AI’s Impact Legacy Software in 2024
by Isaac Bennett, Flexware Innovation | LinkedIn
I could make a top 10 list of trends I think that are going to catch fire in 2024. I could, but I won’t. I think it would be the same list every other manufacturing blogger on the internet is putting out. If you follow smart manufacturing trends, it will have all the buzzwords. For example,
10. Augmented Reality – “Really going to catch fire in 2024!”
9. Additive Manufacturing – “This technology is making leaps and bounds and getting hotter than molten lava next to the sun!”
8. Unified Name Space – “This will enable us to increase productivity so much so that our operators will have to wear gloves…because they will be on fire!”
7. Supply Chain Digitalization – “Pure fire…hotter than Billy Joel in 1985!”
I will stop. Many of the components of smart manufacturing and Industry 4.0 have stayed the same. Most manufacturers are still trying to find the right projects or capital to invest in the latest and greatest technology. There is a reason why many manufacturing companies don’t have super smart plants that are fully automated yet. The reason? Well, they are manufacturing companies, not technology companies. They have processes and machines that make products, and if those things are working and making money, why do they need to invest in modernizing?
Don’t get me wrong; many smart manufacturing tools can bring a return on investment and justify the investment in newer technology. But I would like to talk about what could be a hugely disruptive technology, changing the game for manufacturing companies.
ERP – the Enterprise Resource and Planning
ERP is a big obstacle for many companies when they discuss their future technology road maps. No… I don’t mean Epic Rap Battle. Of course, I am referring to the Enterprise Resource and Planning software.
So why do I mention ERP systems in a 2024 trends article? Well, let’s first talk about the 2023 trend that caught fire. That is generative AI. Many of you have experimented with ChatGPT at some point this year. It is fun to type in questions to see how well it responds. I found my son using it to help him write a paper on a book he hadn’t finished reading. Like my son leveraged this new tool to help him with his homework, how can we leverage it in manufacturing?
ERP is one of the biggest obstacles to moving into a more modern, automated, smart manufacturing environment. IT installed it 15 or more years ago, and it just works. You also know that replacing your old ERP will be very disruptive and costly. You have years of experience working with the ERP and years of customizations. Thinking about moving from one ERP to another, complete with bells and whistles, a fancy user interface, and cloud capabilities, sounds intriguing. Still, the reality is that it will be so very painful!
On the one hand, you have a system that works for you. It isn’t perfect, but it works. On the other hand, you have an older system that limits your ability to take advantage of some of the new technologies, and it’s sitting on old hardware. Also, you have an aging workforce that customized your current system, and they are getting very close to retirement. If those programmers retire, will you be able to find Cobol programmers who can untangle current customizations?
I was recently having a drink with a colleague who is also a programmer. He asked me about leveraging generative Open AI to help him with his programming. He asked the question as if he thought it was cheating. I just started thinking, “Was it cheating in 1896 to use the first truck instead of a horse-drawn wagon?” No, let’s embrace change! Let’s adopt it and leverage it! Let’s use it to our advantage, and the more data we feed the AI engine, the more accurate it will get.
Top 10 ways AI can help all of us get off legacy software
This capability of generative AI is a massive disruptor for getting off legacy systems. It will change the game. Let’s talk specifics. Let’s make a top 10 list of ways AI can help us get off legacy software and push us closer to modern smart manufacturing. I will use the example of Cobol, but it can apply to any older code you need to move away from.
1. Code Translation and Migration:
Generative AI can assist in translating Cobol code into modern programming languages, making the transition smoother. Automated code migration tools can help convert the logic and functionality of Cobol programs to languages like Java, Python, or C#.
2. Legacy Data Analysis:
AI can help analyze and understand data structures and formats used in your Cobol-based systems. This analysis can assist in designing new databases and data models compatible with modern systems.
3. Interoperability Solutions:
Generative AI can help design and implement solutions that allow new systems to interact with existing Cobol-based systems during the transition period. This could involve creating APIs or middleware to bridge the gap between legacy and modern systems.
4. User Interface Modernization:
AI can assist in redesigning and modernizing user interfaces, ensuring a more user-friendly experience for end-users. This may involve generating code for modern web or mobile interfaces replacing outdated Cobol-based interfaces.
5. Automated Testing:
AI-driven testing tools can be employed to automatically test the functionality of the newly translated or developed software, ensuring that it meets the required specifications.
6. Data Migration and Cleansing:
Like the manufacturing context mentioned earlier, generative AI can help migrate and cleanse data from Cobol-based databases to new systems.
7. Knowledge Transfer:
AI can assist in documenting and transferring knowledge from Cobol experts to teams working on the new systems. This can include generating documentation, tutorials, and training materials to ease the learning curve for developers unfamiliar with Cobol.
8. Project Management and Planning:
AI can assist in project management by analyzing historical data and providing insights that help plan and execute the transition efficiently.
9. Security and Compliance:
Generative AI can contribute to ensuring that the transition process complies with security standards and industry regulations. It can also help identify and address security vulnerabilities in the legacy Cobol systems.
10. Continuous Improvement:
After the transition, AI can assist in continuously monitoring and optimizing the performance of the new systems based on user feedback and evolving business requirements.
I believe that leveraging generative AI to help migrate off legacy software will be effective and efficient and give those who use it a leg up in their monumental task of migrating to a new ERP solution.
I have heard many people discussing how AI is coming to replace jobs. I disagree. Yes, it will replace tasks that we are doing daily, but I see it as a tool to enhance and assist us in our jobs. As generative AI becomes more and more capable, we should leverage it to our advantage. Generative AI can replace repetitive tasks and help us find root causes, freeing up humans for more beneficial projects. It’s not just a trend; it will be a disruptive force as we move into 2024.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Isaac Bennett is an internationally recognized author and keynote speaker on manufacturing technology. He is a Solutions Architect at Flexware Innovation, providing digital transformation consulting for global manufacturers. Isaac most often writes and speaks on topics like 1) accelerating business through technology (ERP, MES, Artificial Intelligence), 2) breaking down traditional business silos through digital transformation 3) demonstrating how technology can bring value to the organization. To book Isaac for an upcoming podcast or keynote, contact us.