Yes, your operations can be just as much a system as any app, computer program, or tech stack. And—similarly—it can turn into a legacy system.
Framed up this way, you may be starting to wonder if your operations are fit for contemporary business…. Or are they going the way of the dodo? We may all want to “leave a legacy behind”—and in our context below, you may want to do it sooner than later.
Keep reading to learn all about operational and legacy systems and what to do if they’re holding your business back.
Operations as a System
To be crystal clear, let’s call out some things that are common to operational systems
- Processes, procedures, and work instructions
- Policies and rules
- Hardware, like computers, terminals, and other devices
- Software, like applications, firmware, drivers, and utilities
- Apps, websites, and portals
- Data and information
- Benchmarks and KPIs
Incidentally, these are also the pieces that can become legacy leaders.
What are Legacy Systems?
Legacy system is a (not so complimentary) term typically applied to computer programs and hardware devices that have been in use for an extended period of time—and are showing their age. They can be stand-alone components or embedded in —one or more—larger systems. In many industries, these systems are true relics from yesteryear - think green screen software, tab & arrow key navigation - which has significant impact on business processes and overall efficiency.
But you can also think of any out-of-date system as a legacy system. Just because it doesn’t necessarily have bits, chips or drives, doesn’t mean it’s evergreen! In this more expansive view, any operational system or process generally can become a ‘legacy’ problem.
The truth is, most operational systems today feature both tech-based components and human processes working as an ecosystem, and that means any legacy tech elements here can significantly throttle overall organizational evolution, competitiveness and profitability.
They can also deeply influence staff morale and retention. Leadership may not fully realize how painful a legacy system is to work with, but you can bet the people using it know intimately. And this gap in understanding is how investment in better solutions - and the opportunities this provides - are deferred. Often for years.
Examples of Legacy Systems
You may be surprised to know that there are lots of legacy systems still out there in the wild, such as:
- Mainframes from 20+ years ago. Ex. DEC minicomputers and IBM systems from the 1960s
- Hardware with ports and connectors that don’t jibe with current standards. Ex. PS/2 ports and—soon—USB-As
- Prehistoric microchips. Ex. IBM PowerPC 750X single-core processors
- Programming languages that’re old enough to collect a pension. Ex. Fortran, COBOL, or RPG
- Operating systems no longer available/supported. Ex. MS-DOS
- Software that won’t run on today’s computers. Ex. Many of the programs used by federal agencies and background checking companies
Some sectors—government, banking, and retail to name a few—are notorious for leveraging legacy systems. And certain functional areas in businesses across the board are often considered to be legacy: HR, operations, and finance.
Modernizing Your Operations
Updating and upgrading your operational systems may not seem like an urgent necessity. But legacy operations and systems do carry a cost.
Legacy Systems = Big Problems
Legacy systems are associated with countless operational troubles. They can be:
- Insecure or harder to keep secure
- Overly complex or convoluted
- Insufficient or inefficient for modern tasks and processing
- Over dependence on a few, siloed veterans who can use it, and…
- Lengthy training and adoption cycles for new hires
- Unfamiliar - and unappealing - technology/interfaces to a younger workforce raised on contemporary platforms
- Incompatible with other required operational systems
Outdated systems can be expensive to maintain and operate. This is because they often require people with specialized, hard-to-find skills to work on or fix them.
The fallout from having legacy systems in-house may not stop at the edges of that operation either. The negative impacts can spill over into other operations within an enterprise.
Then Why are Legacy Systems Still Used?
Sometimes a company doesn’t realize its operational approach is antiquated. Experiencing the issues above may be the event that gets the legacy system on the executive radar - but sometimes only when there is catastrophic system failure over days, weeks, or the worst possibility… ‘never to boot again’.
Other reasons might include lack of interest, awareness, budget, or buy-in. Many businesses feel they have too many other fires or competing priorities to undertake an operational overhaul.
In other instances, the legacy system may be interfacing with myriad other systems. Like a knotted ball of scrap yarn—it would be hard to untangle the strands and then rework them into something shiny and new. Even if you’re just replacing a single length of those many threads.
Why Modernize Your Operations
Ultimately, you should want your business to function as smoothly, efficiently, and effectively as possible. Your competitors certainly seek this for their business.
Addressing the pitfalls of legacy systems is a common - and powerful - motivator to engage in the Digital Transformation process.
Digital transformation can significantly enhance, optimize, and even revolutionize your business, and its benefits include improved competitiveness, better customer experiences to drive growth and retention, improved profitability, and a happier team.
When to Replace Your Old Operational Systems
There’s no straightforward answer to this except to say every business must assess the situation based on its own unique set of factors—like cost, manpower, other projects, etc. Based on its cost-benefit analysis, a company should be able to make a “repair or replace” (or “do nothing”) decision. For technical/software components, it is very wise to get honest feedback from the people who use them every day, as their feedback will likely not only contain issues, but an understanding of the downstream impacts of any legacy system issues, and often a sense of what the impact of a new system would bring to the process or processes.
After all, duct-tape and a prayer can only hold woefully, unsustainably outdated operations together for so long.
Mainstream Your Operational Systems with Splice
Digital transformation is a tremendous force for smart, ROI-driven optimization and growth.
If you want your own legacy to be “No legacy systems here,” you’re already thinking in the right direction! Luckily, operational transformation doesn’t have to be a hard, lonely chore.
Splice is eager to help, and we’re experts at this! We have a repeatable process for understanding business processes - including highly complex processes - from both the tech and human perspective, and then creating smart, modern operations systems. Systems that not only remove legacy components, but that build in ‘legacy issue’ resistant foundations to deliver longer-lasting ROI.
Together, we can re-envision how your business accomplishes its work. And by removing legacy systems from the equation, your business can be leaner, meaner, and truly thrive.
Frequently Asked Question, Answered
What is a legacy system?
It’s simply a system that’s out of date. Typically, this term is used in reference to computers/computing. In this case, it’s indicative of hardware, software, etc. that use old methods and/or technology.
What are the problems of legacy systems?
Legacy systems can become unstable, insecure, overly complex, and insufficient or inefficient for modern tasks and processing. They can also be incompatible with other operational systems you need to integrate with. Outdated systems can be extra costly to maintain and operate, especially if they require specialized people to work on them.
When should I replace my legacy system?
Each organization must do its own cost-benefit analysis to determine the point at which it makes sense to replace an operational system rather than iteratively upgrade it (or do nothing and let it limp along to a slow death).