Legacy systems, applications and processes – unsupported by their original vendors and often left behind by new technologies – remain remarkably useful and even critical to day-to-day business operations. A legacy system may act as a bridge to an even older technology, perhaps to access important customer and business data. Many businesses run unsupported Linux and Windows operating systems, and numerous federal government offices run on legacy IT infrastructures that are 45 years or older, but they still provide critical services, such as updates on ocean data to observe sea levels and to forecast hazards such as tsunamis.
Given that legacy systems often fill an important need, the idea of replacing them can seem like a risky proposition. Yet we’re living in a time when maintaining legacy systems could delay the IT organization’s move to the modern digital technologies it needs to keep the business competitive. Most legacy systems don’t play well with new digital technology; they exist in silos, create performance bottlenecks and have rigid architectures and slow provisioning processes. Many have been upgraded and/or patched multiple times, making them very complex and expensive to maintain.
To maintain business utility, IT must harden and transform legacy systems to optimize their value in the short term while creating a modern digital foundation. In our view, legacy hardening and transformation is all about reducing legacy debt, tightening processes, building resilient applications and infrastructure, encouraging modular architecture and ensuring business-IT alignment. By doing so, CIOs can accomplish the following:
- Find funds for modernization by reducing operating costs and unlocking value. This year, it’s estimated that 71%, or $34 billion of the IT budget for U.S. federal civilian agencies, will be spent on legacy system maintenance; the budget for IT modernization is only $3.1 billion. The process of legacy hardening reduces maintenance costs and activities, and enables IT staff to work on higher value projects. By moving away from costly support of overly complex and patched together systems, IT organizations can free up budget for new systems development and more innovative ways of working.
- Improve applications and systems performance to reduce the risk of a failed or obsolete system. Due to a lack of technology support and an inability to integrate with upstream and downstream systems, legacy systems often underperform. They also have restricted functionalities, particularly if IT organizations haven’t deployed the latest and greatest upgrades, which can lead to security-related issues, as well. Therefore, legacy hardening will improve application and system performance.
- Make it easier to link valuable data in legacy systems to new digital technology, initiatives, products and services.
- Create a cleaner IT landscape that is easier to modernize. By embracing new microservices architectures, IT organizations can begin to modernize the legacy core and include such systems in the enterprise’s digital backbone.
How to Harden Legacy Systems
The steps to legacy hardening include the following:
- Transform the IT portfolio and eliminate inefficiencies in application and infrastructure management. Identify duplicate functions, and then consolidate or eliminate redundant apps and infrastructure. This should reduce high operating costs and streamline processes. We increased productivity by 20% and application stability by 40% for one global telecom company by rationalizing redundant commercial products and improving application portfolio management.
- Automate manual processes. Whenever possible, automate rote and redundant processes associated with legacy (and other) systems using next-generation tools. For example, a Canadian insurance client of ours was looking for a reliable QA automation partner to reduce test cycles for new digital systems across devices/platforms/languages, etc. We implemented an end-to-end mobile test automation, which resulted in extensive device coverage and 80% cycle time reduction.
- Map process architecture to the business. Map business functions with their underlying IT applications, infrastructure and processes to get a clear view of how IT is delivering value to the business and how it could improve. This exercise also helps identify obsolete systems due for retirement.
- Reduce handoffs and unify support for smarter operations. Rationalizing, consolidating and integrating applications and infrastructure reduces interaction points between them. With many of the remaining applications and infrastructure components working in tandem, a unified or consolidated applications-infrastructure support approach becomes effective. We helped integrate application and infrastructure service desk support for a global financial services firm. This reduced costs because the service desk was able to handle a greater number of tickets before having to escalate them.
- Cross skill teams. Ensure the IT workforce not only meets the current project requirements but is also equipped to take on digital technologies. To succeed, IT organization must train their teams to meet current project requirements and anticipate future challenges that could emerge from an ever-changing business needs.
Using these legacy hardening approaches, we worked with a Dutch mobile telecom company to reduce its operating expenses, improve system uptime and shorten time to market by rationalizing a legacy architecture spread across a siloed IT stack, managed by a large number of suppliers with limited accountability. The hardening program reduced total operating expense by almost 18%, improved system uptime to 99.9% and reduced release cycles from nearly five months to eight weeks.
The bottom line is that IT needs to ensure that legacy environments don’t cause the business to lag at digital. Hardening legacy systems creates untapped performance from these sturdy stalwarts while IT readies their successors: emerging digital technologies and systems.
Vijay Francis and Abhijit Bharadwaj, Senior Director and Senior Manager, respectively, in Cognizant’s Digital Systems & Technology Practice, contributed to this blog.
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