Overcoming the challenges of legacy systems

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Legacy systems present a significant challenge for organisations undertaking digital transformation. Legacy systems are internal IT systems that rely on outdated technologies but remain critical to the day-to-day operations of an organisation.

Stefan Van Der Zijden, VP Analyst at Gartner, notes “For many organisations, legacy systems are seen as holding back the business initiatives and business processes that rely on them. When a tipping point is reached, application leaders must look to application modernisation to help remove the obstacles.”

Challenges

Legacy systems can cause a variety of issues for organisations, especially those interested in adopting data-driven technologies such as artificial intelligence and advanced analytics as part of their operations.

  • System Security
    Data security is a major concern, with many legacy systems relying on out-dated security measures such as hard-coded passwords. Further to this, many legacy systems are often incompatible with modern securities features such as two-factor authentication and role-based access. The 2015 OPM Hack occurred in part as a result of security risks associated with the department’s legacy systems.
  • No Longer Fit for Purpose
    Many legacy systems are simply unfit for purpose, in the context of the modern, data-driven work environment. As organisations adopt new solutions and processes on top of their existing legacy infrastructure, integration becomes more difficult resulting in data siloes. A study produced by the MIT Technology Review found that 62% of IT Leaders surveyed felt that integrating legacy systems was the biggest challenge of moving towards a multi-cloud environment.

These issues are often exacerbated further by the limited support legacy systems receive from their developer. Combined, these drawbacks can have a major negative impact on the operational efficiency of an organisation.

We’ve always done it that way

Overhauling and addressing the issues caused by legacy systems is not without challenge. For many organisations, an attitude of “we’ve always done it that way”, often limits the potential value that organisations can drive from their data.

Overhauling legacy systems can often be a costly and time-consuming process. Many organisations simple choose to endure the issues caused by their existing systems out of familiarity and convenience.

In a 2020 article from Forbes, they note that organisations “don’t want to jeopardize the stability of their core applications”.  The article also notes however that the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted many of the shortcomings of these legacy systems, citing a study that found that 66% of IT Professionals believe “the pandemic has exposed weaknesses in their digital strategy”.

Out with the old…

In a recent blog post, we discussed the importance of adopting an effective data strategy. Organisations should adopt a similarly strategic approach when addressing issues related to their legacy systems.

Organisations might also consider an iterative approach to overhauling their legacy systems. This approach can help to address the most the pressing issues presented by legacy systems while allowing organisations to develop clear proof points and to shape the solution to meet their specific requirements (We’ve discussed this approach in a number of previous blog posts – Designing a simple solution, People over processes).

Experts in data

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