As the global marketplace becomes increasingly reliant on digital resources and interconnectivity, it’s vital to adopt new technologies to move your business forward. Implementing robust digital innovations can help you better serve your customers and sustain a long-term competitive advantage. When upgrading legacy systems more than a decade old, it’s important to plan thoughtfully and consider different strategies. In this article, we will discuss six legacy modernization approaches and when to apply them: rehosting, re-platforming, repurchasing, rearchitecting, retiring, and retaining.
Before we dig into the specifics, let’s define what a legacy system is. The term “legacy system” refers to antiquated processes, software, and IT infrastructure.
Over time, legacy systems become increasingly costly to maintain. To make matters worse, these technologies are rarely able to communicate with modern solutions. This lack of integration between systems can crush productivity and morale while negatively impacting your overall profitability.
Why Legacy Modernization is Necessary
Modernization is vital if your business wants to remain competitive and protect against nimble new entrants in your industry. The update process will help address the shortcomings of outdated technologies, better meet customer expectations, and eliminate operational inefficiencies. In addition, dynamic new technologies can help you innovate new products and take them to market more rapidly while reducing your IT operating costs and capital outlays.
Your legacy modernization approach should be dependent on your unique needs and the specifics of your legacy system. During the planning process, you may find that you don’t need to replace all of your existing technology. Your developers may replace outdated technologies with more modern alternatives while leaving some applications as they are. Your plan should also carefully consider whether to integrate your various applications so that they can more efficiently exchange information.
Before you select a legacy modernization approach, it is essential to clearly identify your digital transformation goals.
During the planning phase, you want to consider the following: What do you hope to accomplish by updating your technologies? How are other businesses leveraging modern technology in your industry? What do your employees expect from the business systems they work with every day? Do you need to replace your entire technology portfolio or only one component of it? What will be hard to replace, and what will be easy? Are you trying to resolve a specific problem, such as a lack of integration between two applications?
By answering these questions, you can begin identifying the legacy modernization approach best suited for your business needs.
If you are concerned about the cost of the upgrade, you may want to consider updating your most important applications first. This can solve some of the major issues that your business is facing while also saving money.
However, you should also include an outline of how to address the rest of your IT resources to ensure that your technology stack, and your business, do not lag behind the competition.
Legacy Modernization Approaches
There are six different legacy modernization system approaches that your organization can deploy to update its existing suite of technologies.
Each approach has benefits and limitations. The approach that will best support your business will depend on several factors. These include the complexity of your business, competitor strategies, state of your current IT infrastructure, and resources at your disposal.
For instance, a complete system overhaul may be appropriate if you have a single location business with extremely outdated IT resources located on-premises. A partner can help you determine which approach is best for your business.
Our small business clients often have small legacy systems that can rapidly be rebuilt to take advantage of dynamic new technologies. Following this method allows for business processes to be optimized and new features to be added. Within this approach, there are a few different directions you can take.
Rebuild with No Code
Rebuilding in no-code using robotic process automation (RPA) or other tools non-developers can leverage save both time and money. If your legacy application requires simple data tracking and decision-making, this can be a good solution. However, as your business and your needs evolve, keep in mind that you may quickly need to turn to a technical professional. Depending upon the no-code tool that you use, you may be confined by the possibilities of the platform. Thus, your solutions may not be able to be fully customized.
Rebuild with Low Code / Rapid Application Development (RAD)
Rebuilding with low-code involves allowing your development team to rapidly rebuild applications utilizing pre-built tooling and robust development environments. They may not require custom code if your business needs are straightforward.
Some low-code platforms, like Claris FileMaker, on which we have been building custom solutions for nearly two decades, provide a canvas for complex architecture and dynamic integrations. With low-code or rapid application development environments, developers can create applications faster with less code and lower investment costs.
Rebuild with Cloud Native
If your business needs better performance, more security, more scalability, and/or more flexibility to boost agility, opt for modernizing your legacy application with a cloud-native rebuild. Enabling your business with event-driven, serverless cloud-native application architecture can reduce costs; you only pay for the workloads that you need when you need them. This application architecture can also adapt to changes and make automated decisions in real-time using pre-built services such as Amazon Simple Notification Services (Amazon SNS). This service is recommended when you want to build an application that is highly responsive to inputs published by other applications, microservices, or AWS services.
Leverage Web Programming Languages
As Amazon Web Services (AWS) Advanced Partners, we build cloud-native applications for our clients using a combination of web programming languages like React with AWS services. These include Amazon SNS and AWS Lambda, an event-driven, pay-as-you-go compute service that lets you run code without provisioning or managing servers. That means you don’t have to worry about scoping and purchasing a server for your application at all. And when your workload changes, your application can scale up or down automatically. There’s no need to worry about hardware upgrades, large capital outlays, or user frustration.
Your team can start entirely from scratch or decide to integrate new cloud-native modules with existing applications. Following an iterative or agile project management methodology, rather than a big bang or waterfall methodology, delivers value from the rebuild quickly, helps maintain business continuity, and reduces risks.
During the project planning phase, analysts will first reimagine the solution and outline a project and change management plan. Once all stakeholders are on the same page regarding modifications to business processes and a timeline and budget have been established, the team will spin up infrastructure and applications with pay-as-you-go cloud services. Your organization can continue using your legacy system until the cloud-based solution is built and your data has been migrated.
2. Rehost with Lift-and-Shift
With a large, complex legacy system, rewriting it completely in the face of a pressing business need may be impossible. Lifting and shifting the application to the cloud can often meet your business needs quickly while delaying the need to rewrite complex or highly regulated processes. If timed properly, lifting your legacy application off of on-premises infrastructure into the cloud can avoid large capital outlays for new hardware – enabling you to shift your IT spend from capital expense (CapEx) to operating expense (OpEx). However, in most cases, it is not a long-term solution that will allow you to take full advantage of the robust technologies in the cloud, nor will it be the best solution for every legacy application.
Rehosting a legacy application in the cloud “as-is” does have other benefits, such as enhanced security, the potential for improved performance, and increased capacity, among others.
This method can be a great first step for large, complex legacy systems that need to be quickly updated to meet a pressing business need or to avoid large capital outlays. With less risk involved, it can help you step lightly into the cloud.
With this methodology, you go one step beyond rehosting and make a few tweaks in the cloud to optimize performance, costs, and/or scalability. For example, you might want to switch your database back-end to a fully-managed database as a service such as Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS) to free up your IT operations staff. Or you may take advantage of the change in configuration to switch to an open-source provider for one of your application components in order to save money on licensing fees. If you have a bit more time and budget to meet your business needs than a simple lift-and-shift, this option may be the best fit as a first step into the cloud.
4. Repurchase with SaaS
SaaS or Software as a Service provides organizations with complete software solutions. SaaS solutions include a pay-as-you-go model because you are essentially renting apps from the provider. All IT infrastructure, apps, and data are stored on the service provider’s cloud-based servers or data center.
SaaS does not offer custom solutions, but it can be cost-effective. If your primary concerns are systems integrations, then SaaS may be the best legacy modernization approach for your business. You can also use inexpensive SaaS tools to bridge the gap while pursuing a custom modernization, like a cloud-native rebuild.
You may find that an application is no longer useful and can be easily switched off. We see this happening with our enterprise clients more often than our small business clients who tend to have tighter budgets and more management visibility into their detailed IT spend.
After analyzing your portfolio with a partner you trust, you might discover that you’re still not ready to modernize certain legacy applications. You should only migrate and modernize if you are certain you will obtain measurable benefits. You will want to keep a close eye on any legacy applications you choose to retain, though; the cloud evolves quickly and the benefits continue to grow. As of today, AWS has over 200 services spanning secure, and resizable compute capacity, fully managed relational databases, machine learning and artificial intelligence, data analytics, and the Internet of Things. And other cloud providers like Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud offer their own options.
How to Prepare for Your Legacy Transformation
Once you have decided on a legacy modernization approach, it’s time to prepare your business for its impending digital transformation. First, you must ensure that you know your IT stack inside and out. You should also have a detailed understanding of any compliance or security concerns related to your industry. Finally, you should ensure that all stakeholders across your business have been provided an opportunity to share their requirements.
Due to the complexity of legacy modernization, you will be most successful when you work with a full-service consulting team that helps you put together a plan that considers the business, people, governance, technology, security, and operational aspects of your transformation.
A business and technology consulting firm that offers legacy modernization services will help you design a cohesive plan. They can help ensure your new system is future-proofed so that it can flex with your business.
An often-overlooked area of legacy modernizations is the cultural impact. Change is hard for both you and your staff members. With that in mind, it is vital that you get buy-in from your team. Seek out their input to build something that everyone will love — and, more importantly, that they will use.
Modernization Solutions from Soliant Consulting
At Soliant Consulting, we focus our legacy system modernization approach on our clients’ unique needs to provide tailored, fit-for-purpose solutions. We can provide modernization solutions unique to your IT stack, application portfolio, and your business needs.
Learn more about how we helped our client ATR International modernize its legacy application. If you would like to learn more about how we can help your organization prepare for the future, contact our team.