The technology ecosystem is always changing, making it imperative for businesses to embrace new technologies available to them. However, many organizations rely on legacy technology to run their operations making it extremely difficult to make the transition to a more modern and innovative system.
As the reliance on legacy systems remains, the need to move into the digital age proves challenging to most organizations. Here are five of the most common challenges:
1. Incorporating legacy technology into your digital strategy.
Support for digital transformation is realized only after successfully adopting, transitioning, and fully embracing your current stage. These range from the practice of operating a business-as-usual model to fostering innovation in the form of leveraging entirely new technological systems whereby strategy is road-mapped to the philosophy that change is constant.
In the current context, “legacy” has come to denote an IT asset that has been superseded but are difficult to replace because of widespread use. As such, legacy technology presents a paradox: It is both somewhat derided as a hindrance to full digital transformation, and at the same time, is a necessity by some industrial sectors to run their applications. Legacy technology persists because of the reliability and compute power they offer and only because many years of complex management have made it impossible to uncouple from business processes dependent upon it.
If any of these notions seem obstinate, consider that in a recent survey of enterprise IT stakeholders, 52 percent indicated that they still run Windows XP for management of some systems—notably in finance—despite OS support ending in April 2014.
Further, 62 percent of respondents to a recent MIT Technology Review report indicated that the integration of legacy systems into a multi-cloud environment is one of their biggest challenges.
2. Legacy technology can result in security vulnerabilities.
Regardless of whether or not an organization seeks to pursue a lean IT ecosystem, it will be a long-term process during which the inherent security vulnerabilities of legacy systems due to lack of updates, maintenance and attention could put your data at risk.
Even with a highly committed enterprise IT team, system health checks are often ignored, leaving legacy systems to fall into the “set and forget” status. This lack of required care and feeding needed to stay up to date brings risk to vulnerabilities to your system allowing them to be the target of an attack.
Skill gaps and diminishing expertise are leaving organizations open to risk due to lack of support needed to keep legacy systems up to date and running in a secure manner. The lack of support often pushes essential maintenance down in priority compared to the fixes for newer operating systems, resulting in a period during which the legacy OS is in danger of being compromised.
Organizations run a higher risk if they fall into complacent life support mode with their legacy systems and it becomes beneficial to engage a third party to for management of these systems until they can adopt a migration plan to decommission the system.
3. Defending the cost-effectiveness of legacy technology.
The debate rages on among decision-makers regarding the cost of legacy system operations. Is it cost effective to continue running legacy systems long term?
Updates and support can be more expensive to manage for many reasons. The cost of support for legacy systems is higher because operating system support becomes obsolete without necessary upgrades, the skill set is shrinking, and amount of resources and investment to migrate away from specific systems is cost prohibitive.
On the other hand, the desire to embrace automation and move toward newer applications and cloud platforms comes with higher rewards such as simplifying business operations, increasing speed to value and improving security postures. All of these motivators are attractive to business owners, and legacy systems can hinder these revenue drivers.
4. Legacy technology lacks compatibility with other IT solutions.
Due to compatibility issues and end-user preferences, legacy technology presents challenges to business interactions by introducing a gap between meeting customer demand with enterprise goals. The business decision to remain tethered to legacy systems often increases the need for work around solutions to meet the simple demands today’s technology can do, without added complexity.
5. Legacy technology increases the potential for operational disruption.
Finding a place for older technology in the long-term strategic roadmap is challenging for many reasons. The potential for operational disruption from outdated systems in the form of failures and outages presents problems and can drive up operating costs. Also, organizational project management must account for the variance between the pace of technology upgrades and company roadmap forecasts and bridge the gap through additional planning, accommodations, and resource allocations.
Technical debt accrued by older technology is a real detriment towards enhancing business processes. When legacy systems create obstacles in long-term strategic planning, they tend to foster trickle-down effects related to problems such as finding appropriate IT staff across a broad skill set that may not warrant full-time positions. Also, it becomes harder for the company to maintain profitability if it cannot retain personnel with training in both legacy systems and newer technologies―and when it does find the right individuals, they often come at higher price points regarding salaries and benefits.
The truth remains, organizations keep legacy systems because the risk and cost are too high to replace them quickly. As a short-term remedy, they continue to jump the legacy system support hurdles as they come, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to do it alone. As additional challenges like security and operating disruptions creep into scope, organizations are looking for economical solutions that fit within their future-focused technology roadmap while meeting the demand of their current infrastructure and that strategy seems different for every organization.