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Voice of Experience

Voice of Experience: June 2024

Time for Technology to Retire

Ashley Hallene and Jeffrey M Allen


  • Organizations often establish a technology lifecycle management policy to systematically evaluate and manage the retirement and replacement of technology assets.
  • Security vulnerabilities, performance issues, and compliance requirements are among the many indicators that it might be time to upgrade your technology.
  • Deciding when to retire your technology, whether hardware or software, involves balancing the cost of upgrading against the benefits of new technology and the risks of maintaining outdated systems.
Time for Technology to Retire

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Sometimes, we get attached to our technology, and we forget that it has a life expectancy too. Consider the mobile phone as an example, particularly when transitioning from feature phones to smartphones. Feature phones, also known as flip phones or basic phones, offer simplicity and familiarity, which are highly valued by many older adults. These phones typically have physical keypads, straightforward interfaces, long battery life, and durable designs—features that cater to the needs and preferences of many seniors. In contrast, smartphones are sometimes seen as complex, with touchscreens, numerous apps, and multifunctional operating systems that can be overwhelming for someone used to the simplicity of a feature phone. The small icons and text, as well as the touchscreen interface of smartphones, can be challenging, particularly for those with limited dexterity or visual impairments. To add to that concern, smartphones are generally more expensive than feature phones, both in initial cost and in the need for data plans, which may be seen as unnecessary by seniors who use phones primarily for calls and texts. At the end of the day, it seems easier to stick with what you know rather than adapt to new technologies.

Still, there comes a time when you need to let your technology retire. Retiring technology, whether hardware or software, is a significant decision, but not doing so can impact an individual's efficiency, security, and financial aspects. There are several key indicators that you should look out for to know when it is time to consider retiring your technology:

  1. End of Life (EOL): Manufacturers often announce when a product will reach its end of life, meaning it will no longer receive updates, support, or maintenance. This can happen for many reasons, like when there are technological advancements. As new technologies are developed, older ones become obsolete. Companies often focus on newer products that offer better performance, efficiency, or features. This ongoing cycle of innovation means that products eventually reach a point where maintaining them is not economically viable compared to developing new technologies. Continuing to use EOL technology can expose you to security vulnerabilities and compatibility issues.
  2. Lack of Support: Supporting legacy systems can be costly. Over time, the cost of maintaining older technology can outweigh the benefits. This includes the cost of staffing support teams, creating updates, and manufacturing older parts. If the manufacturer no longer supports the technology or if it's increasingly difficult to find experts for support or replacement parts, that is a clear sign that the technology is becoming obsolete. You will spend increasingly more time trying to get help or support and may be out of luck altogether.
  3. Security Vulnerabilities: Older technologies may not be able to meet current security standards or might require extensive modifications to maintain security. As vulnerabilities are discovered, products that are more challenging or less efficient to patch and keep secure may be phased out. Technology that is no longer secure or does not comply with current security standards should be retired to protect sensitive data and systems from cyber threats.
  4. Incompatibility with New Software or Systems: If new software or hardware cannot integrate with your existing technology, it can hinder productivity and efficiency, indicating that an upgrade or replacement of your old technology is necessary.
  5. Increased Maintenance Costs: When the cost of maintaining technology surpasses the value it brings or approaches the cost of a newer, more efficient replacement, then it is probably time to consider retiring it. For example, when your car spends more time at the shop than in your driveway, it’s probably time for it to retire.
  6. Performance Issues: Aging technology may no longer meet the performance requirements of modern applications and tasks. Slow performance and frequent crashes can reduce productivity and frustrate users.
  7. Energy Inefficiency: Older technology often consumes more power than newer, more energy-efficient models. Upgrading can reduce energy costs and contribute to sustainability goals.
  8. Availability of Better Alternatives: The emergence of new technologies offering significant improvements in efficiency, functionality, or cost savings can make existing technology obsolete.
  9. Compliance Requirements: Regulatory or compliance changes may require technology with enhanced security features or capabilities that older systems cannot provide.

If you are hesitant to let go of aging technology, you are not alone. Consider the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) who, for many years, relied on outdated technology for its air traffic control systems. This system, part of the National Airspace System Infrastructure Management, used technology and software from the 1960s and 1970s, which became increasingly inefficient and inadequate for managing the growing volume and complexity of air traffic. It was slow and limited in capacity, which sometimes led to delays and sub-optimal routing for aircraft. This not only caused delays but also led to increased fuel consumption and emissions. There were safety concerns, too, since modern air traffic control requires precise and reliable systems. While generally safe, the older systems were not as robust in handling the increasing number of flights, which could compromise safety margins.

The older systems also required high maintenance costs, due to the need for specialized parts and knowledge to keep them running. As technology aged, the parts became scarcer, and the expertise needed to maintain them became more specialized and expensive. The outdated infrastructure was also less adaptable to new technologies that could enhance or streamline air traffic control, such as real-time data sharing, advanced predictive algorithms, and more sophisticated navigation and communication systems.

In 2015, a technical glitch at an air traffic control center in Leesburg, Virginia, led to significant delays and cancellations in flights at major airports in New York and Washington, D.C. The problem was linked to a software upgrade meant to provide tools to deal with congested airspace, inadvertently revealing the risks and challenges of updating older systems.

In early January 2023, the FAA faced another significant disruption when its Notice to Air Missions (NOTAM) system failed. This system is essential for providing pilots and airline dispatchers with critical safety information before flights. The outage was caused by a damaged database file in the NOTAM system. This failure led to widespread disruptions in U.S. air travel, grounding flights nationwide and causing significant delays. This incident highlighted the vulnerabilities of relying on outdated technology systems in critical infrastructure and the need for upgrades.

The FAA finally implemented a long-term modernization plan called NextGen with the goal of having most of the major upgrades in place by 2025. NextGen aims to update the entire air traffic system by implementing new technologies to improve air transportation's safety, efficiency, and reliability. However, the transition has been challenging and costly, partly due to the extensive reliance on the older systems for such a prolonged period.

Deciding when to retire technology involves balancing the cost of upgrading against the benefits of new technology and the risks of maintaining outdated systems. Planning for the transition is important, including budgeting for replacement costs, data migration, and user training. Organizations often establish a technology lifecycle management policy to systematically evaluate and manage the retirement and replacement of technology assets. While your technology’s EOL can mean the inconvenience of needing to upgrade, it usually corresponds with transitions to more secure, advanced, and capable technologies.