Jon Milward, Operations Director, Northdoor
When it comes to managing your company’s IT systems, it’s vital to consider the legacy technologies you have in house as part of the IT strategy and management plan. ‘Legacy technologies’ can refer to any systems or applications that have been in existence for some time, and are either becoming hard to support due to dwindling skills or discontinued support from the vendor, or are no longer core to the company’s operation but do still need to be retained.
Legacy systems pose potential risks to your IT operation and business continuity for a number of reasons. First, it creates extra burden to your day-to-day IT operation. As a result, resources can’t be freed up to focus on more strategic, value-added initiatives. Second, the need to maintain and work with these legacy systems will lead to an increasing dependency on the limited number of staff with these skills. It increases risk at the operational level due to the reduced talent pool and support.
Imagine a scenario where a bespoke yet business-critical application for Company X was developed in RPG on the IBM AS/400 platform in the 1990s. As time moves on, there is only one person in the IT department – who is just about to retire – that is capable of maintaining and updating that system. While the application still meets a particular business need, the evolution of technology means that the external and internal resources available to maintain this system have decreased. Failing to address this situation is a risk to the business.
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Therefore, actions MUST be taken with regard to your legacy technology. Don’t let it become a stumbling block to your ability to address business priorities.
There are three common options for managing legacy systems/applications:
- You can migrate to an entirely new technology (i.e. a new package)
- You can continue to develop your existing technology (i.e. modifying the code) using external providers if the in-house resource is not available
- You can outsource the management of your legacy technology (which can include the ongoing development of the application by the outsourcer)
Each option has different advantages and disadvantages that you need to consider. Let’s start examining these options one by one.
First, if you decide to migrate to an entirely new system or application, you could expect the main benefits to include access to new (and possibly more widely used) technology with greater functionality. This option can possibly give you the opportunity to update your key business processes accordingly with the roll-out. However, the amount of work involved when moving a new package can be quite large and complex and it does involve some financial, operational and resourcing risks.
Moreover, you’ll also need to make sure that the new technology ‘fits’ well with the rest of the business, especially if you’re planning to implement a packaged solution, and if it address your specific requirement. If you think that you’d rather build a brand new customised solution, you still need to be aware that there are risks here too, as your new bespoke system/application could very quickly become outdated and a legacy itself, and therefore spark a costly (and endless) cycle of product development and obsolescence.
As such, many companies may prefer to continue develop their existing technologies instead of replacing them completely. The second option can be achieved by updating the necessary computing code and/or by developing a web-based wrapper that that can be used to enhance areas such as the user interface.
Unlike a full-scale replacement, this approach is appealing in that it is incremental, and therefore reduces the initial time and financial commitment required. At the same time, it will help to prolong the life of your legacy system whilst also reducing many of the risks and problems associated it. However, in order to achieve these benefits, you will need to plan the project very carefully and make sure that you have all the skills and resources needed to manage such a complex project.
In many cases, the third option – outsourcing the management of the legacy systems – can provide the most immediate and straightforward answer to the challenge. Remember that a well-qualified outsourcing provider operates with a rich pool of resources to give you the full support that you need and without the constraint you have in house (such as staff going on leave or deployed to other projects). Outsourcing the management of the legacy systems/applications will free up your IT department to focus on more strategic initiatives while ensuring that you have the consistent and reliable service you expect.
Most important of all, if your longer term solution is inevitably to migrate to a new technology or to continue develop it, outsourcing gives you the time to evaluate these options carefully while mitigating the risk elements associated with the legacy systems/applications.
Whatever your decision is, you will need to consider very carefully whether the solution you choose is going to address the business requirement (at both a strategic and functional level) effectively, as well as other important factors, such as cost, timescale, service continuity, and the skills and resources that would require for the change.
When weighing up all these factors, you may find that the decision to outsource the management of your legacy systems and applications will tick all of the most important boxes, especially as you’ll be gaining access to a rich pool of support and skills instead of relying on a limited number of staff to deliver continuous services. Plus, an outsourcing environment will give you the resources (and the breathing space) that you need to reduce your operating risk, so that you can evaluate the business case for your other options more thoroughly. There can’t be an easier solution to managing legacy technologies than outsourcing!