Why Legacy Systems Can Derail Your Digital Transformation Project

One of the almost ubiquitous risks of any digital transformation initiative revolves around the legacy technology the project will either augment or replace. Existing solutions, particularly those that have been around for decades and have woven themselves into processes all over the enterprise, can be surprisingly sticky. Users may not sing an old system’s praises, but your project team could find that the staying power of a well-entrenched platform exceeds every expectation.

Why do these legacy systems—which are sometimes clunky, slow, and lacking the latest features—have the power to derail your digital transformation efforts?

They’ve done an admirable job of keeping up.

One problem with legacy platforms is that very few have truly remained stuck in the past. Most have supported quite a bit of advancement over the years, with developers rolling out new features that were never intended in the original design. Some have been updated to facilitate integrations with technologies that didn’t even exist when the platform was first installed. By leveraging newer modules and add-ons, other solutions have maintained an admirable level of parity in an ever-evolving technology stack.

It can be tremendously difficult for some organizations to leave their legacy companions behind in the march toward modernization. Unfortunately, as project teams are increasingly tasked with transforming parts of the infrastructure to enable faster innovation and a greater level of agility, even the most robust legacy platforms can present risks. Systems that have previously kept up may suddenly hit an upgrade wall, or the very newest technologies might no longer support older integrations. Too often, these discoveries don’t come to light until well into the project’s lifecycle, leaving teams to juggle the prospect of a system replacement at the last minute.

Their tentacles are everywhere.

Unwinding an existing system, especially core systems that have been in place for a long time, can be an arduous project in itself. There’s never a guarantee that your company has the latest version installed, so you can’t be sure about security capabilities, integration support, or which functions are still operational. And don’t be surprised if you stumble across undocumented connections to other platforms, with both IT and users professing ignorance about when they were installed, who knows about them, and even what they do. There’s a good chance you’ll discover features that aren’t reflected anywhere in the system history but somehow have a rabid fan base among end users.

Unless you deliberately and diligently build visibility into how these systems are connected to other platforms in the technology stack—along with what they do, which peer systems they do it with, and which users leverage each integration—the wide and unexplored reach of your legacy system could create big risks for your digital transformation project. It’s possible you’ll incur expensive software customization fees to accommodate previously unknown workflows and integrations. You might even need to locate and provide training on the legacy platform if your modernization strategy doesn’t encompass a complete removal.

They’re a safety net.

Human nature says that some segment of your project’s end user base won’t be thrilled about the prospect of upending their established workflows in favor of a new system, despite the lure of new features. And with an operational legacy system in place, you might discover that users are not only hesitant to embrace more modern technologies, they’ll actively plan to simply ignore your digital transformation efforts and fall back on the existing system they know.

Your modernization strategy needs to include a vigorous user engagement element to help drive adoption of newer systems and reduce dependence on platforms that are nearing obsolescence.

PMAlliance, Inc uses a team of highly experienced and certified professionals to provide project management consultingproject management training and project portfolio management.

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