One of the technology decisions you make every day — and one of the biggest challenges — is how to deal with legacy systems. A legacy technology solution could be software, hardware, or even a hybrid of both, such as an old server running old software.
The challenge is legacy technology easily can become ticking time bombs. You may not even realize there is an expiration date until you are forced to make a change. Therefore, let’s do a deeper evaluation of technology solutions that may be in the legacy category.
Keep in mind, it is not necessarily a negative if a technology solution is considered legacy. Your office and home might have a number of items that fall under the legacy category. The key is to understand the variables that influence and impact either the continued success or failure with using the product.
For example, you might have a legacy computer, server and/or other hardware device that’s being used for a specific process or need. Even though the device is well beyond its years (from a warranty and technology perspective), you still need to make sure that the operating system and programs are up to date with the latest patches and security updates.
Also, certain functional areas, such as contact management or performance reporting systems, face higher risk when legacy technology is used. The longer legacy technology is in production, the potential effort, costs and time increase until you finally retire and replace the system.
You also need to review how these legacy systems fit within your existing technology stack (overall technology products and infrastructure). Hopefully you have only one or two systems, if any, that fall under the legacy category. If there are more, then you have some work to do. Review the connections and dependencies of the legacy technology with the rest of your systems. The last thing you want is for a legacy system to be a critical component for the successful operation of a newer solution or system.
One of the more significant challenges with a legacy technology solution is the entire effort of transitioning to a newer system. I’ve heard countless stories of firms trying to replace legacy systems and the overwhelming effort required to accomplish this goal. Frequently, a firm will get “stuck” due to not finding the perfect replacement solution. Or worse, they start a transition and cancel the effort after several months of trying and failing to make it work.
The reality is it can be hard to replace legacy technology. Your firm has years of familiarity with the product, it might actually be adequately meeting your needs, and the switching and operational costs likely are much higher with a newer technology solution. Given these variables, and realizing a new solution is the right objective for the long-term, it’s critical to have perseverance through the entire transition effort.
Finally, there can be several stages of “condition” for legacy technology that can influence the sense of urgency in finding a replacement solution. For example, if the technology is no longer supported by the developer or manufacturer, then you are on borrowed time.
Another condition stage would be if the technology is still supported and receiving regular maintenance updates. This is certainly a better situation to be in, but the question is, for how long?
Even if a legacy solution is receiving incremental feature improvements, this isn’t adequate for today’s technology environment. Therefore, this condition stage is more about being left behind and not being competitive versus the solution’s peer group. The longer this goes on, the greater the chance that the technology becomes obsolete or no longer supported.
Bottom line, most firms already have a good idea which of their technology solutions fall under the legacy category. The real work is figuring out what you are going to do about it.
Dan Skiles is the president of Shareholders Service Group in San Diego. He can be reached at email@example.com.