rocket with legacy code

Many businesses are painfully aware of the risks of holding onto old, legacy software while the rest of the business is evolving – but switching out systems is often not a straight-forward task. Let’s take a look at some of the most common challenges that stand in the way of modernising legacy software systems.

What is classed as a legacy system?

When we talk about legacy software – or hardware, for that matter – we’re not just referring to its age. Rather, it’s about how well it ages. We look at issues such as whether it is being supported and developed, and how well it adapts to changing business needs, new innovations and surrounding systems. Legacy technology often holds the business back and prevents it from getting full value from the overall IT investment.

How can legacy IT be modernised?

There are options for how to solve legacy IT problems. Sometimes a lightweight solution might do the job, but in other instances only a rip-and-replace approach will be suitable.

  • Quick fixes
    For scenarios where the important part is to simply access and process the legacy data, it can be enough to use a legacy wrapping or screen scraping This solution simulates an operator handling the legacy controls, but then allows the information to flow through a modern, user-friendly interface. This makes it possible to translate legacy-dependent data into a format that is part of your current business IT landscape.

The downside to this quick fix is that any future interface changes may require you to go back and re-engineer the simulation – which can be difficult and costly.

  • Permanent solutions
    In instances where a shallow surface fix isn’t enough, your business will need to consider migrating and re-hosting your legacy applications onto modern platforms, or replacing the old system with a modern alternative. This is sometimes the only way to ensure the technology is suitable for your current and future business needs.

The challenges of replacing legacy systems

Once you have identified that you have a business legacy system that needs to be replaced, you will most likely face one or several of these issues:

  1. Costs
    When looking at modernising or changing business technology, there are of course costs involved in new licenses and hardware, implementation and data migration – while future cost savings may take some time to materialise. As difficult as these expenses can be to justify to financial decision makers, there can also be a sense of wanting to protect the original investment made. The more money that was spent on the original legacy application or platform, the harder it can be to convince the business to spend further in order to secure the future of the business operation.
  1. Time
    The process of replacing a legacy system is often one that consists of several steps – where the first step always should be a full analysis of what the business needs. By fully understanding what a successful system would look like and how a modern solution can provide the flexibility, agility and integration required, you can identify a suitable replacement. This stage is important and shouldn’t be rushed, but may end up becoming a stumbling block for a business looking to make a rapid shift.
  1. Disruption
    One of the key things that often come into focus when discussing system replacements is the impact the change may have on business-critical processes. Depending on the complexity of the legacy system, you may need to carefully consider the timing and scope of the change, in order to keep any disruption to a minimum. In some cases it can be necessary to communicate migration plans to clients – keeping them in the loop and perhaps allowing them to expect windows of limited functionality.
  1. Integration
    The need for integration with other systems in the business’ IT landscape is often what triggers a modernisation in the first place, but it can also be one of the biggest challenges when it comes to managing the change. A system that is firmly embedded in the back-end operation of an organisation often has complex dependencies that need to be fully understood. It’s important to map out all these connectors and ensure that you maintain key functionality through the replacement.

A successful modernisation process

For many businesses, replacing or modernising a legacy system is a process that can take months or even years to go from planning to completion. The concept of removing what is often one of the cornerstones of an organisation’s IT estate is a major undertaking – but often provides tangible financial benefits over time.

The key to overcoming the challenges of modernisation is to plan, prepare and execute the shift with the business strategy firmly in mind. By teaming up with experienced solution providers and skilled consultants, you will be able to focus fully on the business outcomes and benefits rather than managing the project on a detail level.