The Legacy System Debate Isn’t as Black and White as You Think

black and white debate arrows


You probably already know that with technology, there is nothing completely black or white, right or wrong. When it comes to legacy systems, this is especially true.


What is a legacy system?

Let’s take a few steps back and remind ourselves of what is exactly a legacy system. Gartner, the IT authority, defines a legacy application or system as being:


“An information system that may be based on outdated technologies, but is critical to day-to-day operations. Replacing legacy applications and systems with systems based on new and different technologies is one of the information systems (IS) professional’s most significant challenges. As enterprises upgrade or change their technologies, they must ensure compatibility with old systems and data formats that are still in use.”

The problem businesses are facing is that they know they should replace their legacy system before it is too late but the complexity of replacing the system is also a big issue. Let’s discuss a few of the points to consider when planning your legacy system replacement.


COTS versus custom

When replacing your legacy system, you must wonder what you will change it for. Do you want to go down the road of custom development or should you explore a ready-made commercial off-the-shelf (COTS)?

With custom development, you should end up with exactly what you want and need. To get there, you will need a seasoned team of developers willing to work hard for you. Compared to COTS, it will take a longer time to develop and test. You may also end up spending quite an amount of money. If your needs are very specific and you can’t find what you are looking for with COTS, go down the custom software road.

On the other hand, COTS have many advantages such as reduced cost, higher reliability, better maintainability, higher overall quality and, not to be underestimated, a delivery schedule at a fraction of the time needed for custom development. If you know what you want and COTS can cut it for you, there is no better solution for your business. As an added bonus, COTS vendors have a great deal of experience when it comes to the migration of your data from your legacy system to their new software.


Installed versus cloud-based

Nowadays, unless you need extreme levels of security for your data, a cloud-based solution is usually the way to go. It allows you to be mobile and to exchange the information quickly and seamlessly within your team even if you are scattered on different sites.

If there is one downside to a cloud-based solution, it could be the monthly or yearly fees attached to such a product. To comfort you, remember that these fees include the support you may not get on the long run with a custom software.


How much can you afford?

In most cases, the necessity to migrate your data from your risky legacy system to a state-of-the-art new software is widely accepted. The big question is: Can you afford it? Do you have the cash flow to spend on custom development, consultation and migration? Can you clearly see the ROI you will get on that investment? Would maintaining your legacy system for a few more years be better for your business budget? These are all important questions only you and your accountant can answer.


I will leave you with this closing remark. There is just no good answer to these questions. The only good answer is the one that fits the specific characteristics of your business. I may be a fan of inexpensive cloud-based COTS but this may, or may not, be the best solution for your business. It is up to you to explore what are your needs and find the best system and processes to make sure the transition from your legacy system to your replacement goes smoothly.

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