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Perspectives

Is it time to upgrade your legacy system?

B13 Technology

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New technologies are helping organisations become faster, leaner and smarter as they integrate more advanced software into their operation. 

This trend, accelerated by the pandemic, has exposed weaknesses in the tech systems of many organisations in all sectors of the economy.

Often, these weaknesses arise due to a reliance on legacy systems. 

What are legacy systems?

Legacy systems use outdated software that often isn’t well-equipped for modern demands. Once upon a time, they were cutting edge, highly effective and valuable. 

They include things like old versions of operating systems, obsolete code languages and application that have largely been replaced by more advanced models.

They can continue to work effectively even after new versions or completely new solutions become available. As a result, legacy systems often become ingrained into the way an organisation operates, which can mean they’ll go to great expense and effort to maintain them. 

However, there usually comes a time when the software becomes more of a hindrance than a help. As technology moves on and newer, better software enters the industry, reliance on legacy systems gradually makes it harder to adapt, scale up and optimise your organisation.

The choice between continuing to invest money, time and effort into maintaining old systems, or splashing out on new technology is a decision more and more leaders have to make. 

Why do businesses use legacy systems?

Not every organisation needs to upgrade their legacy systems - yet. Perhaps it’s working effectively and the expense of upgrading wouldn’t be worthwhile for the time being. But too many organisations carry on using legacy software long after it should have been retired. There are plenty of reasons why this happens.

Lack of expertise

In the UK, the ‘digital skills gap’ means that many businesses suffer from a lack of tech expertise. This presents several challenges when it comes to upgrading their legacy systems.

Understanding how outdated systems are affecting a business requires a sound knowledge of the various types of software involved. Identifying their impact on a business’s performance could require complex, high-level analysis, and many organisations simply don’t have people qualified to do this. There may also be a lack of awareness around viable alternatives. 

Even fewer organisations have employees skilled enough to design and implement new systems. 

For many, all they can do is patch up their old software when necessary. 

Familiarity or reluctance to change

Even when a better software does become available, many organisations don’t bother with them because they fear change. Maybe staff have worked with their software for many years and enjoy using it. They may have an ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ mindset.

They may feel it’s too expensive and time-consuming to train staff in the new systems and they may even encounter resistance from employees who aren’t confident in their digital skills. 

Leaders may also be victim to the ‘sunk cost fallacy’ if they’ve spent a lot of time and money maintaining their legacy software. This is where decisions are made based on the amount that’s been invested into something rather than weighing up the future costs and benefits. It can be a powerful obstacle to progress.

Data loss

Moving critical data to new systems can be a complex process. If done incorrectly, it can cause potentially damaging data loss. This risk can be enough to deter some organisations from upgrading their legacy systems. 

Bespoke software

Perhaps your business is in a niche industry and uses highly specialised, bespoke software. There may not be an obvious viable alternative on the market. It’s possible that tech specialists with the expertise to replace it are hard to find. 

This can lead to organisations being ‘trapped’ with their old software. 

Problems caused by legacy systems (and their solutions)

We’ve seen some of the reasons why organisations can stick with legacy systems longer than they should. But doing so can lead to many problems and make life more difficult in the long run.

Security

One of the biggest risks with outdated software is that they’re more vulnerable to security and data breaches. Often, manufacturers (if they even still exist) stop providing security updates for old software after new products have entered the market and become widespread. This can leave legacy systems with weaknesses that can be exploited by hackers. 

What’s more, software that isn’t equipped with the latest security features risks falling out of compliance. You may be unable to attain certification for certain standards and this could have a huge impact on your business. 

Upgrading your systems to the latest models is the best way to ensure they’re properly protected and compliant both now and in the future.

Inefficiency

Time is money, and software that’s slow, clunky, complicated and difficult to navigate can cripple an organisation’s profitability. 

Even little things like slow loading times and having to sign in to multiple systems can add up to hours of wasted time. Functions such as data analysis and presentation can be much slower and more difficult in old software, and this can hinder the performance of your organisation. 

Modern users demand rapid and seamless technology. If you have an app that’s supported by outdated software, it may be slow or lose functionality. This can ruin the user experience and customers will soon look elsewhere. 

The latest software products are far more efficient and can process much faster than legacy systems. 

Expensive and difficult to maintain

In addition to the costs associated with inefficiency, legacy software brings several other expenses. 

Because it often needs a lot of work to keep it functioning at a sufficient level, organisations may need to employ or hire more people to maintain it. Support can be difficult to access and may come at a premium.

What’s more, old software may have more downtime, resulting in more loss of productivity and profits. 

There is a law of diminishing returns with maintaining old software. The longer it goes on, the more it costs and the smaller the gains become. 

While it’s true that upgrading to new systems can involve significant upfront investment, there comes a time when continuing to spend on maintaining legacy systems is far more costly. 

Incompatibility

Old software doesn’t integrate well with other, newer software. In large, complex networks, this can be detrimental as users have to find inefficient ways to circumnavigate these connectivity obstacles. 

One example is in the NHS. When different medical instituitions in a network - say, a GP surgery, a hospital and a care home - each use different systems, it’s incredibly difficult to integrate data across all the platforms. This leads to catastrophic unreliability and innefficiency. 

They are solving this by upgrading to ‘middleware’ technologies that seamlessly integrate data from each different institution, making them ‘interoperable’. This is at the heart of the NHS’s digital transformation strategy and has led to huge improvements in performance. 

Bad image

If nothing else, the idea of using outdated technology can be unappealing to potential clients, partners and employees.

The digital skills gap means finding talented developers and other tech workers is already hard enough. The top talent entering the tech industry wants to work with the best, latest technologies. 

The same goes for tech startups. Legacy systems run the risk of deterring skilled employees and potential partners. 

What’s the impact?

These issues of security, inefficiency and expense have a wider impact on your organisation.

It severely limits your ability to adapt and scale in an unpredictable and fast-moving landscape. Even if legacy systems are working fine today, will that be the case in two years time?

Your competitors who upgrade their systems may well leap ahead of you. Modern tech users have high demands and it won’t be long before they flock to better-performing alternatives. 

How to update legacy systems

Updating legacy systems begins with an analysis of which areas of the system need upgrading. 

While organisation leaders may be experts in their field, they may not have a full understanding of their complex tech systems. They may also lack the resources to obtain the in-house expertise to perform the necessary assessments.

Outsourcing this service is a cost-effective option. 

At B13, we help clients in many ways including code reviews, development services and support and maintenance contracts.

We begin with a detailed assessment of not only your tech requirements, but your business needs and goals as well. This enables our UK-based managers to find the best solution from a range of options based on your needs and circumstances. 

Our offshore pool of highly-skilled, vetted developers enables you scale up your team rapidly and flexibly. You only pay for the staff you need. 

Whether it’s just a few features that need some work or it requires a complete rebuild, we offer unparalleled expertise, communication, flexibility and value.

Many have already benefitted from our service. This construction monitoring business was able to secure a sale of the business thanks to its improved software. And the solution we developed for this delivery business provided efficiency improvements that turned them from cash-negative to cash-positive. 

Get in touch today and let’s chat about how we can improve your legacy systems.

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