What’s The Best Way To Modernize A Legacy System?

Ah ha! The title of this post is a trick question. There is no single “best way” to modernize your legacy system. The approach you choose depends on what you’re trying to accomplish. So, before you get started, let’s lay some groundwork. In this post, we’ll discuss why modernizing legacy systems is important, how to choose the right approach, and which options you should consider to fit your legacy modernization goals.

Why You Should Modernize Your Legacy System 

If you’re reading this post, you’re already on the right track. You recognize that legacy systems are outdated and inefficient, and that makes them dangerous to your business growth. If you’re looking to undergo legacy system modernization, you’re probably facing one of these challenges:

  1. Your outdated infrastructure is costing you way more to maintain than you’d like.
  2. The lack of available security updates for your legacy application is putting your data at risk.
  3. The legacy system is failing to maintain the data compliance required for your business.
  4. The lack of functionality is causing you to fall behind your competition.
  5. Your teams are unable to collaborate and work efficiently and it’s affecting your customers.

Legacy systems often come with high maintenance costs and security issues. Since data informs every facet of modern business, these are the types of risks no one can afford to take.

The limited functionality of a legacy system makes it more difficult to perform the automated, personalized tasks necessary to beat the competition. Plus, if you want to boost the analytical power of your data through integration, it’s far more difficult (and expensive) to do so with a legacy solution.

When you modernize legacy systems, you boost operational efficiencies, reduce maintenance and security costs, and open up your organization to greater IT agility and innovation.

Choosing the Best Modernization Approach 

As we mentioned earlier, the “best” way to modernize legacy applications depends on your company and its goals. How is the legacy solution currently functioning? Where is it failing? What insights do we need to gather to better understand this problem? To decide on an effective modernization strategy, you’ll need to get to the root of the problem first. Your team will need to ask questions like:

  • How is the legacy system currently being used?
  • What recurring issues are we seeing?
  • How is this impacting our revenue?
  • How is this impacting our customer service costs?
  • Is it affecting our conversion rates?
  • Are we aware of security issues or lost data due to these issues?
  • How much can we realistically invest to solve this issue?
  • What’s the risk or potential disruption we could face if we modernize this legacy solution? What are the risks if we don’t?
  • How is our system architecture and infrastructure affected?
  • How is this affecting our other technologies and the ways they work together?

Once you understand how the legacy application is hindering your business and why, you can start to consider solutions that will offer the highest value. There are seven common legacy modernization approaches, which we’ll discuss in the next section. The costs and the risks of each are important to weigh against your goals to help you find your answer.

7 Ways to Modernize a Legacy System

There are technically seven different ways to go about modernizing your legacy system. In essence though, the determining factor will come down to the cost and the risk you believe is necessary to achieve your modernization goals. Is this situation so devastating that it requires a complete overhaul? Or does the application just need a little face lift? Perhaps it’s something in between?

Modernization Option #1: Replacing

This modernization approach completely scraps the existing system in favor of something newer and better. For example, you may replace a legacy, on-premises CRM with a Cloud CRM. If you take this route, make sure your new solution is compatible with your existing technologies. Even if you don’t plan to integrate now, you may want to in the future.

Considerations: This option is a faster route to the Cloud, but it will take some time and planning to do well. User adoption of the new system and business disruption are potential risks.

Modernization Option #2: Rebuilding

This option requires building a new system from scratch with similar, but improved, functions. You maintain the scope and specifications of the pre-existing application, but with upgrades. This is the most time consuming and expensive option for legacy modernization. However, if the costs of maintaining your legacy systems are high, it may be worthwhile.

Considerations: If you’re going to rebuild a legacy application, make sure it can leverage modern infrastructure and function in a cloud-native environment. To do this well, you must factor in DevOp methodologies and technologies that will help the system remain stable and flexible enough to perform in the long term.

Modernization Option #3: Replatforming

This is when you port the legacy app’s components to a managed service, keeping the features and functions as-is while using minimal coding changes to adapt to the new platform. This option helps reduce infrastructure costs and improve performance without a hefty investment. Unlike a complete rebuild, you’re just altering the legacy application to run in a target environment like your cloud applications.

Considerations: You’ll need developers who can make code changes to adapt to the new platform without affecting the code’s structure or the system’s functions and features.

Modernization Option #4: Rehosting

This option for modernizing legacy systems requires moving the system to a new infrastructure, be it physical, virtual, or in the Cloud. Code is not altered or modified in this approach. Similar to replatforming, the features and functions of the legacy app also remain the same. Business logic doesn’t change, so there are lower costs and fewer risks. An example of rehosting may be moving an on-premises ERP system to AWS to make it more flexible, secure, and stable.

Considerations: Be aware that, while rehosting is a faster way to get to the Cloud without having to re-engineer the system, the end result still does not take full advantage of cloud-native tools, performance enhancements, or cost benefits.

Modernization Option #5: Refactoring

In this legacy modernization approach, you optimize the existing code on the backend to remove technical problems, but you don’t change the front end behavior or functionality. You’re only re-coding parts of the system so you can take greater advantage of cloud-based or other more modern systems. This is a common approach for organizations who are working with a hybrid environment and want to take advantage of some aspects of the Cloud while still running the majority of the legacy application on-site.

Considerations: The approach is not as disruptive as a complete rewrite, and it can greatly improve efficiency in the Cloud. However, because most of the application is still running on-site, the legacy technology may still limit what’s possible.

Modernization Option #6: Rearchitecting 

Rearchitecting requires a complete change to the legacy application’s code in order to move it over to another architecture. With this approach, you can capitalize on newer and better capabilities from the existing platform.

Considerations: One example of rearchitecting would be moving from a monolithic architecture to a microservices architecture. Experts predict microservices architectures will be in 90% of all new apps by 2022 because they offer improved options for design, debugging, updates, and leveraging third-party code.

Modernization Option #7:  Retaining or Retiring

This is the “get ahead by doing nothing” approach to legacy modernization. If your organization is going through a merger or there are other major changes occurring in the near future, it may be a good idea to retain the current solution in the short term while you get new strategies in place. In the meantime, you could consider building connectors to let the legacy system work together with some of the more modern applications in the organization.

If your initial evaluation of the legacy system proves that its business impact, usage, and workloads are not adding anything of benefit, you may also consider completely retiring the system and moving all the users to another system you already have.

Considerations: Retaining the legacy application isn’t meant as a long-term solution. The longer you keep those inefficiencies in place, the less resources you’ll have to invest in fixing them later on. In addition, when it comes to retiring a legacy app, make sure you consider how you will need to redesign any gaps in your operational processes. A process redesign isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It can be a great opportunity to improve business processes. It’s just something you should plan for before making the decision to retire the application.

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