stand to benefit from the new, strategically targeted, NO culture. Reaping the rewards of reduced maintenance and new customer acquisition costs is reason enough.

Paul concludes: "I often think about that day in the minefield when I'm faced with difficult decisions. An obvious aspect of leadership is making judgement calls, but you need to consider every aspect of the long game. YES debt is the easy short-term option, but it's counterproductive to productisation. It gets you moving quickly but the next time you hit a mine, it may be the last."

You may also like
Nvidia to launch a new business unit for custom chip design, report

Chips and Components

Datacentre custom chip market could swell to $10 billion this year and potentially double by 2025

clock 12 February 2024 • 2 min read
Google's $1bn investment in UK datacentre to boost tech landscape

Datacentre

Google emphasises sustainabilty in addition to jobs

clock 19 January 2024 • 3 min read
IBM bets on integration, ServiceNow on process mining with strategic acquisitions

Mergers and Acquisitions

Cloud integration, process mining and task automation are hot

clock 19 December 2023 • 2 min read
Most read
01

Southern Water confirms customer data breach

14 February 2024 • 2 min read
03

AI charts a course for HMS Victory

14 February 2024 • 4 min read
05

Cisco: significant job cuts likely

13 February 2024 • 1 min read

Sign up to our newsletter

The best news, stories, features and photos from the day in one perfectly formed email.

More on Cloud Computing

FinOps: A way to cut cloud costs or 'an argument with your CFO'?

FinOps: A way to cut cloud costs or 'an argument with your CFO'?

Either way, it all comes back to culture

Tom Allen
clock 13 February 2024 • 3 min read
Asian Tech Roundup: AWS goes goes big in Japan

Asian Tech Roundup: AWS goes goes big in Japan

Plus, Chinese gaming soars

Tom Allen
clock 26 January 2024 • 2 min read
Google Cloud abolishes egress fees

Google Cloud abolishes egress fees

Paves the way for cloud exits

clock 14 January 2024 • 2 min read