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What to Look for while Modernizing Legacy Systems

By CIOReview | Thursday, September 8, 2016

Legacy systems are generally characterized by the use of old technology, method, computing system, or application program. These systems continue to have impact on enterprise operations due to their limited capabilities. There are scenarios where the old data could not be converted into the new system format, or it might simply exist within the new system with the use of a customized schema crosswalk, or even exist only in a data warehouse.

In most cases, these legacy systems employ procedures or terminologies which are outdated, and only add to hindrance or confusion in comprehending the methods or technologies used. Additionally, the expenses involved in redesigning or replacing the system are prohibitive for companies, as it is large, monolithic, and complex. All these factors build up to indicate an enterprise to modernize their legacy system at the appropriate moment.

But, before actually going ahead and migrating the legacy system, it’s essential for organizations to consider the reusability of the legacy systems in a Service-oriented Architecture (SOA) environment. A policy termed as Migration, Adoption, and Reuse Technique (SMART) is employed by the Software Engineering Institute (SEI) to assist organizations in realizing if they can reuse the existing legacy system. Infrastructure places a number of constraints on the system in terms of feasibility, and thus it’s advisable for organizations to incorporate an appropriate [SOA] infrastructure. A mistake usually encountered in modernizing legacy systems is the failure on enterprises’ part to integrate functionality or data, which can enable them to implement business processes, identified integral to the SOA adoption policy. Lack of tools for a very old platform; the difficulty of integrating a batch-oriented system with an interactive request/response style system; and the strained coupling of user interface functionality with business functionality are the factors which usually pose as constraints to modernization.

With the ongoing spree of introducing newer technologies, modernization of legacy systems become highly necessary, but enterprises tend to fall prey to some common mistakes while implementing a SOA-enabled legacy system. However, prior knowledge about these pitfalls and the relevant solutions can help enterprises evade potential disasters and ensure that the modernization process accomplishes the aim. Here are some of the most common pitfalls to avoid while undertaking the modernization strategy.

Failure in securing an appropriate buy-in

It’s important for enterprises to discuss and lay out the strategic business objective as the technical feasibility of the modernization process. The key to all ongoing support relies on executive buy-in and commitment, which plays an important role as a project is implemented. Enterprises must have an acceptable business case with clear return on investment (ROI) for securing a buy-in.

Lack of comprehension about the current state

Organizations planning to undertake legacy modernization should ensure that the initial assessment includes review of the hardware and software contract terms; know-how about potential solution paths, and finally an evaluation of the rate of application change. The prime objective should lie in comprehending existing application and data types, as well as their interdependencies, and the best approach at accomplishing this is to conduct an application portfolio assessment. Without initially understanding what essentially exists, it’s vague for companies to make and execute efficient decisions.

Underrating the importance of testing and planning

Success of a modernization policy depends on whether a detailed implementation plan and testing regime was incorporated and executed. An organized and excellent plan helps in utmost realization, and consequently testing at each stage ensures alignment and accuracy. Most importantly, chances of failure for a migration strategy increases exponentially in absence of proper testing and planning policies.

Ignoring the requirement to commit resources

Modernization projects often fail to perceive the importance of committing adequate resources in the process. An enterprise’s legacy modernization project undoubtedly has its own individual demands, but appointing a project manager will only make the process more efficient and swift, as there will be someone experienced enough to consistently track and ensure that important milestone deadlines are met. Additionally, assigning subject matter experts, including specialists of systems, applications, operations, and databases usually pay well for organizations during the tenure of the engagement.

Failure in supporting regular communications 

Prior knowledge about unexpected challenges helps in early mitigation of several issues, and it relies solely on availability of constant communication link. The entire team can stay involved in be aware of the challenges with incorporation and maintenance of consistent communication link. Most organization addresses this by utilizing weekly memos, or by convening short meetings. Additionally, generating monthly updates for the executive stakeholders is critical to the process.

Going solo while modernizing legacy systems

At times, it’s convenient to undertake a process individually as the person(s), as the individual has a clear knowledge about the goals and objectives, and it helps to avoid a lot of confusion and issues related to mixed opinion about the subject. But, it’s still advisable for enterprises to start with an experienced partner who can assist in avoiding the common pitfalls, or add resources which facilitate the success of the process. Organization should take time to segregate an ideal partner who can guide the enterprise through the migration process, and additionally complement the company’s in-house capabilities.

There are few other misconceptions regarding modernizing legacy systems which loom at large. Enterprises usually assume that by migrating to SOA, the legacy part disappears, which is a flawed idea, considering the system still has users and executes daily operations. Another misconception which engulfs migration is that most people think modernization is just a simple case of wrapping. System-by-system analysis of the approach helps in eliminating this misconception, as only analysis would reveal that there are lot of other factors and things to be considered. Lastly, lot many enterprises assume everything to be a service, which doesn’t necessarily hold true every time. Enterprise should only expose what makes sense from a completely business process perspective.

Modernization of legacy systems might seem like a difficult and strenuous job, but through collaboration with experienced system integrators and adhering to proven methodologies enterprises can achieve their migration goals on time and within determined budget. It is however mandatory to verify the integrators' track record and expertise so as to enable organizations to cope with the risks and implement known mitigation strategies. A systematic implementation of a modernization project can serve as a fuel for an enterprise to steer ahead of the competition.