What is a Legacy System and Legacy Software?

blog
Logo NIX

Legacy. The word itself has a very long and can trace its lineage back to Roman times. Depending on how it is used, a legacy can be something quite amazing – for example, a gift from an ancestor. Sadly, a legacy system as well as legacy software do not share those same positive connotations. While these systems and software packages are often essential within an organization, their negative impact on business operations can be significant.

Legacy Systems & Legacy Software

A legacy system includes outdated hardware and software that are still being used by a business. While the initial functions the solution was purchased for are still being performed, legacy systems and legacy software cannot be upgraded or changed to account for growth and changing market conditions.

A legacy system is frozen in time which limits its potential usability. As companies add new technology, legacy systems often lack the right interface or language to enable communication. This often means that businesses are forced to stay in the stone age instead of embracing the latest technology offerings.

Legacy System Types

When considering legacy systems, there are five different types of issues or problems that companies can encounter.

End of Life

Perhaps the most common legacy system type, end of life (EOL) legacy systems are everywhere. The reason for EOL systems is actually fairly simple. Vendors and Developers are businesses too. They also need to stay current with the latest technology. This often means that systems designed with older legacy software fall out of support as the resources and knowledge are either lost or become too expensive to maintain. With EOL legacy systems, vendors stop offering updates and discontinue selling the product.

No Updates

With an EOL legacy system, the vendor might offer to upgrade you to a new solution that offers similar functionality. If this option is not available, however, businesses are stuck. In the case where no updates are available, businesses need to consider alternatives whether that is a new software solution or a new provider, or both.

Scalability

Legacy systems and legacy software were designed at a time where specific infrastructure was available. As such newer technologies – for example, AI, the cloud, and big data – are things they are unable to support. In this case, the legacy solution will not be able to grow with the business and a new alternative will need to be explored.

Patches

Security patches are critical for many systems, however as time progresses, older legacy systems become more and more vulnerable. If the original developer has stopped supporting the product (EOL) then the risk can become critical.

Knowledge and Training

As technologies change, new resources hired often lack knowledge of how legacy software solutions work. While some training can be provided, the impact can become quite severe as time progresses. 

Understand the risk of a legacy system or legacy software solution to your business

Why are Legacy Systems Still Used?

The fact of the matter is that legacy systems are often deeply embedded into a company’s business processes. Depending on why the system has become obsolete, the risk of changing it might be too high and in many cases, companies have found ways to “make do” even if the cost of doing so is considerable. 

However, while doing nothing might be the easier solution, it is not the right one as keeping legacy systems in your environment can have some serious business risks that need to be understood.

Identifying Legacy Systems 

Legacy software and legacy systems can often be identified by their age. In many cases, these solutions are quite outdated. In addition to age, another consideration is performance. As legacy systems often run on older hardware, you can expect that they will not perform to the same level as newer systems.

Other ways of identifying legacy systems and legacy software include the support that you might or might not receive from your vendor. If the vendor is no longer selling that solution, they are unlikely to help if you have a problem. 

Finally, try to understand if the legacy solution can be integrated with other, newer, solutions that you might have in your network. You will often find that the integrations they offer are limited in scope and capacity restricting their usefulness.

After identifying a legacy system, the question then becomes what next. You need to understand if a replacement is a right solution and if so, what impact that will have on the business. As time progresses you will almost definitely need to replace it as the risk it will start to bring will outweigh any usefulness. 

Consequences of Using Legacy Software

There are many risks that businesses can face by using legacy software. 

Understand the risk of a legacy system or legacy software solution to your business

Maintenance & Support

When considering maintenance and support there are quite a few different areas that need to be considered. Legacy software for example can be quite complicated and cumbersome with a very large codebase. An update in one area could easily impact others causing unforeseen issues. Changes to legacy software codebases should be made very carefully and with lots of testing.

Similar to the issue with software, legacy systems and hardware are also more expensive and costly to maintain. In many cases, legacy software requires a specific legacy hardware infrastructure which only further compounds the problem. 

Integration and Compliance

Modern systems often use a third party, specialist API to access specific functions and capabilities. This route saves time, money, and resources versus recreating the wheel over and over. Often legacy systems and legacy software lack the capabilities to support these APIs and require the creation of custom code to enable connectivity (if this is in fact possible).

In addition to the failure of connectivity, legacy systems also need more work from a compliance point of view. With new laws for data privacy and security being released regularly, legacy systems often lack the ability to comply as they simply were not designed with those requirements in mind.

Security

Legacy systems are more vulnerable than those that are more modern. They do not have the same protections in place to repel cyberattacks or malware. Simply put, as these systems have been around for years, malicious individuals have had greater opportunities to discover ways to bypass their protection.

New systems are not completely resistant to attack, but vendors regularly release security patches to plug vulnerabilities that are discovered. These protections are not available with legacy systems.

Lost Business

Legacy systems impact the bottom line in other ways also. Older solutions are unable to provide the same level of flexibility as newer digital solutions. This often leaves businesses that depend on legacy systems floundering against younger and more nimble competitors.

Organizational Agility and Efficiency

Companies that are stuck with legacy systems and legacy software are also stuck with legacy processes. Sadly this makes them less efficient than organizations that are able to use the latest tools and technologies in their business practices. 

Modern companies that have embraced newer methodologies and technologies like agile for instance report an increased throughput of 30-50% in comparison to their older counterparts.

Legacy Software Modernization and Migration

To transition from a legacy software solution to a more modern solution, one key element needs to be maintained. That is the data within the legacy system. Data is the lifeblood of a company and should be transitioned to a new system to maintain efficiencies. 

Done correctly, data migration requires several steps as it is not a simple matter to copy it from one system and then paste it into another. With data migration, existing data needs to be extracted. This data might reside across multiple systems so compiling it correctly is important.

Once the data has been gathered it needs to be mapped to the new schema so that the new system can manipulate it correctly. During this stage, the data also needs to be cleansed as uploading duplicate or incorrect information is only a waste of time and resources.

The final stage is validating the data to ensure that it can be read and used by the new solution after which it is uploaded to the solution so that it is available and ready to use. You would also consider training for staff that uses these systems in this step as that also needs to be done to ensure they are efficient with the new solution.

Conclusion

When transitioning from a legacy system or legacy software package to a new solution, you do not need to do it all yourself. Instead, make sure that you have the right partner in your corner. This company needs to not only understand business but also have prior experience in leading and modernizing legacy projects.

Understand the risk of a legacy system or legacy software solution to your business
Understand the risk of a legacy system or legacy software solution to your business
Understand the risk of a legacy system or legacy software solution to your business

If you are looking for a partner, consider NIX. We have extensive experience with similar large scale projects where we were involved at every stage of the process. Our team will work with you to understand your current solution in-depth and then discuss suitable alternatives that will let you realize the benefits of modernization.