29 Jun 2012

Getting rid of legacy IT systems

Dealing with legacy systems is an ongoing challenge for many businesses. Legacy doesn’t mean “old” – indeed, many financial institutions still use old, but tried and tested, mainframe technologies. What it does mean are the systems that are holding the business back – or those that have become too costly to run. These systems might, in some cases, no longer be vendor supported. (After 10 years on the market and a number of new leases on life, Microsoft’s support for Windows XP, for example, is set to end within two years). Or it could be that they don’t integrate effectively with other systems, or don’t provide necessary features, or that their performance is no longer up to task.

Dealing with legacy systems

Despite the fact that they know they need to move on, businesses can struggle to get away from legacy systems. Rather than bite the bullet, they continue to invest in their legacy approach – adding Band-Aids and taking measures that end up with information running outside and in parallel to the application in question, rather than within it. The problem with this approach is that things only get worse.

Take a greenfield approach

One of most effective strategies for dealing with legacy systems is to ask yourself what you’d do with a “greenfield”. That is, ask what system you would put in place if you had the luxury of a blank slate. This helps to ensure that your strategy is right, and that your legacy system is not having an effect on your future direction. Once you know what system (or systems) you want to replace the legacy one, it’s a matter of evaluating the best way to handle the transition.

What’s a complete transition worth?

Transitioning from old to new is a case-by-case proposition. One thing to make sure of however, is that you don’t expend more time and effort than it’s worth to bring your information and records with you. While your IT integrator will be able to find solutions, it’s important to carefully judge the cost of what’s being proposed. How often will you really need to make use of the data in the legacy system? Is an abstraction of that data enough? Realise that in some cases it’s more cost-effective to leave data behind. Different data structures and capabilities will complicate the migration process, and if you insist on having everything, you’ll eventually find yourself trying to boil the ocean. Leaving a legacy system running in parallel with the new system, and running dual platforms for a time is an option. Your sales charts and other reports might get a reset in terms of how far they stretch back, but your old reports will always be there should you need to consult them. Of course, all data should be imported where there aren’t challenges in doing so. But it’s also usually the case that the more you can whittle down your precise requirements, the more flexibility you’ll have to make the most of your new solution. Dave Stevens is MD, Brennan IT. (This blog post was first published on the SmartCompany website on June 28 2012)