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Legacy Systems

1. What Is a Legacy System?

A legacy system is an outdated and increasingly obsolete technology that is still being used. It may include methods or technology which are no longer relevant in the current context and may hinder or complicate the understanding of the methods or technologies used in the current scenario. In the reference of IT, the term refers to old software, including operating systems, apps, libraries, and even programming languages.

Other terms for “legacy systems” are:

  • Legacy IT systems.
  • Legacy programs.
  • Legacy software.
  • Legacy applications.

2. What are the Characteristics of a Legacy System?

  • Difficult or slow to operate.
  • Nearly impossible to update, expand.
  • Difficult to integrate with other systems.
  • Limited functionality (design as well as to more contemporary alternatives).
  • Lowered productivity.
  • Vulnerable to security breaches.
  • Poor and non-existent documentation.
  • Lack of maintenance experts.
  • Discontinued production.

3. Name some Examples of Legacy Systems?

There are countless examples of legacy systems. Some are:

  • Operating systems: Android 1 to 6 (Marshmallow), Windows 7, Windows XP.
  • Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP): Trade card, Baan ERP, SAP R/2.
  • Programming languages: OptimJ, COBOL, FoxPro, PL/B.
  • Health softwares: MyWay, Google Health, Allscripts.


4. Why Are Legacy Systems Still In Use?

There are many reasons why companies still use legacy systems to fulfill their operational tasks.

  • The system has a limited or minimal impact on the organization’s processes.
  • The organization does need to depend heavily on systems (legacy or not) to operate.
  • The organization is accustomed to the system and shows very little flexibility to move out of their “comfort zone”.
  • The risks of changing systems overweigh the potential benefits of doing so. This is particularly in industries and areas like space exploration, nuclear defense, and air traffic control.
  • The cost of replacing core systems is higher than what the organization can afford.
  • The sensitivity of transition and complexity.

5. Which Organizations are most impacted by Legacy Systems?

Based on the reasons mentioned above, there are two types of organizations that legacy software is more prevailing:

  • Large organizations that operate on many complex multi-layered workflows.
  • Organizations in which system uptime and safety are critical factors.
  • Healthcare organizations.
  • Government bodies and agencies.
  • Financial institutions and Banks.
  • Transportation and logistics organizations.
  • Energy generation and distribution companies.
  • Nuclear defense departments.
  • Space exploration agencies.
  • Banks and financial institutions.

6. How do Legacy Systems affect Organizations?

The most common way legacy systems affect organizations is by interfering with their productivity, efficiency, and security levels. Legacy systems imposed limitations on how an organization functions. Besides, when a legacy system is put under pressure, it can also prevent the correct functioning of an organization as a whole.

Take government agencies, for example. Earlier this year, It was reported that 12 US states still relied on unemployment support software that was built on ancient COBOL code. The systems were functioning, but the unforeseen event of the COVID-19 outbreak dragged them to the ground. With unemployment reaching the sky, these legacy pieces of software were quickly overrun by the sudden spike of traffic and requests.
As a result, thousands of people found themselves struggling to access the system that was supposed to provide their unemployment benefits. It exposed the “legacy” status of these systems like cumbersome, inefficient, and virtually impossible to update. Eventually, the problem became so pressing that private companies stepped up to help fix the problem.

7. What are the risks of moving past a Legacy System?

The two main risks connected with leaving behind a legacy system tend to be the following -

  • The migration to a new system goes wrong, resulting in unrepairable damages.
  • The migration goes well, but the new system provokes other problems that increase the burden on the organization’s previous issues.

Both situations are equally dreadful, and it is always advised that such changes take place under the technical team and the organization’s leadership overview.

8. How can we minimize the risks of moving past a Legacy System?

For smaller organizations, moving past legacy systems is an achievable goal in the short term. There are plenty of new software alternatives for SME’s that are easy to onboard, test, and replace.

Larger organizations, on the other hand, face a different kind of drastic change when it comes to legacy system migrations. In their case, everything starts with four major steps:

  • User research.
  • Identification of needs, risks, and goals.
  • Evaluation of resources and costs.
  • Development of an action plan.

It is also necessary to pay special attention to staff training and system maintenance costs, as these can especially have an impact on resources. The whole process takes several months to prepare, and it requires strong leadership and full-fledged inspection from technical teams’ at several points.

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