Bring Out Your Dead: The Joy of Decommissioning Old Technology

I love new technology. That’s one of the reasons my job is so fun. I get to see the latest and greatest technologies and put them to work to help our company achieve our purpose. There are two side-effects of this activity which are not as much fun:

  1. Technology that is new and shiny today becomes old and tired in a very short time.
  2. The new technologies we bring on need to displace something. Adding and adding, but never removing is unsustainable.

DevOps and Scrum frameworks have a useful term, called the Definition of Done. You can read about the concept here. I’ve never seen it applied to technology lifecycle, but I’m going to do it here.

In my opinion, I’m not doing my job effectively if I am not simultaneously purging old technology while implementing new technology. If I launch a new enterprise system, but don’t decommission the previous system and archive the data, then I’m not done. If I give someone a new laptop, but don’t retrieve and recycle the old one, I’m not done.

Long after the go-live celebrations are over, I cannot rest in the satisfaction of success in a job well done until the old system is completely gone.

“Bring out your dead!”

One day, I am the hero who delivers new technology, then next day, I am the dead collector from the 1975 British comedy, Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

If it’s been a while since you’ve seen this scene, take a look here:

I stroll through the corporate village, going from meeting to meeting with my cart. I clang my medieval triangle and yell, “bring out your dead technology!” Even though I happily perform my service to the community for a mere nine pence, I receive a predictable amount of resistance to my collection efforts.

“I’m not dead.”

Not everyone shares my views on what pieces of technology are ripe for decommission. Many believe that technology has a longer useful life than it actually does. Many grow attached and accustomed to technologies and have a hard time embracing the new and letting go of the old.

Change is hard, and technology transitions require careful organizational change management. However, sooner or later, the old tech has to go on the cart.

“Oh, I can’t take him like that. It’s against regulations.”

As the dead collector, sometimes I’m asked to take something that legitimately needs to be examined from a regulatory compliance perspective. We have data retention and handling standards. We have litigation hold procedures. Sometimes we need to decommission the technology, but archive the data in a way that meets our requirements. This is extra work that is easy to ignore, but critical to get right.

“I don’t want to go on the cart!”

The burden of mitigating business impact falls to the dead collector. It’s not uncommon to find a complex web of interdependencies during the decommissioning process. I’ve often transitioned all of the users off a system, only to find that some other application that no one knew about was secretly querying the database of the decommissioned system.

The business users of that other system don’t want to go on the cart, so you have to find some other way to serve up their data needs from another source.

“I think I’ll go for a walk.”

Sometimes, when we replace a laptop, the old one goes for a walk and never makes it back to the recycling center. Well-intentioned users think, “I’ll keep my old laptop for a backup.” Or, “I’ll save the old laptop for the intern.” “I’ll just keep it in this drawer over here.”

These are well-intentioned, but ill-advised actions. This causes significant security, manageability, and supportability problems.

“See you on Thursday.”

I’d love for this to be a one-time effort or special project to purge the environment of legacy technology, but that’s not how it works. This a permanent, ongoing discipline that needs to be built-in to everything we do.

Just like the dead collector, I’ll be back next Thursday for a new load.

I hope you found this article fun and a little challenging. I cannot do this work alone. I need others to help me carry the cart. Do your part and aid in the decommissioning of legacy technology around you.

The dead collector said, “bring out your dead,” not “I’m going to walk into your house now and get your dead.” I’ll bring the cart, you bring your dead technology. We’ll all move on. See you on Thursday.

Read this article on my blog site or listen to it on my podcast.




Technology Leader at CHS. Passionate about leadership and innovation. Posts are my own.

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Zach Hughes

Zach Hughes

Technology Leader at CHS. Passionate about leadership and innovation. Posts are my own.

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