A legacy system is any process, software application, or technology that has become outdated, yet is still in use. It might have been abandoned (and is no longer updated) by the original developer. It might have been outclassed by a newer, fresher version of the product. Or it might just be a relic from a past era for your company that no one has gotten around to changing.
In any case, it seems like legacy software is harmless; maybe it doesn’t work as quickly or efficiently as a new version of the system could, but it can’t harm your organization actively, can it?
The truth is, depending on what kind of software you have and how it’s applied, legacy software could rob your business of innovative potential and greatly hinder your efficiency.
Process Efficiency and UI
The obvious detriment here is that legacy systems tend to less efficient, or outright slower than their modern counterparts. Older versions of software tend to use more computer resources to operate, and may be designed in a less efficient way, since developers are constantly working on improving the usability of their software products. Depending on the scale of your organization and how people are using your system, this can ultimately cost hours of time, per person, per week—and more if the inefficiencies result in errors that take time or cost money to fix.
Security and Compliance
New software isn’t just shinier and isn’t just an excuse to gain access to more unique features; it’s also typically more secure. Developers are constantly learning about new potential cyberthreats, including malware and weaknesses in their own designs. Newer software products tend to be less susceptible to attacks and vulnerabilities. Similarly, developers frequently support their existing software with regular updates to improve security, but if you’re dealing with a legacy system, this support and these ongoing updates will be nonexistent.
In certain industries, compliance may also be an important factor to consider. Certain legacy systems may not be updated with the latest information, or the latest tools that allow your business to remain compliant with laws, rules, and restrictions for your industry (such as patient privacy in the world of healthcare).
Ongoing Maintenance and Vendor Support
Most legacy systems no longer have the active support of the developer who created them. This means there’s nobody to turn to when something goes wrong, and you’ll be stuck dealing with any existing bugs indefinitely. On top of that, legacy systems typically require more ongoing maintenance, requiring more IT support and tying up human resources that could be better spent on more complex problems.
Integrations and Compatibility
Newer systems tend to be more flexible with how they integrate with other systems and how they’re used in general. If you’re stuck with a system that’s a few years or even a decade behind the curve, you can practically guarantee any future integrations will be a major headache—if they’re even possible. In an era where cooperating systems are a practical necessity, this can seriously slow your business down.
These days, mobile design is a must. The vast majority of your employees are either using their mobile device for work purposes, or wish it were an option. The convenience of being able to log into your account, access customer data, or even get some work done on the fly represents a massive boost in your productivity—yet most legacy systems have limited, if any mobile support.
Training and Consistency
How long does it take someone to learn the ins and outs of your legacy system? Your experienced workers may be used to it by now, but the several hours it takes to train newcomers is going to be an increasing hindrance as your team begins to grow. Plus, with an unintuitive, older UI, your team will be tempted to use the system in differing, personally optimized ways—which leads to database errors and deviations from standard procedure.
Don’t underestimate the importance of employee morale on your overall productivity. Happy employees are going to be more productive employees, and will be more likely to stay working for you for as long as possible. They aren’t going to be happy if they’re constantly dealing with the bugs and limitations of obsolete software.
Ultimately, legacy systems are a massive hindrance not worth the convenience of sticking with the system you know. The trouble is, it may be difficult to tell when your current software is technically a legacy system, and when it’s just a step or two behind.
In any case, no matter what your organizational goals are, you’ll need efficient, up-to-date systems to achieve them—and that means learning to recognize and update your legacy software as soon as possible.