Article

Is it time to do something about your legacy systems?

Clair Hillier takes a look at legacy systems and provides a guide as to what steps you should take if you're thinking the system is no longer fit for purpose

Owning a legacy system is like owning a house. Initially when you decide to buy a house a lot of research is undertaken to ensure it’s in the right location and has the right number of rooms. Like selecting an IT system you spend time choosing the right fit for you.

Then you get the keys and everything’s new and exciting. Perhaps there are a couple of niggles, like the takeaway isn’t as good, but you get over the life changing bits and it’s the start of many happy years together.

Then something happens: you see someone else’s newer shinier house and you’re fed up of the maintenance and repair bills of your old one. Or, perhaps simply your circumstances have changed and the house you own no longer fits your needs.

You might start to think; wouldn’t it be better if it did more for us? Maybe it would be better if we weren’t spending a fortune looking after it? Would my life be better if I could integrate a massive sound system?

Then you remember the stress of the last move, not to mention the cost; you feel physically sick and have a quick change of mind.

It doesn’t stop your house not being right for you anymore though, does it?

If you’re reading this it’s likely you have a vested interest in legacy systems; so you’re aware that there are decisions that need to be made, whether you like it or not. On the positive side, you’re already conscious of your predicament!

What should you be doing?

The first step in the process is to take stock of the situation that you’re in. Look at each of your legacy systems and ask the following questions:

  1. What job does it do? It’s got to have a purpose otherwise you wouldn’t be thinking about it.
  2. What compromises are you making? Is it taking days every month to do some 'fudgeroo' to get it to work with your processes or other systems? Are you having to double entry data?
  3. Is it supported by either your software or support provider? Can someone extend or change it when you need them to?
  4. Is it portable? Is it living on a server or an individual PC where you can’t upgrade or move it?
  5. Are you secure? Is the platform still supported? Have you had to isolate the PC in your network? Are you missing out on some certifications as it’s the only thing holding you back?
  6. Is it sufficiently supporting the speed and load that your organisation needs?
  7. How usable is it? Are you spending good time and money training staff how to use a system? Maybe it doesn’t fit with modern usability so it’s not intuitive?

These are the standard questions to ask of the system. But what about bringing it in line with expectations above and beyond what you’d expect?

  1. Can part of the system work in a mobile way? Can you make the working life of your staff easier by letting them work on-the-go?
  2. Can you get some time savings in other systems by interfacing the two together?
  3. Would newer technologies provide speed and performance efficiencies?

Work through the above list and work out where you stand with certainty, risk and longevity.

Trusted advisor

A word of advice; you don’t need to do all of this yourself, you can bring in a third party. But make sure it’s someone you trust. Someone looking to get a large project in the bag may not tell you that you’re fine to use your existing system.

Choices

After taking a long hard look at your legacy system, you have the following choices:

Stick with it
You’ve done an assessment and you know that you’re good to stick with your existing system for now. Make a judgement on when you need to carry out the assessment again to track its suitability.

Make sure that you’ve got a reliable support provider who can look after the system. You’ll need immediate help for when something stops working and you'll need it back up and running; but you also need a team in place that will have the ability to make amends to allow the system to evolve with your working processes. Don’t think you have to stick with your current supplier – look at the options. There are partners that have the ability to support systems that they didn’t create (including the team at Waterstons).

Extend
What you have now is working well but you feel there are extra features that you could enjoy. There’s nothing to say that you can’t introduce some integration components to work with your other systems. Many are written with the power to tailor external components to work alongside. With the right expertise, these can make a big difference.

Replace
It’s a tough decision and not one to be taken lightly but may need serious consideration. Prepare yourself and the business for the fact that the system needs replacing. The budget for this type of work is rarely readily available so you may need at least several months or even years to secure the right budget.

Are you looking to create a one-off bespoke option which can be fantastic for getting a system that matches your needs exactly? Do you need to perform system selection to identify if the right option is available already? Either of these choices must support your business strategy now and in the future.

One last thought

If you’re thinking that this is an exercise that you don’t have time for, or one that you want to put on the back burner for a while, consider what might happen if something could render your system dead or useless to the business. If that happened what would you do?

This is where the analogy comes unstuck. A legacy system is not like a house in this respect, you can’t just move in with your mates or your mum if it all goes wrong!

Knowledge Share | Henry Colbeck: More than just suppliers

23 October 2019 , Durham Office

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