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Broken lightbulb representing the problems with legacy systems

The past two decades have seen enterprise IT emerge and grow, bringing many innovative technologies into the workplace. Every year that passes promises IT system upgrades rendering some systems and programs obsolete much sooner than in tech's early days. Yet some older hardware and software remain in use. These outdated systems, known as legacy systems, put companies at a huge disadvantage compared with competitors embracing modern technology.  However, a company might stick with a legacy system or program for certain reasons. Old, outdated software might serve a critical business function. Production equipment might be tied to an old PC and expansion cards that aren't compatible with new software, which is one of the problems with legacy systems. Sometimes, legacy tech remains because people are resistant to change.  It might seem easier just to keep the old tech in place.

Examples of Legacy Systems

Various types of legacy systems are used every day in organizations across the globe. Some examples of legacy systems we've seen still running, way past their prime, include:

  • Electronic microscopes that depend on old operating systems like Windows 95. 
  • Intel 286 systems used in sales terminals. 
  • Manufacturing equipment powered by MS-DOS applications. 
  • An old Apple IIGS machine that runs necessary financial software.
  • Voicemail systems that depend on hardware and software from the early 1990s. 

Aside from the obvious "if it breaks, we can't fix it" dilemma, there are other problems with legacy systems tech could prove detrimental to an organization.

Other Problems with Legacy Systems

Why are legacy systems discouraged? In addition to data integration and remote connectivity challenges, other other problems with legacy systems issues include:

Security Risks and Data Breaches

Legacy systems leave networks wide open to security attacks and data breaches. IT systems are frequently updated in reaction to increasingly sophisticated cybercriminals and modern security threats. Older and outdated hardware stopped receiving security updates long ago — their exploitable vulnerabilities well-known in the hacker community. These vulnerabilities leave a company's data security severely compromised.

Lack of Integration with Modern Systems

Legacy systems typically use long-outdated software and communication protocols, which is another problems with legacy systems. Especially antiquated systems may lack internet connectivity or the ability to even run modern apps like a web browser. If your systems can't use the tools the rest of the world uses, you're losing information in data silos. These issues hinder your ability to work with B2B partners, external stakeholders, and your customers. Sharing files with customers is a common scenario these days. Even if you find a way around connectivity problems, customers and vendors probably can't open or view your legacy system's file formats. Unfortunately, you may lose credibility for not keeping up with today's trends and tech innovations. Modern systems let you send data in a way customers expect, like automating the exchange of data via APIs.

Unmanageable IT Costs

You might think holding on to your current systems is more cost-effective than replacement with new technologies. But the opposite becomes true when updates and support dry up for legacy systems. IT staff spend an excessive amount of time keeping old hardware functioning. This time would be better spent working towards creating and accomplishing digital strategy goals. Even attempting to share data with internal stakeholders can be difficult. Employees with the latest computers can't work if files are in outdated, unreadable formats. This again leads to unnecessary maintenance costs that would be better spent elsewhere.

Technical Debt

When your systems haven't undergone a modernization process, you run the risk of incurring technical debt. That's the concept that says systems that fill one particular niche without being part of a larger integrated process are more costly in the long run. When systems are kept in place to "save money," they often have the opposite effect. The time spent working around a system that's not integrated and the lost opportunities of not having a new system all contribute to technical debt. This can significantly impact an IT group's bottom line, even if it's not readily apparent.

Falling Out of Compliance

Today's software automatically updates through a web connection or cloud server. Many legacy systems were created before the internet was widely adopted, so finding security updates can be a near-impossible task. You can try contacting the vendor, but there's a good chance they're no longer in business. Instead, your only option may be crawling through ancient FTP servers, looking for updated packages or newer versions of the legacy software.   All businesses and professions have security standards, even software development. By keeping older systems without updates around, you risk falling out of certification. If some of your key business processes revolve around using legacy technology, you may not be able to apply for certification.   Situations like this almost ensure that you'll be out of compliance with modern information security standards.  No company wants to be in this position, as it will surely cost you customers.

Benefits of Replacing Legacy Systems

Change is one of the hardest things for human beings to go through. When it comes to how we get our work done, we can be especially stubborn. Systems that have "just worked" for years are hard to walk away from. The change management process is always complicated for an IT group — especially more recent graduates who may have never learned old programming languages. So, it's understandable that companies want to hang on to legacy systems that have given them years — or even decades — of continued service. As difficult as it might seem to make these changes, there are multiple benefits of replacing legacy systems, such as:

Better Customer Interactions

Once you replace your legacy systems with modern solutions, information sharing with customers is no longer a concern. You can work with acceptable file formats or even automate your B2B data exchange via APIs. Customers won't think of your company as obsolete anymore when you upgrade to modern and efficient technology.

Improvements in Performance and Reliability

There's no doubt that legacy systems require an incredible amount of maintenance. As with any machine, older computer hardware wears out over time. Production equipment from decades past often relies on discontinued expansion cards designed for slots that modern computer motherboards just don't have. Incompatibility makes repairs, or even just regular system maintenance, a costly proposition.   Retiring old systems immediately boosts overall performance, even though there may be a slight learning curve. Processing speed and power has grown exponentially over the years — equivalent to the difference between a children's tricycle and a Harley Davidson. Stepping into this era's tech offers more reliable hardware — if you even need hardware at all. PaaS and SaaS services today offer everything you need in a hardware system without the hardware system.

Lowered Capital Expenditures

Speaking of the cloud, not having to invest in hardware can have a positive impact on your bottom line. Hardware, and the staff required to administer and support it, can be very costly. Cloud services, on the other hand, are usually very cost-effective. Instead of a massive upfront capital expenditure, you can typically meet your business's needs with monthly or annual cloud subscriptions.

Increased Revenue

The data that comes from legacy systems is often not in formats that newer systems use. They often use outdated frameworks that can integrate with the rest of your systems. For example, old CRM (customer relationship management) systems are going to be limited in how they can export data. Even with their export options, compatibility issues may still exist when you try to integrate with modern systems. Data from a newer CRM system can be used for business intelligence, metrics and analytics. Once you have that insight into your market, you're better equipped to turn that into increased revenue.

Attracting the Best IT Talent

While there will always be a job for the old COBOL programmer and other experts in legacy systems, you need to ask yourself if this is the type of IT talent that will best serve your organization. Today's IT workforce wants to work with the latest technologies at companies with modern work cultures. The thought of working with outdated legacy systems can be enough to send the best IT talent looking for a job elsewhere.

New Opportunities

Staying competitive in today's business world means being part of the digital economy. Digitally transformed companies have so many opportunities available. Keeping up with technology ensures you're on even footing with your customers — and your competitors.

DreamFactory and Legacy Systems

Here at DreamFactory, we understand — switching from a legacy system to a more modern one can feel inconvenient and challenging. We're here to help you discover what's hindering your business's effective operations.    We have the experts, the tools, and the experience to help you retire your legacy systems and begin your digital transformation journey. Modernizing your systems makes you a competitor in today's cloud-based IT world. Contact us today and request your 14-day free trial.    \

Related Reading:

https://blog.dreamfactory.com/modernizing-business-technology-legacy-system-modernization-through-apis/