Margaret Rouse is an award-winning technical writer and teacher known for her ability to explain complex technical subjects simply to a non-technical, business audience. Over…
A legacy system is a computer platform, programming language, or software application that continues to be used to support critical business functions, even though there are newer alternatives.
In this context, the label “legacy” means that the technology has become so ingrained in an organization’s workflow processes and culture that replacing it would not be cost-effective at this time.
Simply put, if a legacy system is still reliable and does its job well, the direct and indirect costs of replacing a legacy system may just not be worth it.
Rip-and-replace and other modernization efforts can be costly in terms of both time and money. In fact, the change management challenges of replacing established systems that still work well can be so daunting that many organizations find themselves embracing the old adage, “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”
While initially, it might seem more cost-effective to stick with a paid-off system, the continued use of a legacy system can become too expensive in the long run.
Maintenance costs will inevitably rise as it becomes harder to find parts or expertise, and it will become increasingly challenging to implement new functionalities or get the legacy system to work with new business processes. That’s because legacy systems often operate in isolation and create data silos.
To make legacy systems ‘talk’ to newer technologies, organizations typically need to invest in custom interfaces or middleware. These solutions can be expensive, and they still might not offer optimal performance or reliability.
And finally, older systems typically do not receive security patches or software and firmware updates. This leaves them exposed to known vulnerabilities that malicious entities can exploit, which in turn can expose an organization to potential regulatory compliance, legal and financial repercussions.
Modernizing legacy systems is not just a technical undertaking; it’s a strategic move that can redefine an organization’s agility, efficiency, and competitiveness in today’s market. By choosing the right strategy and aligning it with business needs, companies can breathe new life into their older systems and help ensure they still remain assets instead of liabilities.
Before diving into the modernization process for this type of digital transformation, however, it’s essential to assess the current state of a legacy system and get answers to the following questions:
Once all stakeholders agree on the answers, it’s possible to craft a roadmap that is aligned with business goals and choose the best strategy for moving ahead.
One of the quickest ways to modernize a legacy system is to move it from an on-premises data center to a cloud environment. This strategy can offer immediate benefits such as scalability, better data resilience, and improved cybersecurity.
Legacy platforms and applications often remain operational because they are deeply embedded in an organization’s business processes. Some examples include:
Legacy programming languages are not as popular as they once were, but their use is so ingrained in certain systems and applications that it’s too complicated to replace them.
For example, many automated teller machines (ATMs) today interface with backend banking systems that still process transactions on mainframes running COBOL.
Completely phasing out COBOL has been a challenge due to the complexities and high costs of data migration and the dwindling number of COBOL programmers who would know how to transition these legacy systems to modern platforms.
Other legacy programming languages still in use today include:
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Margaret Rouse is an award-winning technical writer and teacher known for her ability to explain complex technical subjects to a non-technical, business audience. Over the past twenty years her explanations have appeared on TechTarget websites and she's been cited as an authority in articles by the New York Times, Time Magazine, USA Today, ZDNet, PC Magazine and Discovery Magazine.Margaret's idea of a fun day is helping IT and business professionals learn to speak each other’s highly specialized languages. If you have a suggestion for a new definition or how to improve a technical explanation, please email Margaret or contact her…
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