Heritage in digital systems
Heritage is something we rarely think about when designing and building digital systems, but doing so can save us a lot of money and pain.
For somewhat over seven hundred years “heritage” merely meant “That which has been or may be inherited” but in the latter half of the twentieth century a new meaning, certainly with respect to things of a historical, cultural, or scenic nature, emerged. Now when you are talking about ‘heritage’ it is in general referring to things that people place an emotional value on, something that will be missed when it is gone.
I think this is a very important to think about heritage when planning to introduce digital replacements or upgrades. Ask yourself “what benefits are there around the current system, even if they are incidental or accidental?”
The current system may not be very efficient or cause issues for one or more teams using it but there may well be people who like it. It might be that it gives them an opportunity to interact with other parts of the business they don’t normally get to, or forms a rewarding part of their job.
Something else that needs to be looked for is has a community built up; because if you destroy a community, no amount of time, money, or effort will bring that one back and it may take a lot of all three to get a new one going. That loss of community may well have a serious impact on adoption and engagement.
Once you identified something that is worth preserving then what should you do about it? Is it a case of designing the new digital system to take advantage of what already exists, or do you need to implement extra functionality to mediate the user community’s beloved aspects? This is all part of designing for the user; it isn’t enough to make things easy for them, you need them to buy in. It may be that you have to forgo some of the efficiency savings or other headline key goals of the project in order to cater for these needs but it will be offset in the longer term by avoiding resentment and reluctance during the adoption and business as usual phases.
So if you are planning a digital project to improve upon or do away with an existing system or process, take the time to look into how things are now and look to see how much, if any, heritage is there.
Image CC: Banqueting House, London courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/revstan/4908154476/