Computer systems aren’t the hot new thing anymore. In some way, shape, or form, computers have been part of the operation of businesses large and small for decades. While, happily, hardware and software alike just keep getting better and better, perhaps this isn’t something your business anticipated when it purchased that Unix mainframe in 1986. And so, you’ve spent the last thirty years wrapping it in software and hardware additions to supplement its functionality, resulting in a convoluted, jury-rigged system that’s neither optimized for your operation nor entirely compatible with modern technology.
Business systems represent a significant investment in both time and money, and because of that, companies are frequently reluctant to upgrade. Systems can be so integrated into a company’s operations that updating to a more recent, more versatile platform could seriously disrupt business for days on end, if not longer. And this is not as simple as a business that still relies on Windows XP; a good number of large companies who erected their business mainframes during the Carter administration are still relying on those same outdated platforms for critical back-end operations, and on the increasingly-small number of senior personnel who know how to operate them. While their long-term commitment to the business is valuable, it’s vital for a company’s survival and growth that systems be implemented that can be effectively administered by new staff.
This may not be easy; old tech sticks around because it gets embedded in how we do business. Legacy systems have become “mission critical,” so deeply engrained in operations as to make replacement not realistically feasible without throwing the entire organization into chaos. These are not out-of-the-box plug-and-play hardware systems, but platforms which have evolved over many years, growing with business operations symbiotically and leaving an indelible mark upon the company. The effort required to upgrade can be herculean.
Additionally, any business contemplating an upgrade is really deciding whether or not to risk the profound opportunity cost of upgrading to an unknown system over retaining an outdated system on which their staff is already trained. The system currently in place may not be ideal, but “it works just fine” is often hard to argue past, as many IT departments have zero-growth budgets and operational mandates simply to keep the gears turning fast enough for the business to stay open.
Moving forward with replacing legacy systems needs to be handled, then, with a great deal of care. The advantages of modernization cannot be overstated: sharper, more responsive systems that bring with them decades of technological advancement that offer real competitive advantages. Modernized systems can simply make the operation of your business seamless, removing sources of friction you didn’t even know you had that were slowing your growth and making the simple act of doing business unnecessarily difficult.
The question any company saddled with a legacy system, be it ten years old or thirty, isn’t whether or not to upgrade, but when and how. Don’t mistake this: your systems can’t live forever, and a planned replacement program is better than a catastrophic failure, an irreparable incompatibility, or a security breach. Staying current in technology has to be a priority for anyone doing business, through rolling upgrades and improvements. A fossilized platform that cannot be removed is a profound liability. That said, wholesale replacement is disruptive and potentially dangerous, and should never be approached lightly.
Phased upgrades are a possible solution wherein you offload vital data to new external servers while leaving business-critical applications on the existing hardware. This staggered approach can both lighten the load onka legacy system and buy you some much-needed breathing room in which to plan the final upgrade. While unshackling from outdated systems can be disruptive, it is always possible to mitigate the risk inherent to that venture through careful planning.