“Modernize your business” — it’s a phrase that we see almost every day across our social media feeds. But what does it actually mean?
Are we talking about moving to the cloud? Or adding mobile apps for our work tools? Or something else?
When I’m talking to people about modernizing their information management infrastructure, all of those questions apply, but we hit a roadblock pretty early in the conversation.
That roadblock often derails any thoughts of modern systems, of getting benefit and return on investment of a new system, and induces horrified thousand-yard stares in the eyes of otherwise enthusiastic people.
What roadblock am I talking about? I’m talking about the systems that organizations already have: the so-called legacy systems.
What is a Legacy System?
In the words of Alan Pelz-Sharpe, aka “APS,” of Deep Analysis advisory firm, ‘“Legacy’ is a term that is used widely in the IT world; it refers to software and hardware that has been since superseded by better technology.’”
This is a great description, but it’s the last part of the statement that is really interesting: superseded by better technology. Think about this for a second; in most cases of business, we are always trying to be the best, the fastest, the most profitable, and so on. And we are doing this by using systems that have been superseded by something better, aren’t we?
Well, yes, actually. But before we explore why, let’s take a look at some examples of the legacy systems still in operation today.
Examples of Legacy Systems
Legacy systems come in all shapes and sizes, but the information management space has some very easy targets to explore. As shared in the recent AIIM Ebook “The Future of Information Management is NOW,” over 40% of SharePoint users are still running SharePoint 2010, despite the fact that Microsoft stopped mainstream support for it almost 5 years ago.
This software is from a time when Tom Brady only had three Super Bowl wins (he now has 6, btw). Think about this from a personal technology perspective; how many of you still have the iPhone 4? None of you? Point proven: the iPhone 4 was released in 2010. We don’t use old tech for our personal use but we do at work.
Another example of a hard-to-remove legacy system is Lotus Notes. Despite being older than Father Time himself, people are still using Lotus Notes — enough people, in fact, to persuade HCL to buy Lotus as a going concern from IBM in 2018. The continued usage can’t be because it is the best product on the market, so what is it?
And the final example is the grandfather of all information management systems, Documentum. Documentum was one of the forerunners of the enterprise content management (ECM) marketplace for many years. It’s been through many owners and many versions, but it still hangs around largely due to the millions of dollars worth of maintenance fees.
But Documentum’s longevity actually causes a problem; it was born pre-cloud, as were many other solutions in this space. That presents all of those pre-cloud vendors with a major headache: how to redevelop their code bases to be cloud and mobile enabled while still maintaining the old code base for existing users. This essentially doubles the amount of effort required, or, in most cases, halves the amount of innovation, new features, and bug fixes that they can produce in any given release cycle.
Why Are People Still Using Legacy Systems?
Well, to continue quoting from APS, people still use legacy systems because “legacy systems are seen as difficult to replace.” And, in many cases, they genuinely are.
Anyone who has performed an upgrade of the aforementioned SharePoint from one version to another knows that we are not talking about a quick download and acceptance of some new terms and conditions here.
We are talking about a major migration project to even go from one version to the next. Above all else, this is why organizations are still stuck in the purgatory of using software that is no longer fit for purpose, simply because it is a large and scary task to get rid of it.
And it’s causing major issues. According to research conducted by Vanson Bourne for Hitachi, nine out of 10 IT decision-makers claim legacy systems are preventing them from harnessing the digital technologies they need to grow and become more efficient.
In that same survey, 28% of respondents said they wanted to rip out legacy business intelligence and analytics systems and start again, 26% said the same for customer databases, and 25% said the same for workflow and document management systems.
Benefits of Modernization
The benefits of removing legacy systems are becoming clear to all:
Legacy systems tend to be expensive. In the old days (i.e., pre-cloud), people used to pay for software up front, then pay an annual maintenance fee for support and the ability to take upgrades. This was often as high as 20% of the purchase price, every year, and of course has been subject to cost increases due to inflation and the like. So, after a 10+ year stint using a legacy system you have a pretty sizable annual bill that ultimately buys you very little.
Legacy systems also tend not to play well with other systems. These systems were built in the days when each system kept itself to itself, leading to a situation where an organization ends up with a number of disconnected silos of information. In the modern, connected world this idea does not fly. We want to connect information together, to get the value of the network rather than have isolated pockets of information. Legacy systems simply were not designed to be part of that modern ecosystem.
We all now live in a digital world. We have mobile devices, wearable devices, connected fridges, self-driving cars, and so on. All of these gather and provide access to vast stores of connected information — well, not from legacy systems, they don’t. Again, because legacy systems were often designed pre-mobile, pre-web, and pre-cloud, the idea of sharing information simply does not compute. Even sharing content outside of the firewall poses major problems for many systems. Google the term “shadow it” if you don’t believe me. Anyone who has tried working remotely and getting information out of a legacy system via a VPN connection has felt this pain.
What is Legacy Migration?
Hopefully by now it’s pretty clear to you why we need to retire our legacy systems. The process by which we do that is called legacy modernization. Yes, the idea of shutting down old systems can be scary, and the process long and complex; however, in the words of former AIIM CEO John Mancini, “You can’t eat an elephant in one go." What he means (I think!) is that the best way to attack any complex topic is to break it down into smaller chunks. The same is absolutely true of legacy modernization.
And how to best break that legacy modernization elephant down into smaller chunks is exactly the topic covered by Deep Analysis in their recent ebook on the subject, The Essential Guide to Digital Migration, and discussed with suitable levels of energy and enthusiasm by Alan Pelz-Sharpe and Rich Lauwers in the recent webinar When Your Current Systems No Longer Help You Do Your Job, It's Time for a Revolution.
We are at the start of a new decade and still using software that was around at the start of the last decade. We all know that we need to get rid of that legacy burden, but for the (valid) reasons stated above, we are hesitant, nervous, or downright scared. But the time has come to conquer our fears. The time has come to retire those legacy systems and move to a modern, intelligent world of information management.