The start of a new year has a reputation for prompting big-picture conversations about the state of an organization, evaluations of existing systems, and, of course, plans for the future. For most organizations, it’s nearly impossible to have any of these conversations without taking into consideration the organization’s IT infrastructure and, likely, its legacy systems. As much as no one likes to admit it, legacy systems can hinder these plans, leaving organizations to simply put band-aids on their pain points and continue limping into the future, hoping that their competitors are also experiencing the same growth hinderances.
The real costs of legacy systems
31% of respondents in a survey completed by Ipsos for AppDirect said that the expense of upgrading legacy systems was impacting their digital transformation efforts. This was the third biggest challenge, behind company culture and the question of whether to build or buy, confirming that cost is a top reason organizations are hesitant to make IT infrastructure improvements or migrate to the cloud. So, are these costs a legitimate reason to maintain the status quo? For some organizations, they could be, but we regularly see that most cost analyses are missing some key line items.
Legacy systems and security
Security is often cited as a reason to keep legacy systems and while using technology old enough that hackers aren’t interested in attacking it sounds pretty good, the fact is that legacy systems can absolutely be attacked and, in fact, can be more vulnerable. For example, the way that we encrypt personal information has come a long way in the last ten years, so if an attack on a legacy system is successful, the damage can be more devastating, even if the attacks seem to be less frequent.
Maintaining systems no longer being serviced
Let’s think of a legacy system like an old car you love. Even if the car has been maintained well, taken for proper oil changes, and cared for by its owner, the number of people and parts able to fix it will dwindle over time. It can be difficult to find someone with knowledge of the engine and even if you can find someone, that person’s specialized knowledge makes them expensive to employ. Legacy systems have the same problems. Individuals retire, systems are no longer serviced by their creators, and trying to support them as they age only gets more and more expensive.
Cost of competition
Although difficult to measure, the cost of an organization falling behind their competitors due to legacy systems can be substantial. Cloud technology, automation, and AI are all the kinds of innovations that could be adopted and give organizations a major competitive edge. In the same AppDirect study we mentioned earlier, the number two reason respondents gave for adopting digital transformation initiatives was to stay competitive. The only reason that scored higher was growth.
Growth and innovation
As unfortunate as it may be, legacy systems are often the enemy of innovation and growth. They are notorious for not playing well with new technology and in 2019, this is a big deal. This is probably why 78% of companies are currently in the process of digital transformation, ensuring that their organizations are better able to grow and that IT won’t be a barrier for future innovation.
6 Quick questions to ask yourself about your legacy systems:
- Do your employees regularly use “workarounds” to complete their daily tasks because your systems can’t actually do what they need them to do?
- Have you analyzed the total costs of maintaining legacy systems and compared them to the cost of making infrastructure improvements or moving to the cloud?
- Are the people helping maintain your legacy systems nearing retirement or becoming difficult to find and expensive?
- What would happen if your legacy systems failed?
- Does your system ever hinder company growth or innovation?
- Are customers receiving the service they expect from an organization like yours in 2019?
Because we can’t have too many metaphors, it’s tempting to see legacy systems as stable, mature oak trees, able to stand the test of time. Why mess with something you know works? The truth is that many legacy systems are more like a tree that has already died but isn’t showing its frailty yet. One good windstorm and that tree is going over.
Consider what would happen to your organization if your legacy systems toppled. Wouldn’t you prefer to pull them out and stay in control of the process? Digital transformation planning can help you to evaluate all of your current systems and develop a roadmap for digital transformation, preparing your organization for future growth and innovation.