Legacy modernization often refers to a time-consuming, energy-draining endeavor to transform systems designed in the early 2000s—if not before—into something that approximates 21st-century performance and user experience (UX). In some cases, the result can be unsatisfying. There is also the opportunity cost of not engaging in other, more revolutionary endeavors. The ultimate result is rarely as adaptable, versatile, functional, or user-friendly as a more current system.
However, this scenario does not have to be the case. Taking a systematic approach to legacy system modernization helps reduce the time and cost of changes while ensuring that the functionality, performance, and user experience are all optimized.
Legacy Modernization: The Systematic Approach
To take a systematic approach to legacy system modernization, you must first ask two essential questions, then determine the best course of action based on the answers. It also entails treating legacy system upgrading as a continuous process rather than a one-time task.
For many companies, the most challenging component is forcing themselves and their teams to answer questions that they are confident they already know the answers. This process is worth it: the solutions will often allow technical experts to avoid labor-intensive tasks entirely.
1. What does legacy mean for your business?
Answering this question will indicate which systems you should concentrate your efforts on and which you should ignore for the time being.
According to software company Mobindustry, “A legacy system is any system that impedes further growth, does not allow for easy integration of new features, and slows down a business’s day-to-day operations.”
The most crucial issue is that legacy does not necessarily imply age. Applications completed last week might fall into this category if the developers failed to follow current architectural principles due to ignorance or haste. Technical debt is commonly caused by rushed program development.
As a result, the first step is to categorize all system modernization into three groups: legacy, intermediate, and contemporary.
Regardless of their age, Legacy systems require upgrading, whereas current systems do not. Modernization of intermediate systems and applications is possible, although it may not be a primary priority.
People will frequently oppose this crucial initial step, claiming that business stakeholders have surpassed their tolerance limit for a particular program and demand it be upgraded soon. The thinking goes, “We already know which systems need to be upgraded; we don’t need to waste time classifying them.”
It’s easy to believe this, but it’s not true. Even if the legacy system modernization team only has time to work on one application, it’s critical to know which other systems are on the list so that best practices can be applied to them all.
Don’t approach legacy system modernization as a one-off job for a vital application. Consider it a continuous procedure with a standardized technique applied to the most outdated applications.
Every system should be classified when it is put into production. As technology and development techniques evolve, systems formerly classified as intermediate or modern will gradually drift into legacy.
2. What is the best way to implement legacy modernization in your organization?
Since the objective of a structured methodology is to apply the best approach on a system-by-system basis, it should be clear that this question is about the best strategy for a particular application. We must first examine the most fundamental approaches to legacy modernization to answer this question.
Gartner defines the five R’s as rehost, refactor, rearchitect, rebuild, and replace. That’s one perspective, but it’s both narrow in scope and large in reach for the sake of legacy system modernization.
These five techniques for legacy system modernization are a better way to think about it: encapsulate, replatform, refactor, redesign, and rethink.
Five Legacy Modernization Techniques
To be effective, legacy system modernization does not require an extensive modification or a complete revamp of a process or application. Companies that are hesitant to change can start small by focusing on a problem area or procedure with a strong return on investment potential. Before implementing a total transformation, the company must first realize the benefits of legacy modernization. Small steps give people time to buy into the next stage.
Use APIs. Access to the system is essentially restricted to fit the content and workflow of modern systems that interface with it. For example, you can utilize an API to link the system to a standard UX platform to show the data in a user-friendly fashion.
The benefit comes from the fact that it alleviates the short-term pain of poor UX by making a legacy system look current. The disadvantage is that it does not solve the core issue with legacy systems: maintenance costs. An encapsulated legacy system is still a legacy system, and it will consume the same amount of labor and costs as before. This isn’t a minor problem, given that several surveys estimate companies spend up to 80% of their expenditures supporting and maintaining old systems.
Replatforming means transferring the legacy system and its data and storage resources to a new platform. This is typically a colocation facility or IaaS. When it comes to achieving short-term goals, such as shutting down an on-premises data center or avoiding an expensive WAN upgrade to enable remote users to access the system, replatforming is an appealing alternative.
However, replatforming is a stopgap measure. Transferring a problem to IaaS or a colocation facility may solve a pain point in the near term. Still, the expenses of sustaining cloud services build up quickly, and paying cloud costs for old software is just another kind of technical debt.
According to Agile Alliance, refactoring entails “improving the internal structure of an existing program’s source code while preserving its external behavior.” Refactoring includes increasing the utility of reusable design elements and code modules, including improving objective code attributes such as length, duplication, coupling, cohesion, and cyclomatic complexity that correlate with ease of maintenance. Agile Alliance continues that it does not imply changing code, correcting defects, or improving observable features of software like its interface.
Refactoring is a form of code optimization. Rather than changing functionality or core coding techniques, the developer evaluates the code to ensure it is easily readable and adheres to agile development best practices. Refactoring can also be thought of as reducing technical debt from code, i.e., replacing any coding shortcuts and inefficient implementation with a cleaner, more optimized design.
It is a practical approach to lower a system’s support expenses, and many companies use it as part of their cloud migration efforts. From the standpoint of legacy system modernization, the problem with refactoring is that it ignores the issue of systems built on ancient architectures.
A redesign is the modernization of architecture. When considering legacy system modernization, most corporate technologists lean toward this choice because it is the most intuitive—offering the same business functionality but leveraging current coding methodologies and architectures.
A redesign is undoubtedly a realistic option, and it goes the furthest in ensuring a complete cleansing. A system overhaul should improve both user experience and support expenses. However, there is one additional level that businesses should consider.
Rethinking refers to rethinking the entire business process that a system should deliver. Most enterprise technologists believe that business requirements are fixed, yet they are not. The business requirement may become obsolete.
For instance, during the COVID-19 pandemic, many businesses struggled to provide signature-based processing for various documents with workers working from home and unable to print papers for compliance or security concerns. The actual fix was to reconsider the need for signature-based workflow in the first place, not to modernize the applications. Checking a box can be as secure as signing a document with effective authentication.
Many business needs are outdated or reflect technological restrictions at the time. Most CRM systems predate LinkedIn and were not meant to keep in touch with people as their jobs changed.
Rethinking the business process that the system serves is often the best route to legacy system modernization. The procedure itself needs to be replaced.
The Best Technique
Depending on the cost, timing, and the number and kind of legacy systems that require legacy modernization. It is also crucial to consider the organization’s cloud strategy defining motivations that validate business priorities.
The key is to weigh all legacy systems against all possible modernization options, then choose the solution that makes the most sense for each system. The extent to which rethinking is part of the broader modernization approach is vital to examine; rethinking can sometimes eliminate entire categories of systems.
Finally, define a roadmap for updating all systems, not just legacy systems. A frequent evaluation of all systems should be included to determine when they become legacy.
Modernize Your Legacy Systems Now!
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