Parker Avery recently wrapped up a package selection project for a retailer who was considering replacing several key legacy systems that are near or beyond their useful life. Having helped several retailers with these same types of assessments and recognizing that many other retailers are in this same predicament, we are also collaborating on a new Point of View that outlines our perspective on evaluating retail legacy environments and the many factors that need to be carefully scrutinized.

As a designer at heart and a residential real estate agent in a former life, I often watch the HGTV show “Love It or List It.” The show has a lot of parallels with performing a legacy system assessment, as well as solution selection activities. If you’ve never seen “Love It or List It,” the overall cadence of this semi-pseudo reality TV show is that the homeowners need to decide if the show’s professional designer can overhaul their existing house to make it work for their changed needs (e.g., kids, home office, larger kitchen) or if they need to rely on the show’s real estate agent to find them a new home that would better suit their requirements – all, of course, on a well-defined budget.

The first step is that the homeowners are asked why their existing home no longer works for them. Sometimes, they acknowledge the home was initially purchased because of something perceived as unique or remarkable, without a good understanding of their own basic requirements. For example, a young couple purchased the house because of the fabulous “hot” location near restaurants and nightclubs, or the vision of revitalizing a historic “fixer upper” for some dreamers with minimal DIY skills and even more limited funds. Sometimes the home was purchased by one of the owners prior to their relationship, but once both were living under the same roof, it became evident that the house was no longer a good fit for their combined needs. Typically however, the overarching driving factor is that the house, while at one time seemed quite suitable, can no longer sustain the homeowners’ current needs or those of the future.

The show continues with the designer gaining an understanding of specifically which spaces in the home require remodeling and a solid idea of what the homeowners would like. The real estate agent also finds out what their requirements are in purchasing a new home. The show’s team then sets off to work on their respective assignments. There is often quite a bit of banter about who will “win” the show – will the homeowners “Love It” and stay in the home after the designer works her magic? Or will they “List It” and decide to move elsewhere? Often, the homeowners are even at odds: one typically loves the house, the neighborhood or the memories and doesn’t see (or doesn’t want to admit) the need for a change, while the other can’t get the moving trucks in motion fast enough because in their mind the house is so very “broken.”

“Love It or List It” continues through the initial redesign plan for key spaces in the existing home and the ensuing demolition of walls, fixtures, plumbing, electrical, etc. It is during this stage of discovery that the show’s construction team typically finds a myriad of issues that prevent the designer from creating the perfect spaces for the homeowners in their existing home. Things like severe termite infestation and damage, plumbing or electrical systems that are not up to code, structural beams that are cost-prohibitive to move, and more. The poor designer frequently has to be the messenger of bad news to the homeowners that their existing home cannot be quite the dream home they wished for, and she is forced to come up with creative workarounds to try to meet their needs. On the other front, the real estate agent – seeking a new solution in home ownership nirvana – has his share of casualties in evaluating and showing the owners houses that meet most of their requirements. He continually verbally repeats the owners’ major requirements as the cast previews homes for sale, and the agent does a pretty good job of sticking to showing homes that seem to meet their needs. Frequently, the deciding factor is budget – fairly typical in both real estate and solution evaluation.

Sound familiar? What major parallels are in place between “Love It or List It” and a legacy system assessment? Let’s bullet-point them:

  • Existing solution (home) no longer meets requirements, although at one point it may have been state-of-the-art (perfect) and many users don’t see much advantage to a disruption
  • Current state systems and architecture will not enable the organization to effectively operate or support future growth plans
  • Existing storage is an ongoing and growing problem
  • Creative workarounds are implemented to try to extend usability and / or meet new requirements
  • Redesign of existing systems frequently comes with challenges that are often costly and / or still leave functionality gaps
  • Migrating to an entirely new system (new home or neighborhood) is often a daunting task, disrupting the familiar cadence of many people and processes
  • Managing change (moving) is demanding, and must be done with a solid plan in place to ensure a smooth transition
  • A new solution (home) is often more expensive, but may better meet requirements, create efficiencies and enable a stronger organization
  • The answer may ultimately be that the existing solution – while perhaps not perfect – can be modified and support the business for a few more years

To effectively evaluate a retail legacy system environment, it is prudent to take a deep dive into the following components:

  • Retail Technology Landscapes
  • Existing Homegrown Solutions
  • Existing Packaged Solutions
  • Business Functionality and Vendor Upgrade Paths
  • Resources, Support and Changes
  • Hardware and Architecture
  • Associated Costs

In our upcoming Point of View, we outline the key questions and considerations related to each these elements that help in developing a roadmap for modernization, where needed.

Each episode of “Love It or List It” ends differently – some homeowners are so blown away by their newly redesigned home that they feel comfortable enough staying there for at least a few years longer. The designer’s changes make the home a much better fit for their lifestyle, and they felt that none of the new available homes could really compare or fit their unique requirements.

Others realize a new home is the only solution that will address their essentials for now and in the future – despite the beautifully staged spaces and the professional designer’s skills, their existing home can simply not work for them any longer.

Just as the background and needs of each homeowner are different, so are those of most retailers. The ultimate results of a comprehensive legacy system assessment and the subsequent solution evaluation will vary greatly, but by holistically scrutinizing the above factors, you will be in a much better position to understand how to proceed.