5th August 2020
I know that upgrading legacy systems can be time consuming. And costly. Even painful. Whether you’re an old school CTO that just wants to keep things running smoothly or a progressive technologist who’s focussed on moving forward, there’s no denying that consolidating multiple technologies and updating technical systems across an organisation is a challenge.
The first hurdle is convincing people that change is necessary. Even if the existing systems don’t work well, many people will object to a different solution simply because they don’t want to have to learn how to use it. Often, it’s not that they don’t want to upgrade the legacy systems, it’s just a matter of prioritising this against all the other work they have to do. Then you’ve got to consider the costs, the security and data management implications and the practicalities of implementation.
But change is inevitable and, whether your upgrade is motivated by growth, an acquisition, restructuring, or the simple replacement of outdated technology, it’s up to you to make sure that it’s as painless and rewarding as possible. Here’s the approach we’ve used to help clients like Valley Bank do exactly that.
Key considerations for updating your legacy system
Upgrading legacy systems isn’t only challenging, it’s also complex. We can’t break down every factor that goes into the process in this short blog, but adopting the following principles can help inform some of the decisions you’ll face along the way.
Every company is a tech company
This is especially true in the “new normal”. Even the smallest high-street shop now relies on their website, social media and apps to do business and, if you don’t embrace these tools then you risk having someone steal your customers away by offering digital options that provide more interaction and a better customer experience.
It’s a marathon, not a sprint
Be open to change. The environment around you today will influence your decisions but, in a few years, you’ll need to adapt your processes and technology to suit the new landscape. While SaaS platforms provide API’s, webhooks and other integration tools to make it easier than ever before to migrate systems, you should still ensure that your choices are well-informed by doing your research – is the solution you’re considering well supported, updated regularly and delivers against the vendors’ promises? How does the new system fit into your wider technology / business roadmap?
Technology is just an enabler
Even though your business relies on technology, upgrading your legacy systems shouldn’t be a technology-led process. Focus on identifying the problems you’re trying to solve and the outcomes you want to achieve and then look for tools that will help you achieve those outcomes.
With these principles in mind, you can then start the process of upgrading your legacy systems in three stages.
The 3-step legacy system replacement strategy
Step 1: Do a thorough technology evaluation
It’s impossible to understand the impact of any changes you might make without a good audit of the systems in place and how they work together. And it’s not just about the hardware or software – you need to consider the scripts and batch files and other “glue” that holds these systems together to ensure that any changes don’t have unexpected – and unfortunate – consequences.
Step 2: Identify the problems
Look at support tickets and speak to users to identify legacy system pain points. Then track the flow of data and dependencies between different tech stacks to identify the root cause of the problem. You might find, for example, that a lot of support tickets are raised from your accounts software, but that the problem actually originates in another system that feeds into this software.
Step 3: Plan and execute systematic change
While a total transformation and replacement of systems can be the optimal way to solve legacy issues, it’s not always financially or logistically viable – or even necessary. Alternative approaches that should be considered during this stage include: the incremental replacement of technology over time and the duct tape approach – where you replatform or re-architect to improve existing systems. If all of these introduce too much risk or expense, then you may need to simply maintain the status quo – at least you’ll have the information you need about your systems and where your problems stem from when you’re in a position to move forward.
Technology changes so quickly and it’s hard to balance the limitations of being stuck on an old stack against the risk of early adoption. Often the safest bet is the solution that’s most popular in your sector – just don’t buy into something for the sake of it, or without doing your due diligence. Finally, remember that new technology won’t fix anything if you don’t have the support of the people that are responsible for making it work.
Get in touch if you’re embarking on a legacy system upgrade and would like to find out how ORM can help.