The longer a business exists, the more complex its system becomes. However, just like many other things, business computing systems need to evolve as technologies progress; otherwise, they might become outdated and slow the business down. The burden of supporting and upgrading the system lies heavy on the shoulders of the company’s CTO. At ModLogix, we know that software migration is a complex, important process.
In this blog post, we’ll share the most important considerations on legacy system migration risks, benefits, best practices, and the reasons why your business should consider migrating from legacy systems in the first place.
What is a Legacy System?
Gartner defines a legacy system as “an information system that may be based on outdated technologies, but is critical to day-to-day operations.”
Legacy systems aren’t necessarily defined by age. Legacy may refer to the lack of vendor support or a system’s inability to meet the organization’s changing business requirements.
Legacy systems are often mission-critical: if a system stops working, the business may grind to a halt. That is why many businesses are apprehensive about replacing legacy systems. Instead, they rely on constant tweaks and patches to the system in an effort to keep up with the business requirements.
Reasons why companies use legacy systems
Why do businesses keep using legacy systems, despite all the potential risks and expenses? There are some reasons for that:
- Financial issues. Maintaining a legacy system could be costly, especially with time. However, upgrading to a new system is a significant upfront investment in terms of time, money, and human resources.
- Fear of change. Change is difficult, and migration from legacy systems is a big change. Not all companies are willing to go through that change, especially if they have more urgent issues to take care of.
- Technical challenges. The very challenge of planning data migration from a legacy system and setting up business requirements for a new system can be overwhelming, especially if your team doesn’t have the technical expertise required to plan, analyze, and perform legacy system modernization activities.
For a more detailed look at why companies still rely on legacy technology, see our blog post, Who Still Uses Legacy Software And Why?
Risks of Keeping a Legacy System
Although legacy systems are often critical for an organization, there are also many ways in which using a legacy system can hamper efficiency and productivity within the organization. Let’s take a quick look at the most common problems with legacy systems:
- Slow performance. Like any outdated software, legacy systems become slower over time, and there’s nothing you can do to change that. This results in decreased performance and efficiency, depending on how deeply legacy systems are involved in your company’s business processes.
- Maintenance costs. Maintaining a legacy system is, without a doubt, pricey, but what’s even more important is that it’s futile as well. You’re spending money on maintaining a system with no growth opportunities that will have to be replaced in the future. At the same time, you cannot afford to stop investing money into it as once you stop doing it, the whole system might collapse due to the lack of updates and support.
- Legal problems. In order to operate, businesses must abide by stringent requirements and regulations. As these regulations evolve and new regulations take effect, a legacy system might fail to meet them. Take, for example, privacy laws such as GDPR and CCPA require a comprehensive data governance strategy, which is almost impossible when you operate with legacy data lakes.
- Lack of integrations. Most legacy systems were never designed to integrate with each other, not to mention the newer systems. As a result, the data remains in silos across multiple systems. Creating patches to bridge silos between legacy systems is a time-consuming process that adds even more security risks for the company.
- Lack of security. The lack of ongoing support, updates, or maintenance for retired systems, coupled with outdated security protocols and standards, means that they have become inherently insecure. As legacy systems change hands from one developer to another, they get patches on patches, and the more patches they have, the more prone to security risks they become. These risks keep piling up as technology advances.
- Compatibility issues. Due to the lack (or total absence) of updates, legacy systems can experience compatibility issues with a variety of modern software and technologies. This means that sticking to a legacy system may slow the overall growth of your company and make you unable to get all the perks that new technologies can offer.
For more details with real-life examples of how even global enterprises can find themselves in a tough position due to outdated software, see our blog post, 3 Main Threats Resulting from Outdated Technology
As you can see, maintaining a legacy system is a process that requires a lot of time, budget, and effort without appreciable results. This is exactly why many businesses consider a legacy system migration.
What is Legacy System Migration?
Legacy system migration is the process of moving legacy applications to more modern software and hardware infrastructure. Today, many businesses move their workloads to web-based environments, which allow information systems to be more easily maintained and adapted to the changing business requirements. In most cases, this transformation brings in better flexibility, performance, and resilience, as well as better supportability of components and access to advanced technologies and tools.
“Enterprises looking to the cloud to modernize their existing infrastructure and streamline their business processes have many options. At one end of the spectrum, some organizations are replatforming entire legacy systems to adopt the cloud.
Many others, however, want to continue leveraging their existing infrastructure while still benefiting from the cloud’s flexible consumption model, scalability, and new advancements in areas like artificial intelligence, machine learning, and analytics.
Kevin Ichhpurani, VP, Google Cloud
Legacy migration might seem an inevitable solution in a modern, fast-paced business world; however, is it really so? At ModLogix, we don’t believe it’s necessarily the case: one should always consider the pros and cons before starting a migration process. A business has to understand its reasons for moving along with its resources, and then to evaluate whether it needs migration.
When do you need legacy system migration?
- When the competition is high
If your business operates in a highly competitive market, you have to keep up with the innovations; otherwise, you might risk facing a revenue drop. This is especially true for those businesses whose competitors already operate using more modern technologies, as in this case, they can work quicker, scale faster, and provide more user-friendly experience to their customers. However, even if your competitors currently struggle to catch up with you, there’s still a risk that they will eventually leave you behind if your technologies aren’t up-to-date.
- When you run remote teams
The global pandemic has shown that businesses might face an unexpected need to switch to remote processes. If your systems are tied to certain desktop software or a certain type of machine, this could be challenging for remote workers: they might not be familiar with a non-customary device or get slowed down by a software update. This, in turn, may hamper your business flows.
- When you struggle with finding the right developers
Legacy systems often use old-school programming languages. Finding developers who are skilled with such languages and codes might become more difficult and costly with time, which can get especially critical for small businesses. However, even if you have enough staff to support your systems, it can be quite time-consuming to manage work across different isolated platforms. You need to figure out for yourself whether or not it’s worth the effort.
Benefits of Legacy System Migration to Web
Web applications continue to supplant desktop apps, and we believe there are several good reasons for this. The benefits of legacy system migration to the web are real and tangible:
When creating or modifying desktop applications, it is necessary to create multiple versions at once. This applies not only to different types of OS — Windows, macOS, Linux but also to different versions of these systems. There is no such problem with web-based applications, which greatly simplifies the development process and reduces development costs. Web applications enable remote access from basically any device, which opens up support for most operating systems, whether desktop or mobile. Moreover, web-based applications can give employees greater flexibility in where they work, reduce the amount of busywork involved in using the system, and allow your teams to respond quickly to any emergencies that arise.
The software must constantly evolve, especially when it comes to apps intended for external customers and not for internal use in the company. Introducing new functionality requires app updates, and while web applications are updated centrally on the server, desktop users will need to download the new version and reinstall the app. For development teams, web applications reduce the hassle associated with new deployments, bug fixes, upgrades, and feature implementation.
On the one hand, storing user data on their own devices makes it more difficult for potential attackers to gain access to the data. But on the other hand, all this data can be easily lost in the event of a computer failure, while a web application will save all the latest changes on the server.
Lower maintenance costs
The advantage is obvious — you won’t have to invest money in keeping outdated systems on life support.
Legacy System Migration from Desktop to Web: Risks and Challenges
Despite its benefits, legacy system migration to web applications is a complex process that has its own challenges. Let’s take a look at the major legacy system migration challenges for you to put them on your radar when planning the migration process.
- Migration can slow down your business processes. The legacy system migration approach implies analyzing, transforming, modifying, and introducing your workflows to a new environment, which is often a time-consuming task. This can affect your business operations during the migration period. Take time to plan how to perform the migration with the minimum amount of business disruption for all users involved.
- Migration can cause security issues. While the outdated legacy systems have their security issues as well, it’s crucial that you deal with them before the migration process. Otherwise, you might end up with the same old security risks that weren’t fixed or documented, and thus might expose your business to new potential threats in the future.
- Migration requires updating data values. Legacy systems are often outdated not only in terms of software but in terms of data management as well: they store the information that was valuable years ago but has no value for your business at the moment. It’s better to clean and validate the data before moving on to the migration if you don’t want to encounter irrelevant data during or after the migration process.
- It might require some additional user training. If migration from the legacy system directly affects your employees’ way of doing their jobs, you need to spend some time and effort on helping them adapt to this new environment. This might affect your business as well, as the employees won’t be able to fulfill their duties as efficiently as before for some time.
Migration from Legacy Systems to the Web — Strategy Guide
A successful legacy system migration strategy should be built around opportunities for business growth. It should be driven from the top down as a core business strategy, not simply some effort driven by IT. Next, we’ll cover the essential steps to include in your very own legacy system migration plan.
Start with analysis
You need to evaluate your system’s current state and the way it behaves to spot problem areas. This way, you’ll be able to understand which issues you’ll have to fix before, during, or after the migration process. Pay special attention to any potential data saving and security issues.
Identify areas for legacy modernization
Oftentimes, businesses view migration solely as a way to facilitate upgrading the system. Migration and modernization aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive: you don’t have to migrate the entire system at once. Instead, you can only migrate some of the system’s components and see if any of your current system’s functions will benefit more from on-premise modernization. This could save you a significant amount of costs compared to “all-in” migration solutions.
The more complex your legacy system is at the moment, the more difficult it might be to migrate it. For instance, migration may cause some architectural problems if the current infrastructure is too massive. Migration is a big change on its own, so it won’t hurt to analyze your system’s current state and implement some minor, simplifying changes along the way.
Define an approach
There are two main options available to anyone considering an application migration, each with their pros and cons. Some businesses try to replace systems in one go, with one “big bang” at the end when an old system is turned off, and a new one is turned on. Another option involves taking a staged approach and moving the app over piece by piece. Regardless of the approach, here are the three most common technical migration and modernization techniques for you to consider:
This approach involves packing an existing desktop application into a more user-friendly web service. That is, you’ll need to build the web UI and use the APIs to connect it to the functionality of the desktop application.
This is the quickest and, most importantly, the most predictable approach to web-based modernization. However, it is only applicable only if the current application is in good technical condition and has up-to-date functionality. Otherwise, you’ll need to re-engineer the app or at least some of the app’s components.
This approach involves converting lines of code of the desktop-based legacy application to transform it into a web application. There’s plenty of automatic tools to do most of the hard work for you, but they are not yet advanced enough to deliver a fully working solution. Indeed, these tools can simplify and speed up the process, but only if you have a team of skilled developers who can handle important data, add the necessary code, and put it all together correctly.
Building a new custom web application
If the current state of your desktop application leaves much to be desired, and you have sufficient budget for a complete transformation, it will make sense to create a prototype of a web-based version of the desktop app. This will allow you to rethink the app’s architecture, consider the possibilities of using cloud solutions, and build an application using the latest LTS technologies and platforms.
There are, though, a few factors to consider with this approach:
- Data migration. You will need to transfer your current user data and accounts to a new platform, and this should be planned in advance;
- Cloud or not, as the cloud may not always be the best solution for a business;
- Additional training, since maintaining a web solution requires a different approach than with a desktop solution, with at least a different tech stack;
- Minimal viable product to start with, since it’s better to start by implementing core features and then improve the product in iterations so that the migration is smoother and you get exactly the solution you need.
ModLogix’s Tips on Legacy System Migration for CTOs
Before wrapping up, let us share some tips on what steps to take to make migration of legacy systems to the cloud a bit smoother for your business.
- Ensure legal compliance. Before you launch the migration process, make sure there aren’t any legal limitations to data migration to the web. Also, make sure to learn all the compliance requirements of your web data storage.
- Set up a solid data migration strategy. Before starting the project, take some time to review your legacy database schema to identify whether and how to modify the data structure for the data to become accessible from the web.
- Evaluate infrastructural limitations. Is it possible for your system’s current infrastructure to seamlessly connect to the web? Does it have any elements that can possibly hamper the migration process?
- Ensure the security of your applications and data on the web. Make sure to have a hardware firewall, a software firewall, and an intrusion detection system (IDS) in place to ensure everything is securely protected.
- Pay attention to the system’s availability and reliability. Ensure that you have enough hardware resources to ensure minimal response time and the system’s ability to withstand the high load of simultaneous end-user requests and malicious attacks such as DDoS.
- Prevent possible security breaches. Implement security measures such as multi-factor authentication (MFA) and advanced password policies.
- Assess potential software design limitations. This will help you avoid many costly reengineering processes in the future.
- Ensure the compatibility of third-party components. Make sure that all your hardware and software components, including on-premise equipment, security keys, and third-party software license sets, are compatible with the web environment.
- Come up with a plan B. This will help you roll back changes at any moment. Formulate a clear cut plan to cover each step of the final migration to the web, and a rollback plan to revert to the original setup if things don’t work out at any stage of the process.
Legacy systems migration is a complicated process that holds many challenges. However, it’s a must-do consideration for many businesses that want to accelerate revenue growth, improve agility, time to market, service quality, reduce costs, and offer up-to-date experiences to their customers and partners.
At ModLogix, we firmly believe that not all businesses have to migrate legacy applications to the web. CIOs and CTOs need to evaluate their options, costs, risks, and benefits of migration before making the decision. Our experts are always there for you to offer a free hour-long consultation on your project or full support during the migration process.