Legacy Systems: why are they still around and how can I innovate if I have one (or several)?

Legacy Systems: why are they still around and how can I innovate if I have one (or several)?

One of the charms of technology is its ability to dazzle us with novelties from time to time. On a personal level, we love having the latest cell phone, the latest TV screen for the living room, the latest laptop.

But at a business level, this is not so easy. In the technology industry, there’s a name for systems that were already there before we arrived, and will surely remain there when we leave: legacy systems.

Why haven’t they been replaced? What power do they have that allows them to survive in the company? Technology commentator and president of Transworld Data (a marketing and technology services firm) Mary E. Shacklett gives us some reasons for what keeps legacy systems in organizations:

They stay because they work!

A very popular saying in the technological industry is “if it works, don’t touch it.” The truth is that behind this saying is a tight budget, scarce staff, and many requests to tend to. This would explain why there are still IBM mainframe systems that have been running for 30 years: because they haven’t failed or fallen!

Users understand and like them

In addition to resisting change, businesses such as insurers or sureties have very complex internal processes. Users already know their legacy systems very well – they know what works and what doesn’t.

Years of business processes and code

Shacklett explains, “ERP systems from vendors such as Oracle and SAP have stood the test of time, serving as business process ‘drive chains’ throughout the enterprise. The companies using these systems have customized business processes, code and integration around these systems so they work with other corporate applications. This is an IT and intellectual property investment that isn’t easily replaced by a newer, off-the-shelf generic software that can’t carry the company IP investment forward.”

The supplier keeps investing in the system

As long as the provider of a legacy system continues to invest in the system, keeping it updated and allowing it to connect and take advantage of new technologies, many companies will prefer to keep it rather than look for a new solution. This is despite the shortage of personnel with the necessary skills to continue developing the system. The average age of a COBOL programmer is 55, and yet many IBM mainframes continue to run mission-critical COBOL applications. For this reason, IBM runs programs such as “Master the Mainframe,” and sponsors training in more than 150 universities around the world. Companies such as Oracle and Microsoft follow this same strategy in universities.

While all of these are good reasons for preserving legacy systems, it’s also true that a lot of times, these systems can limit innovations in processes. Requesting a change or a new process from the supplier means starting a whole project in conjunction with the IT department, approving an expensive budget, and many weeks and even months before starting to see results.

This is where RPA (Robotic Process Automation) technology comes in: companies can build robots that are not only capable of reproducing movements and clicks that users make on legacy system screens, but can also apply transformations to the data obtained, compare and analyze them with other data sources and other systems, making improvements to the processes analysists carry out. No need to make changes to the legacy system; no need for expensive or technologically complicated projects. This is one of the reasons why Conciliac solutions are so popular in industries as diverse as insurance brokers, manufacturing, or banks.

Conciliac provides companies with the best of both worlds: innovative solutions and new alternatives to the loyal legacy systems that simply refuse to die.

Author:  Conciliac Team.


Mary E. Shacklett: “The Staying Power of Legacy Systems”, April 2019, InformationWeek