The Love/Hate Relationship with Legacy Systems


I understand.. you hate your legacy platform.  This acrimony has built up over years and now even the sight of an estimate with the legacy platform included is enough to send you over the edge.  It’s too difficult and expensive to change – too brittle – and it just doesn’t understand the modern way of doing things.

Yet.. it’s so stable and inexpensive to operate.  It’s hard to imagine a more solid core than this.  Like an old friend you have been through so much together.  The move from punch cards, the birth of self-service banking channels, the introduction of personal computers.. oh the memories!

With the world-changing even faster many people are considering modernizing legacy platforms and are torn between the two sides of this paradox.

What are the Real Issues with Legacy Platforms?

Just because a platform is old doesn’t make it legacy in my mind.  I have seen twenty or thirty year old systems that are a perfect fit and investments only a few years old that are no longer suited.  The difference is whether or not the platform fits the desired operating model of the business or not.

 If your platform is not supporting the desired business operating model, it’s a drag on your business and is a liability.

Many concerns are cited with legacy platforms:  costs, lack of flexibility, lack of skills, vendor reliability, feature x; some are legitimate some are often fictional — this depends on your context and situation.

Often these issues are multi-dimensional and difficult to analyze without some debate.  As an example, lack of skills in the legacy technology is often identified as a driver for replacement.  However, it is almost always possible to find someone somewhere that will learn an arcane and cumbersome language as part of an application support agreement.  When looking at this issue further what will really be missing in this model is having a team of engaged and passionate people creatively innovating with the platform.

When is the last time you saw something truly innovative based on legacy technologies?

Why Legacy Systems Continue

As much as these systems are often viewed as burdens on growth and flexibility, the alternative seems even worse – changing them out can fail tremendously if not well-managed and planned.  These spectacular failures are impossible to hide and can be career suicide.  Those that do succeed are seen as renegades and risk takers.

A Way Forward

The best way to address the Love/Hate relationship with legacy systems is to have a plan and do your homework.  Whether it’s a legacy containment strategy, a wrapper approach, a slow transition, a weekend swap out or keeping with the status quo: knowing what your constraints are and how you are addressing them in the short/mid and long-term is important.  Breaking up with a long-term legacy platform is hard to do, but sometimes it is the best option.

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