The Long-Lasting Legacy Systems
Legacy systems, which are technology, software, and processes that are inherited from previous stages of business, have represented the backbone of companies for (many) years. Nowadays, however, these systems have started to hinder business goals since they precede modern integration standards, cannot catch up with the latest technologies, and are mostly outdated.
There are typically two situations that we’ve noticed. Either legacy systems can still manage the ongoing workloads and perhaps only need some maintenance or tweaking here and there, or, in the case of even older ones, they can slow things down, they no longer suit the current business needs, or are difficult to integrate with newer systems that are being implemented. So although legacy systems might still generally manage to do what they were originally designed for, they do not allow for growth, or they might not allow for interaction with newer technologies.
Gartner defines legacy applications as information systems that may be based on outdated technologies, but are critical to day-to-day operations, and many innovative businesses have grown with the help of these legacy systems. The reasons for which companies choose to maintain legacy systems can be varied, ranging from costs, to fear of changing an entire system, or purely due to the difficulty of upgrading. But we always suggest modernizing your systems since it’s more affordable long-term and can allow for different changes that might arise in your business plan.
In this article, we will discuss legacy systems in general, to find out why they are now outdated, when is the right time to modernize your tech stack, and how to do it correctly. Let’s get into more details as to why doing so will bring business benefits long-term.
Problems with Legacy Systems and Architectures
The main issues with legacy systems most companies have is that they no longer match current business processes or goals, there are fewer specialists to maintain them, and there are no real options for different integrations.
Retired Programming Languages
Legacy systems are sometimes systems implemented so long ago that even the developers who created them might have already retired themselves - in programming languages such as FORTRAN, assembly, BASIC, COBOL, to name a few..
In these cases, new hires have no idea what’s in the business’ legacy systems code (also known as Spaghetti code), and companies are left in a conundrum: maintain the legacy systems or retire them?
But obsolete programming languages are not the only issue you might encounter. Legacy systems lack critical functionality, bring failures, security risks, and difficulties to upgrade or combine with newer tech. The top three challenges with legacy systems found in this study by TATA Consultancy in collaboration with AWS are:
Modern businesses need to add new functions quickly to stay competitive. If the systems are old and can’t be scaled, that means the systems cannot grow at the same pace with your business. The sets of APIs, on which old legacy systems are mainly built on, also restrict the option of adding new functions. Additionally, if there is more than one integration to be done, point-to-point integration, which means custom-built code to connect two applications together, is not enough.
Being able to easily integrate with new technologies, partners, and services, or do big data, AI, ML, or IoT projects, in the cloud, is something those legacy systems cannot generally handle properly. If the legacy systems are too old, that would mean that each time you need to incorporate a new data set, feature, integration, you need to either build the functionality from scratch or to create a custom integration, which, as mentioned earlier, is not future proof. A cloud-based integration platform can help with incorporating modern applications into legacy systems.
When we talk about failures, we mean anything from systems downtime and actual crashes to systems that work slowly, or even systems that are old and can’t cope with new, larger workloads. All these only impede progress and innovation and, more than that, can cost your business money. Both the costs of repairing the systems, and the costs associated with your staff not being able to do their job properly due to downtime - for instance, delaying the release of a new product.
Legacy systems can also have major cybersecurity vulnerabilities, such as hacking, identity theft, data leaks, distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, data breaches, malicious attacks, and in the last few years even crypto mining.
Besides actual attacks on your systems, some older software services or hardware systems might not be supported by the original vendors anymore – no updates and out-of-market hardware mean no proper security for the latest vulnerabilities, making your whole system even more prone to common cyber threats.
Cybersecurity risks bring about lost business, fines, and sometimes it can even damage your business reputation in front of your customers.
Future Data Trends
Analyzing historical data is not enough in this era of rapid changes – most companies are already analyzing data in real-time, and for good reasons: adapting instantly to changing environments and new business goals, gathering real-time insights, and acting on them quickly, all represent huge advantages for organizations that wish to remain competitive.
When to Upgrade Your Tech Stack?
Think about your own house – will you wait until something clogs, breaks, or gets broken, or will you change it once it starts to cause damage? You should think the same way about the legacy systems of your business. Waiting for them to stop working properly or cause operational and business harm will hinder your business from thriving.
Timing For Upgrade
If you have encountered any of the above problems and have decided that you need to retire your legacy systems and opt for a newer tech stack, careful prioritization is needed. Not all legacy systems can or should be replaced at the same time since you might need to put your whole business on hold or might encounter different bottlenecks during the process.
While more than 70% of CxOs of global companies consider mainframe or legacy modernization a strategic business priority for the next three years, 69% of companies in Europe have started, but failed to complete, at least one modernization program as a result of the pandemic, according to the 2021 Mainframe Modernisation Business Barometer Report.
Thus, the switch from legacy systems to newer tech stacks needs to happen in stages to avoid blockages. Given that every tech system is a repository of corporate data, of millions of transactions, and connected with sometimes hundreds of various systems, the process needs to be carefully managed.
Planning The Upgrade
Before starting on this journey, you and your team should consider everything from the types of data that you own and the retention period of data for certain industries, to which integrations you need both short-term and long-term, and to which technologies you require in your business endeavors.
For monolithic systems, you should conduct an audit of your architecture to see if you need to keep parts of the old system and decide how new technologies will interact with older ones, to nip in the bud possible business and operational disruptions. For the lack of specialists that can handle certain parts of the coding, you probably need to rewrite different components using the new tech stack and combine them properly in the process of modernization. As for security, assessing risk exposure before, during, and post-upgrade is mandatory. After the upgrade, maintaining a set of standards, processes, and proper documentation, can help avoid certain negative aspects, such as lack of agility, when you’ll need to make a change next time, in the future.
Consultancy, Cloud and Big Data Services
You might not know or might not have the proper experience to determine exactly which legacy systems need to be upgraded and which systems can still provide value for your business. In this case, opting for a partner that can provide both consultancy and audit services can ease this whole process for you.
If you need help in either auditing or switching or upgrading your current legacy systems or applications, we offer full services: from consultancy and auditing, to migrating to the cloud and building big data architectures for businesses of all sizes and industries. The right vendor can help you assess the implications of such a transition and be by your side with the fitting team during the whole process.
About the Author
An enthusiastic writing and communication specialist, Andreea Jakab is keen on technology and enjoys writing about cloud platforms, big data, infrastructure, gaming, and more. In her role as Social Media & Content Strategist at eSolutions.tech, she focuses on creating content and developing marketing strategies for the eSolutions’ blog and social media platforms.