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Seven signs you need to upgrade your legacy systems

Legacy systems can last well beyond their expiration date. So how do you know when it's time to upgrade them?

Since we're halfway through 2015, it's a safe bet you've been using your core technology systems for some time. No doubt they've been patched and upgraded along the way, and my guess is that they're still working reasonably well.

But after a certain point, upgrading legacy systems makes sense. Just as with an old car, you're better off looking into a replacement than continuing to throw money at system problems. The question is, how do you know when that time has come?

In computing terms, here are seven telltale signs that you need to upgrade your legacy system.

  1. Your system runs on equipment or software that is no longer supported. Maybe it's just too many versions old, or maybe the vendor has been acquired or has gone out of business. But you're now very much on your own when it comes to the likes of bug fixes and security patches.
  2. System maintenance and upgrades have caused functions to break and rollout schedules to elongate. In many cases, extensive customizations have led you to create a software "fork" that no longer is compatible with the original. Consequently, what should be a relatively straightforward lifecycle project becomes much bigger than expected.
  3. The skills you need are becoming scarce (and expensive). For instance, plenty of COBOL-based solutions are still in service, but the number of people who can understand/fix/extend the code dwindles as programmers retire.
  4. Response times fall to unacceptable levels with regularity. Unless something is out-and-out broken, this usually indicates there is too much usage for the computing resources available. For networked applications, it could be a reflection of insufficient bandwidth, but it often means your servers simply can't keep up with the demands being placed on them.
  5. Your business has changed, and your system doesn't meet your needs anymore. Perhaps your compliance requirements have changed, necessitating a new spate of features your legacy system cannot support. Or perhaps your organization was acquired by another, and your new parent is forcing a migration. Either way, your legacy technology may work fine, but its services are no longer desired.
  6. Another system is being used for things it wasn't designed to do because the one intended for the purpose is not up to the task. One client on the Holly Group roster discovered its people were using the organization's CRM solution to store customer documents because the document management system no longer was ready for prime time. This had the ancillary effect of degrading the CRM system as well, and thereby created two issues from one.
  7. New technology options are becoming compelling enough to suggest a rethink of your legacy system based on new features. Cloud-based services -- which are becoming more capable by the day -- are a good example, because they can offer access to increasingly sophisticated capabilities and can reduce capital expenses.

These telltale signs are among the most common, but it's important to remember their mere presence doesn't mean you should immediately abandon ship on legacy systems. Instead, if they start to manifest themselves, you'd be well served to start thinking about how much longer you want to remain on your current platform. Better to make a decision now than to have one forced upon you later, when circumstances may not allow for forethought.

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