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How To Modernize Your Legacy Systems

min read

published on

March 30, 2022

How to modernize your legacy systems without disrupting your business

Some things get better with age. Wine. Whisky. Cheese. Friends. Antiques.

But technology? Not so much. It’s the reason you’re probably reading this article on a shiny new laptop or the latest smartphone, rather than printing it off from the nearest fax machine.

Despite that, many businesses are still prone to operate with outdated technology, infrastructures and processes. Whether it’s SAP (Systems Applications and Products) systems or on-prem e-commerce platforms, these ‘legacy systems’ are slow to operate, increasingly frustrating to use and unnecessarily expensive to maintain. 

The problem is pervasive; even billion dollar businesses are guilty of persisting with sub-optimal technology. But it’s particularly prevalent in the world of B2B. One explanation for this is that modernization is usually driven by the growing demands and expectations of consumers. When you’re selling to other businesses who are operating with equally outdated technology, then those expectations just aren’t as high.

So, if these legacy systems are so bad for business, why aren’t more businesses doing something about it?

Common answers given to this question include the upfront cost of overhauling their IT infrastructure, the time commitment required and the fact that staff are simply “used to using the old systems.”

These aren’t reasons. They’re excuses. And they’re stopping you from reaching your full potential.

What is legacy modernization, and why do it?

If a legacy system is an outdated technology infrastructure, then legacy modernization refers to the process of updating and optimizing that infrastructure in order to enhance your business goals. This has a huge impact on employee productivity, but there are a host of other benefits too:

1. Streamlining operations and improving efficiencies
2. Removing technology constraints
3. Reducing costs associated with IT upkeep
4. Improving customer experience
5. Supporting the integration of new technology solutions across the business
6. Boosting cybersecurity protection and compliance regulation
7. Staying ahead of competitors

That last point is perhaps the most important. Falling behind your competitors in terms of your tech capabilities is one of the quickest ways to lose business to them.

Remember, it doesn’t always require a complete overhaul

This is an important point, so we’ll say it again just to be sure. Modernizing a legacy system does not necessarily mean replacing it entirely. On the contrary. The very best modernization solutions build upon the data and intelligence stored within your legacy systems and leverage new technology to unlock their potential. Complete overhauls are a last resort; more often than not, there is a solution out there which can monetize your legacy system without having to replace it.

When is the right time to modernize? 

If you’re even asking this question, it’s probably the right time. You wouldn’t be asking the question in the first place if your existing system was still up to scratch. But when that time comes, the longer you linger, the longer your legacy system slows you down, and the longer it takes for a modern system to get you back up to speed.

Once you’ve made the decision to modernize, it’s important to ask yourself a few questions. Has your company undergone a legacy system migration before? What expectations do you have? How big is your budget, and how long is your timeline? Once you know the answers, you’ll be better prepared to oversee a successful modernization project.

Then it’s just a case of choosing the right approach…

How can I approach my legacy system modernization?

There are six generally accepted approaches to legacy modernization, otherwise known as the ‘six Rs’, each with different benefits and impacts. We’ve ordered them below from least risky to most risky - the more risky the approach, the larger the impact it will have across your business.

1. Retain
Maintain your current system with no changes or updates.

Depending on wider events taking place at your company, sometimes it just doesn’t make sense to undergo any major changes for the time being. For that reason, you retain your existing system as it is. You may add some new tech capabilities here and there, but the core system? That stays the same.

That being said, just because you don’t need to modernize right here, right now, doesn’t mean you won’t need to in the near future. Retention is a short-term strategy. So plan ahead, and identify a time where the opportunity for change will come.

2. Rehost
Redeploy legacy elements in a new environment (i.e. a cloud infrastructure) without any modifications to code or functionality.

Rehosting is an effective way for organizations to maintain the data stored in their legacy systems while simultaneously leveraging the performance and security advantages of modern tech. Rather than re-engineering the whole system, rehosting allows you to effectively ‘lift’ your existing infrastructure and place it somewhere new. If it sounds simple, that’s because it is.

While rehosting allows you to move to a new environment, it won’t necessarily give you access to all the benefits of that new environment. You’ll still be operating with an outdated system at the center, just in nicer surroundings.

3. Replatform
Migrate to a new platform with minimal code changes.

In this approach, businesses port their legacy components over to a new runtime platform. Developers can adapt your original code to its new platform by making minimal changes, leaving your system’s features and function untouched.

Once they’re using this new platform, organizations can benefit from reduced infrastructure costs and improved performance, all while exerting minimal effort. That makes replatforming a sensible option for maintaining the value of your legacy investment.

4. Restructure
Shift to an entirely different application architecture and exploit new and better capabilities.

This option identifies the most business critical legacy components and optimizes their code for improved performance. Often these changes are focused on improving the backend of your system, leaving the frontend’s functionality relatively untouched. That makes the restructure approach less disruptive than a complete rewrite, although there are limits to how much change it can bring.

5. Rebuild
Restructure and optimize your legacy elements within a cloud native environment.

A full rebuild is the most expensive, most time consuming but also most rewarding route available to your business. It’s the option which the majority of businesses choose, because the end result is a fully modernized, cloud native environment. 

Whereas the other approaches available to you only partially elevate your existing system, rebuilding allows you to optimize it from the ground up. This results in more flexibility, better performance and lower operating costs when compared to the process of keeping legacy systems updated.

6. Replace
Eliminate your existing system altogether and replace it with something that better addresses your new requirements and needs.

If your legacy system is truly unsalvageable, then decommissioning it entirely and replacing it with a completely new solution may well be your best way forward. In many cases, this will be a SaaS solution that is better optimized to your business processes.

Completely replacing your legacy systems can be a faster, more direct route to modernization, but bear in mind that it requires a significant amount of planning. You need to understand exactly how your existing data will migrate to the new system, as well as how much training it will require to operate effectively.

Which approach is right for me?

Whether you opt for a less disruptive approach or a complete overhaul will largely depend on the performance of your existing system, as well as your ambitions for how advanced you want your business to become. But, if you’re struggling to identify the right approach for you, ask yourself the following questions:

* Which workloads have the most value to my business, and where are there opportunities to modernize?
* In which areas will new technology deliver better outcomes and the largest ROI?
* How much is it costing to maintain my legacy system already and how much can I afford to spend?
* How much disruption can my business take, and what risks are associated with modernizing (as well as keeping my legacy system as-is)?
* Do I need to factor in any new skills, training and processes into the timeline?
* What do I need to do to protect my system from data loss, outages or exposure?

And if you’re still concerned about the disruption which modernization might bring, think back to the day you first powered up your existing system. Chances are, that system was brought in to modernize a legacy system of its own, just like that system replaced another system before it.

When you look back at the history of technology within business operations, you’ll realize that modernization isn’t a huge, scary leap. It’s a necessary step in an ongoing cycle.

Are you ready to take it?

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About the author
Sixtine Millot
Head of Operations @ DJUST

Expert in topics on B2B operations, supply chain, logistics, and HR.

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