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3 more reasons to finally retire a legacy system

Grantby ‎06-04-2013 09:17 AM - edited ‎09-30-2015 06:56 AM

From HP Innovation Insight


They’re still out there. Decades-old IT systems continue to run mission-critical functions in more businesses and government agencies than you might expect, creating a host of enterprise security challenges and roadblocks to innovation. At least 200 billion lines of legacy code remain in use today, according to International Data Corporation.


While many organizations would just as soon let their antiquated systems keep humming away, hanging on to them too long can be perilous, as Michael Armstrong, CIO of the City of Corpus Christi, Texas attests. Here are three reasons for letting go that you might not have considered:  


G9701060112008.jpg1. Legacy IT specialists are retiring

“Government is facing a wave of IT worker retirements in the next few years,” Armstrong says. “We’re losing skills, and it’s getting more difficult to hire qualified new people.” Younger IT professionals don’t have training in bygone computer languages, so when legacy system specialists retire, it can be next to impossible for many organizations —  in the public sector and private sector alike — to replace them. Adding to the challenge, legacy application vendors and hardware makers may no longer support their old products.


2. Mobile is put on hold

Even more dangerous in the long run: Obsolete systems often can’t enable needed new features. For example, demand to access applications via mobile devices continues to grow, and legacy systems weren’t designed for that. “We are continuing a movement to become device agnostic,” Armstrong says. “People want to use tablets, laptops, and smartphones. Demand for these form factors didn’t exist 20 years ago.” Legacy system mobile device support can be technically infeasible or cost-prohibitive, he notes. (Three reasons to rethink your mobile strategy.)


Corpus Christi is moving from an older enterprise resource planning (ERP) system to a new one, which will provide more capability at lower cost. In addition to mobile support, the new system will allow the public to interact with the city via social media. “Younger people who spend a lot of time on social media are going to wonder ‘Why can’t I pay a utility bill on Facebook?’ ” Armstrong explains.


3. Want an app with that? Not with legacy systems

In the private sector, failure to keep up with IT trends can result in competitive disadvantages. If a competitor, for example, launches a new mobile purchasing app or a retail geo-tagging offering, and your company can’t follow suit because your back-end technology can’t support it, you may have a big problem.


Risk vs. ROI of replacing legacy IT

Given these risks, why would any organization continue to maintain old mainframes running COBOL applications or other outdated technology? The primary reasons are cost and risk. The development of replacement systems can be a labor-intensive, high-cost endeavor.


New systems require time to test and to correct. There is also the risk that the development project will exceed its budget or be delivered late. Nevertheless, the risks of retaining obsolete technology demand a replacement strategy.


Lowering risk

Exchanging a legacy system for a modern alternative can be done gradually or in one fell swoop, the “rip-and-replace” option. One gradual method — service-oriented architecture (SOA) —allows organizations to incorporate commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) software in stages. Proprietary legacy applications can be wrapped with a Web service layer and plugged into the new system until a replacement is ready.


“I prefer the incremental approach,” Armstrong says. “It’s a much lower risk strategy.” For Corpus Christi’s large, mission-critical ERP system, whose transition will be phased over two years, the gradual approach makes sense.


Rip-and-replace may be the answer on something like an internal e-mail system that can bear a short-term disruption without harming the business. It may also be warranted in situations that demand a rapid response to competitive pressure — when a legacy system can’t support a must-have new functionality, and the competitive risk of not offering it outweighs the risks of short-term service disruption.


Although major IT transitions invariably come with temporary kinks, the risks of retaining legacy systems increase as the old technology ages. Make sure you know the liabilities of your aging systems and don’t get caught holding on to them too long.


For more on future opportunities and challenges, watch the replay of Innovation Insight: Five forces that could make or break the next-generation enterprise by HP Enterprise Services CTO Chris Moyer.  




About the Author


I've devoted more than a decade to writing about technology products, solutions and services.

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