Cloud transition
8 min read
18 August 2023

How your legacy systems are holding you back (and how to move forward)

Kelly van der Horst

Digital transformation is a very hot topic. Many organisations still want to leverage the full power of the cloud to deliver a wide range of successful outcomes for their business, including introducing new ways of working, facilitating new products and services, boosting productivity, influencing culture and gaining a competitive edge. With the pandemic leading to a highly fragile economy and more processes and services pivoting to digital, the focus on digital transformation is set to remain central.

Even though many have gone through their cloud journey and realised its benefits, there remain many organisations that are still transitioning to the cloud, often through investing in Microsoft 365 and the Azure platform. Even those companies who are more digitally mature may still have stages yet to complete in moving everything to the cloud.

The challenge of legacy systems

One of the key challenges for organisations trying to transition to the cloud is what to do about legacy systems and software. These are systems that do not provide opportunities to drive value for the business or deliver digital transformation, but remain in-use by employees and can be difficult to retire.

Invariably, they cannot easily integrate into any new cloud-driven digital workplace and they may have an inferior or outdated user experience. They are also often hard to update and expensive to maintain.

Many legacy systems and software are old and on-premises, but employees still rely on them for their day-to-day work. Sometimes these are custom-built solutions that have been around for a decade and are way beyond life, but are critical for a particular process.

Further, there are some legacy systems and software that are technically cloud-based but can’t be transitioned to your main cloud provider. It’s also worth noting that some legacy systems and software can actually be quite new, but just do not deliver the performance, scalability, flexibility and adaptability that will help drive business benefits.

Why are legacy systems a barrier to digital transformation?

These legacy systems can be a barrier and hurdle to digital transformation due to a number of associated challenges:

  • Volume: often the number of legacy systems, particularly in large global organisations built up through acquisition, can be considerable
  • The difficulty of replacement: legacy systems can be niche or custom, so they are difficult to replace without another custom build which most IT functions want to avoid
  • Reluctance to change: users and product owners can be reluctant to change to new systems, so may not embrace the new tools being introduced
  • They can’t be retired: employees and organisations rely on these systems for day-to-day operations so they can’t just simply be switched off
  • Risk: some risk functions are still nervous about transitioning legacy capabilities to the cloud, although in recent years opposition has reduced thanks to robust security and governance
  • Lack of integration: legacy systems and software can be hard to integrate with modern systems or into an integrated experience, so they tend to exist as siloed applications and platforms with little value.

In practice, legacy systems can really hold back digital transformation. Some organisations have so many legacy systems they simply defer the decision to digitally transform because it is too mammoth a task.

More commonly, legacy systems slow down digital transformation, meaning it is only partially delivered; they can also create a lot of pain, effort and inefficiency along the way.

An organisation that tries to transform, perhaps through introducing Microsoft 365 while simultaneously maintaining all their legacy systems, doubles the maintenance effort and costs and may be prolonging the full transition by years. They are also undermining the positive impacts of moving to the cloud through a period of chaos, confusion and inefficiency. In the difficult post-pandemic years, this is going to be the last thing anybody wants.

Why do organisations have so many legacy systems?

There are myriad reasons that companies can end up with a huge number of legacy systems. Reasons include:

  • Acquiring smaller companies who have their own systems and even legacy applications of their own, meaning a company starts to amass legacy solutions
  • Previously decentralised approaches to IT governance, meaning different divisions and locations have built up their own “local” technology solutions
  • A prevalence of custom-built solutions with capabilities that are difficult to replace with more general platforms.

Once there are a huge number of legacy systems, it can be equally challenging to reduce this number because of:

  • A reluctance to change from stakeholders or users who are used to a particular system and don’t have the time or inclination to switch
  • Political reasons, such as where there is tension between a global and local function so decisions about changing software get deferred.
  • The significant effort and budget required to replace some specialist or custom applications that people still rely on
  • Existing licensing arrangements that mean organisations are still paying for software
  • Technical or data dependencies which mean a system cannot be replaced for the time being
  • The enormous logistical and investment challenges associated with a project to reduce the number of legacy systems, meaning people decide not to tackle it.

What are some of the other problems with legacy systems?

Having so many legacy systems doesn’t just stunt digital transformation ambitions – it can also have negative everyday consequences.

A negative employee experience

Having too many legacy systems can negatively impact the employee experience. The portfolio of different applications, systems and tools that employees have to access in any given week to get all their work done can be bewildering. When you have too many applications to open, it can be confusing, inefficient, frustrating and even overwhelming.

Limited adoption

One of the keys to digital transformation success is ensuring you have good adoption of cloud solutions. When there are still legacy systems in operation that people rely on and there are overlapping capabilities, it can limit adoption of new cloud-based tools. If legacy system usage is more prevalent in some divisions or locations, the can be adoption slower in some parts of the business.

Stretching resources

Simply maintaining more systems can stretch resources to the limit, including IT support, meaning issues can be harder to resolve. It can also limit the time and effort that teams are able to put into supporting the change to new systems, again causing issues.

Diminishing energy and fleeting momentum

Digital transformation requires focus, energy, perseverance and momentum to keep it going. Dealing with ancient legacy systems with a poor user experience can be dispiriting and distracting for digital workplace teams, IT functions and users, zapping their energy and taking the momentum out of a digital transformation program.

How a modern, hybrid workspace can help

We’re not going to pretend there’s an easy answer to all the issues and challenges that come with having too many legacy systems. However, there is an approach that can really help and also has the added benefit of being loved by employees. We’ve seen many examples of a product like Workspace 365 helping an organisation transition to the cloud.

Creating a single, modern and hybrid workspace where employees can access all the systems and apps they need on a day-to-day basis, whether they are web-based, hosted, local or on-premises, can provide compelling support for digital transformation.

Here, all your systems, whether new or legacy, can sit in one common “hybrid” user experience that provides some continuity during an evolving technical landscape. Moreover, workspaces can also be targeted to different divisions and locations to make them highly relevant.

Supporting digital transformation

This approach supports digital transformation and manages the challenges surrounding legacy systems in several ways:

  • It reduces employee confusion and maximizes efficiency by keeping everything in one place ready to go, improving digital employee experience during the transformation from the get-go
  • It supports continuity during change as employees access the same system through a familiar interface, even while a legacy system is replaced by a cloud offering
  • It provides single-place access to Microsoft Office files whether they are stored in the cloud or on-premises, again reducing confusion and supporting version control around documents; for example, you can combine SharePoint, OneDrive and a file server.
  • It can help drive preferred adoption patterns because you can control which elements are displayed, helping to retire legacy systems when no longer needed and emphasizing the new cloud applications you want people to embrace
  • It can target various experiences to different groups, again supporting a more phased approach to retiring legacy systems, such as on a location-by-location basis
  • By relieving change efforts and reducing employee confusion, digital workplace teams can focus their time and energy to better support digital transformation.

Don’t let legacy systems hold you back!

Businesses can’t afford to miss out on opportunities for digital transformation, but some are letting their legacy systems hold them back. If you’d like to experience how Workspace 365 can help support your transition to the cloud, why not book a demo?

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