NeuEon Insights / Technology Selection & Program Management

Three Ways To Get The Most Value From Legacy Technology

No matter how much organizations want to get rid of legacy technology, virtually all of us still have it in our businesses. In one company, this may be something as simple as an old PC running a piece of software or housing an intricate spreadsheet the business simply can’t live without. In another, it could be an old server housing a sophisticated, bespoke ERP system created by a team of industry experts decades ago that no one wants to touch for fear it will break.

Regardless, legacy systems continue to run mission-critical business processes in most organizations. In fact, a recent survey indicates over two-thirds of businesses still use mainframe or legacy apps for core business operations, and more than 60% rely on them to power customer-facing applications.

Unfortunately, the risk of performance issues—or outright failure—is hard to ignore, and it’s challenging to find people with the skills needed to work in these older technologies. For this and other reasons, technology leaders are under pressure to replace legacy systems with more modern solutions.

Consider this, however: While legacy systems can seem like anchors that slow us down, they are also key strategic assets we’ve built over time. They’ve served us well for decades, delivering significant business value to our organizations. Why are we so eager to invest more to replace them when they still provide what the business needs?

Rather than moving directly to replacement, let’s figure out how to continue wringing the most value out of legacy systems while planning for a future in which they could remain for quite some time. We’re sharing three techniques for achieving this goal.

1. Reduce the physical footprint.

Whether your lease is running out, you want to downsize or you’re seeking to reduce the rack and server room space your team manages, eliminating hardware may be an ideal strategy in today’s cloud-centric world. Global spending on cloud IT infrastructure has increased from $22.3 billion in 2013 to an estimated $90 billion in 2022, and it’s projected to reach $133.7 billion by 2026.

Infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) offerings have matured and been well tested through the Covid-19 pandemic. And numerous cloud service providers (CSPs) are on the market and ready to host your legacy systems on virtualized servers in world-class data centers for a predictable monthly fee.

Since maintaining and upgrading old hardware and operating systems in-house is challenging and expensive, many clients we work with decide the best way to continue maximizing the value of their legacy solutions is by migrating them to cloud infrastructure. With this approach, companies no longer have to worry about maintaining cooling, electricity and internet connectivity for their servers. Nor must they be concerned with refreshing hardware, managing security and backups or recovering from failures. Instead, they can focus on running their business from any location they choose, whether in the office or at a remote location.

When done well, migrating legacy systems from an on-premise data center to virtualized servers in the cloud improves security, boosts reliability and saves money, all while keeping valuable business processes that rely on legacy applications running smoothly.

2. Migrate functionality.

Another strategy for maximizing legacy value while mitigating risk is to reduce the work the legacy system is performing by migrating parts of it to more modern offerings. By breaking down the legacy system’s functionality into components, you can determine what the platform does well and what it does poorly. With that information, creating a phased plan to move some functions to newer solutions is possible.

For example, perhaps you have a mainframe system that performs customer relationship management, material requirements planning, warehouse management and reporting functions. If you’ve spent years developing sophisticated business logic for pricing or calculating commissions, it could make sense to keep using the legacy system for those purposes.

On the other hand, if your employees frequently request bespoke reporting or analysis deliverables that require significant time from a skilled legacy developer, reporting may be a prime candidate for migration—because many of today’s leading business intelligence and analytics platforms allow users to develop the standard columnar reports they prefer, but they also enable data discovery and provide new ways to analyze and visualize the data.

3. Encapsulate and integrate.

A final strategy is encapsulation—a technique that leaves the legacy system in place but treats it like a black box. Teams build integrations so that certain functions can take place outside the system. This relies on robust data integration tools that can provide real- or near-real-time data mirroring of the legacy system to the modern data repository.

When combined with the prior technique of migrating legacy functionality to newer solutions, organizations can gradually reduce their reliance on legacy technology. As new solutions are introduced to replace the functions previously performed by the legacy platform, those functions can be disabled in the old system. This approach can help successfully shift customer service functions from a legacy “green screen” system to a more user-friendly, web-based customer relationship management application.

The bottom line is that eliminating legacy technology that has been deeply embedded in our organizations for decades is not an easy task, often taking years. But, by focusing on maximizing the value it can still provide with an eye toward reducing risk, those legacy systems can continue to serve us well while we invest our time, money and energy in other, more important, areas.

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