Digital transformation is critical to the long-term success of every business. But not every legacy application needs to be modernized immediately.
There are several reasons businesses would choose to keep legacy systems in play, says Dianne Lapierre, a former CIO and director of Lapierre Consulting. The costs of upgrading some systems can often exceed the business value of doing so, for instance. Other systems may be so critical to the business’ function that as long as it’s reliable, it’s not worth upgrading.
An additional reason, adds Bill Clerici, CEO of Kingsmen Software, is the “disruption downstream on other systems that integrate with your legacy system. Understanding all of the dependencies can be a time-consuming task but mission critical to successfully replacing a legacy system.”
Maintaining critical legacy systems while innovating others is easier said than done though, which is why enterprises often turn to third parties for advice and expertise. In doing so, they reap three important benefits.
The Capacity to Modernize and Maintain
In-house development teams have enough on their plates without having to worry about maintaining legacy systems while coding upgrades or building out entirely new applications. Hiring an outside partner means internal resources don’t have to be stretched to a breaking point.
Partnering with a custom development team also allows internal teams to specialize, says technology journalist Madeline Bennett. “When you can buy in the experience that you need, you’ll benefit from the hard work that others have done, shorten your time to market for new products, and introduce new talent to your company.”
In other words, there’s no need to hire developers with specific skill sets or experience related to legacy modernization when you can rent those kinds of developers instead.
A common issue with legacy systems is businesses develop clunky processes around them, Thoughtwork’s Ian Cartwright, Rob Horn and James Lewis write. It’s a case of the tail wagging the dog.
And, often, there are infrastructural incentives to maintain those old processes. “Legacy is also the product of an organizations culture and leadership,” they write. “Without broader change you should expect the same outcomes as seen previously. We have observed many legacy modernization efforts fail due to ‘corporate antibodies’ which spot something new happening and act to reject it from the organization.”
Bringing in an external partner helps resolve some of those process issues. After all, the external partner is not beholden to an old way of doing things. They aren’t embedded in a culture that upholds legacy workflows, nor do they feel threatened by the thought of retiring old processes.
Rather, a third party with previous experience in the space will have a set of tried-and-tested processes in place that can guide the modernization effort and introduce much-needed upgrades to teams’ workflows.
An Eye for Innovation
Sometimes, developers can be so caught up in their own software portfolio that they can’t see the applications for the code.
The beauty of working with a custom development partner is the fresh eye for innovation they can bring to projects.
For example, a partner may point out that overhauling a particular legacy system isn’t necessary. In many cases, the simplest alternative to modernization is using APIs to connect legacy systems with newer applications, says Yogesh Kondaskar, cofounder and CEO of Kanexon. Robotic process automation can also be used to automate parts of a legacy system without needing to overhaul it completely, Kondaskar notes.
An outside partner can also offer a different way of looking at software applications that prevents legacy issues from occurring in the future. Thinking of software as a portfolio rather than as a series of projects is an example of this.
DevOps is another example, says Robert N. Charette, contributing editor to IEEE Spectrum. By combining software development, operations and support into a single activity, applications are always under development and constantly being improved.
“Creating such timeless systems will require a ‘start from scratch’ approach to software design that doesn't make assumptions about how an IT system should be designed, coded, or maintained,” he writes —which is yet another reason why a fresh set of eyes can be so powerful.
Images by: Jason Goodman