What is a Legacy System?

A legacy system is outdated computing software and/or hardware that is still in use. The system still meets the needs it was originally designed for, but doesn’t allow for growth. What a legacy system does now for the company is all it will ever do. A legacy system’s older technology won’t allow it to interact with newer systems.  

As technology advances, most companies find themselves dealing with the issues caused by an existing legacy system. Instead of offering companies the latest capabilities and services — such as cloud computing and better data integration — a legacy system keeps a company in a business rut. 

The reasons are varied as to why a company would continue to use a legacy system. 

  • Investment: Although maintaining a legacy system is expensive over time, upgrading to a new system requires an up-front investment, both in dollars and manpower.
  • Fear: Change is hard, and moving a whole company —or even a single department — to a new system can inspire some internal resistance. 
  • Difficulty: The legacy software may be built with an obsolete programming language that makes it hard to find personnel with the skills to make the migration. There may be little documentation about the system and the original developers have left the company. Sometimes simply planning the migration of data from a legacy system and defining the scope of requirements for a new system are overwhelming. 

Problems caused by legacy systems

A legacy system can cause a myriad of problems, such as exorbitant maintenance costs, data silos that prevent integration between systems, lack of compliance to governmental regulations, and reduced security. These issues eventually outweigh the convenience of continuing to use an existing legacy system.

1. Maintenance is costly (and futile)

Maintenance is to expected with any system, but the cost of maintaining a legacy system is extensive. Maintenance keeps the legacy system running, but at the same time, the company is throwing good money after bad. The status quo is maintained, but there’s never a chance for growth with the legacy system.

At some point, there won’t be any more support for a legacy system and there won’t be any more updates. If the system fails, there’s nowhere to turn.  

Think of a weak dam with holes that you keep plugging and plugging, yet water keeps seeping through. A legacy system continues to cost a company money for maintenance while never providing new and innovative services. 

2. Data is stuck in silos

Data silos are a byproduct of legacy systems. Many older systems were never designed to integrate with each other in the first place, and many legacy software solutions are built on frameworks that can’t integrate with newer systems. This means that each legacy system is its own data silo.

In addition to siloing the data they contain, legacy systems keep the departments that use them out of data integration happening in the rest of the organization. If one team maintains a legacy system while the rest of the company upgrades, that one team is isolated from business intelligence and insights being created in integrated systems.

3. Compliance is much harder

Organizations today must abide by strict sets of compliance regulations. As these regulations continue to evolve, a legacy system may not be equipped to meet them. 

Compliance regulations like the GDPR, for example, require a company to know (and prove) what customer data they have, where it is, and who is accessing it. Companies with customer data need to maintain well-governed records, which is much harder (if not impossible) in outdated, siloed systems.

4. Security gets weaker by the day

A data breach can cost a company dearly, and legacy systems are more vulnerable to hackers than newer systems. Legacy systems by definition have outdated data security measures, such as hard-coded passwords. That wasn’t a problem when the system was built, but it is now. 

A legacy system not only leaves a company behind with old technology, it can also seriously damage a company’s reputation by putting data at risk of a breach. At some point, a vendor no longer supports the legacy system or provides much needed updates, opening the legacy system up to a security risk. Even if a critical update is available, installing it can be risky and is postponed for fear of breaking the system. As technology advances, risks increase for legacy systems.

5. New systems don’t integrate

As a company matures, adding new systems is necessary to stay competitive in today’s world. But the older technology of a legacy system may not be able to interact with a new system. A department still using a legacy system won’t receive all the benefits that a new system offers. 

Developing processes to make the systems work together is cumbersome and still leaves the company open to security risks. This causes an inability for technological growth within a company.

The key to updating legacy systems: successful data migration

The most important thing about updating a legacy system is to protect the data that already exists. This can only be done through a successful data migration.

Imagine a hospital that has tens of thousands of historical patient records in a legacy system. It would be devastating to lose that information because of an insecure legacy system. It would be equally as devastating to lose that information due to a poor data migration.

A successful data migration includes: 

  • Extracting the existing data. Data in existing legacy systems might be siloed, splintered, duplicated, or incomplete. It may exist in a variety of data stores and in a variety of formats. Migrating data out of a legacy system starts with making sure it can all be extracted safely.
  • Transforming data so it matches the new formats. The data is transformed to the new system’s requirements through data mapping. Rarely does data from legacy systems do an exact mapping to the new system. This step is vital to ensure that the new system understands the data from the legacy system.
  • Cleansing the data to address any quality issues. During the migration process is a good time to clean data by getting rid of duplications, incomplete data, and data that is not properly formatted. A legacy system with phone numbers that contains dashes won’t work with a new system that doesn’t allow for them.
  • Validating the data to make sure the move goes as planned. Once data is extracted, transformed, and cleaned, a sample set of data is imported to test for problems and errors. This weeds out potential issues before the new system goes live.
  • Loading the data into the new system. The final step to a successful data migration is loading all the data into the new system so it is ready for use.

Finance industry legacy system migration 

Money Super Market needed to upgrade their legacy ETL to a modern, more competitive system. It was imperative to offer their customers faster service and their legacy system couldn’t do that. 

After an easy transition out of the legacy system, Money Super Market improved their product comparison tools for customers while also increasing sales.

Public sector legacy system migration 

The Regional Council of Languedoc-Roussillon handles economic growth in a five-region section of France. Its success can affect up to 2.5 million people and 127,000 companies. 

The council dumped its legacy system for an open-source solution that allows for affordable, gradual growth. The council now spends less time and money on maintenance, and has a much clearer understanding of happenings in each region. 

Get started with your legacy system migration

Legacy systems often become embedded due to convenience. But the truth is that it is costing time and money, and setting a company up for failure.

One of the keys to a successful migration is data integration — combining data that resides in different sources. This encourages collaboration both between internal users and external users. Another key is security. Think of how many companies have been hit lately with class action suits due to a data breach, not to mention the damage these breaches do to a company’s reputation. Security checks should be in place before any migration.

Forward-thinking data integration solutions such as Talend Data Fabric makes the seemingly overwhelming task of data migration easier. Talend Data Fabric protects a company by:

  •   Managing data across all environments (including multi-cloud and on premise).
  •   Providing built-in machine learning, data quality, and governance capabilities.
  •   Providing a full API development lifecycle support.
  •   Offering a user-based pricing model with no hidden fees.

Don’t let the fear of letting go of a legacy system put your company at risk. Data migration can be done smoothly with the right tools. Try Talend Data Fabric today to securely migrate your data at the speed of business.

Ready to get started with Talend?