Why I use 'Heritage' instead of 'Legacy' in my vocabulary when referring to older IT business systems.

December 15, 2017

Sam Newman started it again. Not the controversial one. The one who wrote the book on Microservices, literally.

“I think I first heard the term ‘heritage’ from @peterboni, but I could be totally wrong…”, Sam Newman - Tweet

I’ve had a problem with a few words the IT industry chooses to use for a while now. Legacy is one of them. The other one is resource, but that’s a post for another time, after a quick tweet.

“My other quest is to replace ‘resource’ with ‘people’ in our vocabulary. Resource is an inanimate not special object you can create and destroy. Do not like it used in relation to tech people.”, Peter Boni - Tweet

Ok, back to this post. People in the IT industry often refer to older business systems as ‘legacy’, usually in the following situations:

  1. It’s become diffucult or expensive to find people who have the skills for, or that even want to work on it, or it’s inherited by new people.

  2. It’s technology architecture or components are no longer fit for purpose.

Of course, it’s never because the new technology is Shiny.

Given how fast the IT industry is changing, in the above situations, legacy is often said with a certain mindset, and a level of disgust, or disdain. It carries a certain stigma, despite the fact that the business was probably built upon, and is now heavily reliant on the legacy business systems. It’s adding value.

I started using a new word a while ago to refer to older business systems. Like Sam Newman, I’m not sure where I heard or read it, but it stuck in my mind. It matters because words have meaning and power. I didn’t want to refer to business systems that I helped build over many years with disgust or disdain, or more importantly for other people to hear that in what I was saying.

The word I started using is heritage. To me, it implies that an older business system is valued and that it should be cared for by being improved, incrementally over time, while continuing to add value.

Sure, there will come a time when it’s not appropriate or even feasible to continue to do this, and then it’s important to understand and agree not only the reasons for replacing it but the investment required to do so.