What is a legacy system - and why is it such a big deal?

What is a legacy system – and why is it such a big deal?

Ida Jahnsen
02-Mar-2022 15:43:10
In a perfect world, you would always have access to the newest and most advanced technology. But in reality, all organizations will sooner or later experience challenges with legacy systems, which, let's face it, can be quite annoying.

"Legacy systems" can be defined as older computer hardware, programming language, or software application that is still in use. It can also describe outdated processes that can no longer fulfill their purpose. Legacy systems often hold companies back and make them unable to adapt to today's business environment.

"Legacy" does not necessarily mean old – it can simply refer to a lack of supplier support or a system's inability to meet organizational requirements.

Why do legacy systems still exist?

The short answer is that legacy systems are simply too hard to replace. But if we want to dig a little deeper, some common reasons they exist are:

- Long-term projects
- Contracts
- Systems are expensive to replace, both in terms of up-front investment and time-consuming training
- System requirements can be overwhelming and difficult to scope
- The cost of replacing is higher than the benefits of a new system
- The data stored is difficult to convert/migrate to newer standards
- Fear of the unknown

There are several threats and challenges that follow older and obsolete legacy systems.

Security, data quality, and availability

Combining new and old technology can be difficult. With legacy systems, you will often experience compatibility challenges that make it costly to integrate with modern solutions. In many cases, the cost of integration or data migration outweighs the benefit. This could be a direct obstacle for implementing major technology upgrades, such as the transition to new cloud-based solutions. The solution is often that old systems remain operational because replacement becomes too extensive and expensive.

Organizations often try to compensate for the problem by "patching up," modifying or developing intricate additions/layers to existing solutions and infrastructure, further building up legacy and becoming a vicious circle. Combining incompatible systems can also open your business to security risks and slower processes.

Legacy technology tends to be more vulnerable to hackers than newer technology. The more heavily patched a system is, the more difficult it can be to have adequate security measures.

Heavily patched and unstable data structures can also lead to a mess of different file types and incompatible or unconnected databases, in turn leading to duplicates, loss of data, difficulties accessing and retrieving data, and ultimately compliance issues or other unfortunate consequences.

Products reaching end-of-life, where the vendor stops providing updates or technical support, and employees leaving, taking expert knowledge of legacy systems with them, also increases the chance of critical system failures.

The "hidden" costs

Older systems are costly. Both because of direct costs related to operation and maintenance and because the consequence is often to work in less rational and efficient ways.

A survey conducted by Business Technographics shows that 75% of North American and European IT budgets are used to operate and maintain older systems, and only 25% for development and investment.

Maintaining the operation of older systems also drastically hinders your growth and expansion. Companies that utilize new and modern technology can offer better products at a lower price simply because they do not carry a costly legacy from the past.

If the problem becomes severe enough, being trapped in older and inefficient systems will be demotivating for the employees – and the organization will not only struggle with "legacy systems," but also "legacy employees."

It is only by adding up the cost of keeping older solutions alive with the cost of inefficiency and the cost of dissatisfied employees that you see the total cost of legacy systems. Sure, getting rid of old solutions or continuously renewing them can also be expensive – but can you afford not to?

How to avoid legacy systems

"If it ain't broke, don't fix it" can be a dangerous sentiment when it comes to your IT infrastructure. Many companies get into the trouble of legacy systems because of decision-makers who are resistant to change.

Because of rapid technology growth, a system can become a legacy at any time. Implementing lean IT can be a great way to avoid legacy. Lean is a philosophy of continuous improvement and boils down to waste reduction, continuous improvement, and respect for people.

One of the main risks of legacy systems is for the documentation – not only because of the risk of data loss. Figuring out what to do with the documentation is also one of the main challenges to overcome when implementing new technology, making the company hesitant to do so. Separating your documentation from process systems will solve this.

Documaster helps organizations shut down old, obsolete systems so they can start over. It might be time to say au revoir to your legacy systems.

guide: from legacy to documaster

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