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legacy software modernization

How to get started with legacy software modernization

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Posted by: Lucid Content Team

Updating a legacy system is a significant undertaking, but it can bring substantial value to your organization if your current system no longer serves your goals. Continuing to use outdated technologies can create unnecessary expenses and ultimately make staying competitive more difficult for your business—so consider making the change now.

Getting started with replacement or modernization? A modernization plan tailored to your business needs can keep you on the right track.

What is a legacy system?

When you think of a legacy system, you probably picture software from 2008 still running on an outdated computer. Legacy software is generally older—but the broader definition of “legacy system” refers to the fact that this software no longer fits your requirements or meets your needs. 

The legacy system probably was helpful in the past, but today it drags down user experience, lacks support, or can no longer be maintained. You are no longer benefiting from legacy systems or seeing enough ROI by this point. A true legacy system has lost utility for your business and now making an investment in new technology delivers a bigger return than keeping the existing system. 

Downsides of legacy systems

By definition, legacy systems are costly to your organization because they can no longer meet your standards. Retaining a legacy system can have big downsides for your organization. The longer an underperforming system interferes with your business, the more risk it creates and the more resources you may have to devote to keeping your current system functioning.

Cost of using outdated systems

There are a variety of potential costs to using legacy systems—in addition to financial costs, reputational costs and other business costs can weigh heavily. The more mission-critical that legacy system is, the more expensive outdated systems can prove to be. 

Consider these business costs and their potential impact: 

Maintenance costs 

  • Patching and repairs: If your legacy system requires significant, ongoing maintenance from your team, then these costs can accumulate as new overhead costs.
  • HR and support: Team hours needed for maintenance takes away human resources from higher-value projects and can lead to delays or distractions.

Corporate image costs 

  • Customer experience: Legacy systems can lead to a loss of customers. They may leave for a competitor or may use your products and services less often. Even loyal customers may grow weary or lose patience. In the long run, this could diminish your company’s market share.
  • Reputation: A lagging legacy system could be enough to change how prospective customers and the general public perceive what you offer.

Compatibility costs 

  • Integrations: Accommodation and workarounds to allow your system to work with more current software and hardware can essentially have your organization reinventing the wheel. Your own integrations might be similar to what’s already available.
  • Old equipment: Along with your legacy system, you may have other obsolete software or hardware still in use because it’s compatible with the legacy system. 

Benefits of updating your system

If you have a legacy system costing your business, then updating your system can come with some pretty strong benefits. 

  • Stay ahead of the competition: In many instances, updating a legacy system can represent a strong competitive advantage for organizations. 
  • Reduce costs: By bringing in a new system that doesn’t carry the costs of the legacy system, you can save costs for other investments and priorities. 
  • Improve customer experience: Better technology for your customers can help you move the needle with your CX and UX initiatives, which can, in turn, attract customers. 
  • Boost security: Current systems built with today’s security standards can increase your customers’ trust in your services and give you an advantage.

An update may very well be worthwhile, even if it requires a substantial investment. 

Steps to modernize legacy systems

As you work to modernize, you will look at where your legacy system falls short today and what can be done, if anything, to transform your existing system. If necessary, you can prepare to replace it altogether.

Since there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, taking your time to properly assess and prepare a transition plan is important to the long-term success of your modernization project. 

Adapt these steps to your organization’s needs:

1. Assess your current systems

Conduct an analysis of your current legacy systems as they stand today. You will want to document how your system falls short and fails to meet your needs—that way, you can pinpoint what you need in a new system.

  • What business value, if any, does your legacy system have? 
  • What value do you need? How is your current system not meeting this standard? 
  • How are you using your legacy system? 
  • What is the UX or CX of your legacy system like? You may want to create a journey map to visualize it.
  • How are your partners, customers, or internal stakeholders using this legacy system as it stands today?
  • Are there particular issues that users report with your legacy system?
  • What support and maintenance are needed to keep your legacy system running?
  • How critical is this system to your organization? Are there some departments, teams, or individuals who rely on this system more than others?

Since this preliminary step prepares you for other steps in the process, it’s important not to rush through your assessment. Taking the time to conduct a thorough review now can save you time and resources later on. 

2. Find the approach that is the best fit for your organization

There are many different ways to modernize legacy systems. You can replace them, fix them, or combine these strategies. In fact, there are different variations of these approaches: 

  • Replace: Although replacing a legacy system might be the first thing that comes to mind for many people, it should be a last resort because of the resources you’ve already invested.
  • Rebuild: You can rebuild a legacy system from start to finish and keep the same specs and a similar design in place while updating key aspects of your system. 
  • Rehost: You can host on a different platform, updating the code enough for your legacy system to transition successfully. 
  • Rearchitect: Developing new architecture for your legacy system can help you achieve more from your platform. 
  • Replatform: Bring a legacy system into a new runtime platform.
  • Code refractor: While otherwise keeping the system the same, you can update the code.
  • Encapsulation: If all you need is a new interface, then adding the interface to the system’s existing environment, code, and platform could be all that’s necessary to bring your legacy system into modernization.

The right strategy for your organization may depend on the expected ROI, the timeline your organization needs for the modernization process, and other factors. Get your stakeholders involved as early as possible in this step. Typically, this is your IT team, modernization champions and project owners, users, and other relevant internal partners. 

3. Build a timeline for transitioning the legacy system

As you create a timeline, take into consideration what will best prepare your organization and allow essential business processes to continue or resume quickly. The exact roadmap and timeline you use will be highly dependent on the modernization strategy you chose. Walking yourself through the right questions should help you outline a timeline that fits your needs:

  • What did your needs assessment reveal about how critical this modernization is? 
  • What modernization strategy did you choose? A more extensive strategy such as replacing a legacy system could take significantly longer than an encapsulation project. 
  • Do you plan to wait and delay transformation until other milestones are completed first? 
  • How disruptive is this transition in the short term? 
  • What resources are needed to make this transition a success? Factor in the time it will likely take you to find any other resources you need. Don’t forget to consider other projects your teams are working on that could compete with your modernization project for time and focus from key personnel and stakeholders. 

Once you understand your timeline a bit better and have a project plan developed, you can prepare to start your modernization.

4. Document all changes to systems for future growth 

Of course, documentation doesn’t end once you start the modernization. You will need to keep thorough documentation of any changes you introduce—this prepares you for future growth and any technical revisiting you’ll need to do later. With Lucidchart, you can have much of your documentation built for you and brought into a repository your team can refer back to as needed.

Think about the documentation you’ll need and have a plan for how you’ll create and store this information. Be sure that whoever is responsible for creating the documentation follows the same process and standards.

current vs future state technical system

5. Start implementing your plan 

From there, you can begin implementing your project plan for modernization. Be sure to keep communication clear as you approach milestones and prepare deliverables along the way. Keep in mind that communicating changes and following your plan can help prevent problems—use an application such as Lucidchart to help with visualizing changes and sharing information about them across your team. 

Replacing or modernizing your legacy systems

The right modernization strategy can help you preserve the value that remains in your legacy systems and know when it’s wise to transition to something new. A careful modernization plan can reduce costs and deliver the most business value. 

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