These days, most companies are running some legacy software systems. There are a number of reasons for this. For one thing, it’s virtually impossible to keep all of your software and technologies 100% up-to-date. What’s more, many legacy systems remain in place because they are now critical to some aspect of your business and too hard or costly to get rid of. They may be inextricably linked to key data and business processes.
This quote from Wikipedia sums up one great reason why legacy systems are so enduring:
“The most common legacy systems tend to be those which embraced well-known IT architectural principles, with careful planning and strict methodology during implementation … many organisations are rediscovering the value of both their legacy systems themselves and those systems' philosophical underpinnings.” - Wikipedia
Yet legacy systems pose problems. They become harder to support, particularly as vendors drop their own support. They pose risks to day-to-day IT operations, particularly as time goes on and fewer staff are capable of maintaining and updating them. And it becomes more difficult to integrate these systems with new applications and services.
Given this, you must take action with legacy systems. The question is, do you persist in maintaining them, do you commit to a massive and costly rip and replace, or do you find an in-between solution?
First, what qualifies as a legacy system?
There are a range of factors that may qualify your software as a legacy system. Sometimes, it’s simply due to the age and/or size of the system – there are newer, smaller, or more efficient systems out there to replace it.
Other times, it’s more complex. It may be that the system is no longer supported by the vendor; or no longer supported by your business processes. It may not integrate with your newer software, or doesn’t align with the future goals and direction of your business.
What to do with your legacy systems?
There are a number of options available if you currently use legacy software in your organisation. The solution largely depends on how ingrained the software is; how frequently it’s used; and your budget and available resources.
Below are quite distinct options for dealing with legacy systems. Each come with their pros and cons, and the path to the right solutions requires careful analysis of business requirements.
1. Do nothing
You may lack the budget or resources to replace a legacy system; and it may suffice for the time being.
But be aware that this option can pose long-term risks, as they become more difficult to maintain and become even less ‘connected’ with newer systems.
2. Application retirement
If you don’t use the software in your daily business operations anymore, but need access to the data within the software system, application retirement is a good option.
In this case, you shut down obsolete business applications while retaining access to the historical data that was contained within those applications. It involves relocating the data to a new archive store that is built using industry standards, so you can access the data well into the future.
3. Legacy modernisation or transformation
If you have software or systems that your business can’t do without, it’s possible to re-use the core business logic in that software by providing a new user interface. Most commonly, this is done by using web-based interfaces that are easy for unskilled users to work with.
By enhancing or upgrading your legacy systems, you are getting the most from your initial investment in the software and you avoid having to re-train staff or roll over to a completely new set-up.