Six Tips for Modernizing Legacy IT systems

In normal terms, inheriting a legacy would sometimes be taken positively as you are being handed over something received from an ancestor or predecessor and could be of immense value.

One such example is of railways that the British Empire built in the past and left as a legacy in the colonies they ruled.

But in the technology world, the word legacy is not seen as a positive.

Gartner defines a legacy system as “An information system that may be based on outdated technologies but is critical to day-to-day operations.”

For most organisations that still operate on legacy technologies, this is a very painful area.

Organisations of all sizes across all verticals are struggling with aging, complex legacy applications as they sit on the outdated technology, bloated with innovation, and difficult to support, maintain, scale or integrate with the new platforms.

Legacy systems are not always defined by their age but may be due to their inability or lack of support to meet the current and future business requirements.

Covid-19 in 2020 has been a catalyst for digital transformation in several organisations. Those who were delaying the digital transformation journey suddenly had a wakeup call and realised that it was a necessity for their business to survive.

Therefore, it is the peak time for organisations with legacy platforms to modernise them and drive improved customer experience.

The key objective of the legacy platform modernisation process is adding effective value to the existing technology landscape.

Application modernisation is the constant progress of transforming legacy systems to improve RoI by reducing IT costs and complexity, maintain data integrity to support advanced analytics/business intelligence, enhance process flexibility and enable cross-platform collaboration. It converts the existing system to an intuitive and easy-to-use modern web platform that enhances customer experience.

Many organisations are trying to solve the legacy modernisation challenge internally. Some find themselves constrained due to their lack of out-of-box thinking.

In my experience, this challenge of modernisation should be thrown at leading Systems Integrators (SIs) who have over the years successfully delivered a number of legacy modernisations and developed best practices and tools to help organisations benefit from their expertise.

It always helps to get an outside-in perspective from SIs who do this for a living as one of their core competencies to drive digital transformation. SIs have been through a series of challenging client environments and helped them modernise.

Many SIs now offer a risk-reward model for legacy modernisation with no upfront cost to the clients. SIs are happy to deliver a PoC at no cost to their client organisation to demonstrate their capabilities and expertise in modernising legacy applications to newer technologies.

Once the PoC is successfully delivered, the SIs will propose a commercial model where they take a share of cost savings based on the total cost of ownership (TCO) model for the legacy platforms.  Since the risk-reward model is TCO based, it is important that the

CIO can calculate this (TCO) for legacy systems and use that figure to negotiate the commercial model with the SI partner.

Here are 6 things to consider when discussing the legacy platform modernisation with your SI partner and business stakeholders:

  1. Modernising doesn’t necessarily mean updating old with new technology; it can also mean eliminating. Several organisations carry the cost and complexity of legacy platforms for decades without challenging their stakeholders the real need and value of those systems. Organisations need to take bold steps such as elimination and consolidation as part of their modernisation initiatives.
  1. Your Enterprise Architecture (EA) will play a very crucial role in defining your buy, sell and hold strategy for the technology stack. Seek guidance from them to ensure your legacy platforms are being modernised to a technology stack aligned with your organisation technology eco-system. Do not let your SI partner decide the technology stack for modernisation. The CIO organisation should have a final say on this as ultimately, the CIO will be responsible to support the modernised system going forward post go live.
  1. Engage with your key stakeholders to understand their business strategy and goals. It is important that any modernisation plans you make are aligned with the business strategy. The last thing you want is to migrate from a legacy platform to a new one that also turns into a legacy as it cannot meet the growing business demands to align with the new business strategy.
  1. Don’t take a big bang approach, embrace a calibrated plan. Though the organisation is keen to get off the legacy platforms as soon as possible and your SI partner will promise a smooth migration, this is not a recommended approach. There are several unknowns risks and dependencies with legacy platforms that should not be undermined. These risks and dependencies surface only when you start the modernisation and hence a calibrated approach works best.
  1. The difference between some of the successful new generation organisations who heavily rely on technology is that their approach is more product based rather than project-based. We should learn from these new breeds of organisations and move away from thinking of a modernisation initiative as a project with a start and end date and more like a product (Dev Ops model) where there’s always room for adding more functionalities at a later date.
  1. With most current client organisations requiring very high information security standards to protect confidential/sensitive data, it is important that you engage with your CISO or information security subject matter experts to define your security requirements. Also, evaluate the use of third-party penetration testing providers to conduct a rigorous test on your new systems prior to going live. This will ensure any security vulnerabilities are identified in advance to protect your organisation from financial penalties and reputational damages.

To summarise, modernising legacy systems leave you with pretty much 3 choices rather than do nothing – choosing between rearchitecting, rebuilding or replacing.

Delaying or postponing the modernisation is no longer a viable option as the longer you leave it for later the higher will be challenges of dealing with it.

A simple analogy is if you want to run faster and achieve your goals, you need to shed the excess baggage on your shoulders.

Legacy modernisation is the step towards shedding that excess load your organisation is carrying!


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