Where to start: Managing the pressure to modernise legacy systems

Most large enterprise executives have been feeling the pressure to upgrade legacy systems due to risks, costs, missing functionality, technical debt, and the growing necessity for digital offerings in every industry. In a complex landscape with bulky IT architectures that have been assembled over decades, how do you know what to modernise and which route to take? Legacy systems are often complex, affect multiple business units, rely on niche skills, and it’s difficult to know where to start.

We have previously asked the question: Is upgrading your legacy systems a digital advantage or a giant waste of money? To answer this, technology executives will need to look at their entire IT landscape and establish a holistic and coherent strategy which starts with a mapping out of their as-is landscape. This can become the basis for a forward plan to address each platform, system or product on a priority basis in the direction of modernisation.

A practical modernisation strategy should include a wide range of initiatives tailored to each component in your map. Looking across the full picture, certain systems may not need to be modernised at all. These are stable enough to continue without any adjustments, or are planned for decommissioning. On the other hand, there will be a set of systems that are clear candidates to be replaced entirely, under the banner of innovation, risk or cost. The balance of platforms will then land in the “uncertain” category. It may not be immediately clear whether there is enough of a risk (or benefit) to modernise these systems. In these instances, further work is required to assess the best way forward.

Your modernisation strategy can then be meaningfully composed of a practical and cost-effective mix of 5 approaches applied to each platform or system in your map, depending on where each one falls.

1. Assess
Assessments are used when you’re not entirely sure whether to modernise that specific system. This step is intended to undertake a full review of the purpose, functionality and audience for this technology, and create a business case for modernisation (or against it!) If there are good reasons to proceed, the case should also recommend which strategy to deploy: re-host, rewrite, renew, retire, replace, or convert these systems.

2. Analyse
During the analysis approach, business requirements are extracted from packaged or legacy software applications to gain a deeper understanding of underlying business methods. Systems are reverse engineered in readiness to make it redundant, either with a new system, or by dissolving its responsibility across many other systems.

3. Enhance
Legacy systems are often complex and interconnected, with lots of built up technical debt. Application remediation allows you to enhance and improve current systems’ functionality without having to replace them entirely. This avoids wasting money and time on replacing the whole system, by rather just removing a bottleneck and promoting simpler integration.

4. Re-platform
In certain instances, a legacy application component will only need to be migrated to a newer, more efficient technology platform that has been nominated by the organisation. This is an administrative step that can reduce operational costs or licensing exposure, but also ensures consistency in the landscape by keeping things together, organised and secure.

5. Replace
During this approach, an application component is decommissioned entirely and replaced with a new system that takes current business needs into account. Usually this is necessary for critical line-of-business systems, competitive differentiators, or to enable new product lines which are dependent on these systems.

The need for technology-based or supported services in every organisation means that the pressure to modernise our ecosystems will not relent. It’s not only about competitive ability though. There are cost-saving opportunities where newer platforms can displace older license-intensive tools, and many modern technologies that drive the customer experience or scalability we need to differentiate. These newer technologies rely on platforms, data and functionality that a legacy technology layer can’t accommodate.

So where do you start? Start with a balanced strategy. A strategy that maps out the differing modernisation needs for each system in your landscape. This becomes a list of modernisation projects which can be prioritised in a tactical and strategic way. Usually this list looks at critical risk, customer needs, business outcome and profit and outlines a holistic strategy of technology-enablement for your business.

Related Articles

Three | Thirty
Leaping to the cloud
The promise and reality of
digital identities
to failure