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16 Strategies For Overcoming The Challenges Of Modernizing Legacy Tech

By now, most companies have realized the multiple benefits of digital transformation, from cost savings and productivity boosts to enhanced security. For many businesses, though, a major roadblock to achieving truly game-changing digital transformation is the decades’ worth of legacy tech systems that are still being used to run their operations. 

If businesses are to realize the full benefits of digital transformation, legacy tech systems must be replaced by better, leading-edge solutions. But the process can prove difficult for many reasons—employees may resist changes to their processes, leadership may question the accompanying costs and disruptions to work must be avoided. So how can tech leaders overcome the common challenges of modernizing their organizations’ legacy tech? Below, 16 members of Forbes Technology Council share their advice.

1. Quantify The Direct Cost Savings

The biggest challenge is often justifying the spend. Start by quantifying the direct cost savings that will result from more efficient use of resources. And remember that new tech provides better data to help you make smarter, faster decisions, which gives your business a competitive advantage. It’s also important to remember that the price of making decisions based on outdated or inaccurate data can be steep. – Jim Wetekamp, Riskonnect

2. Ensure Stakeholders Understand The Opportunities

One of the biggest hurdles is getting buy-in from top-level executives. The short-term costs are difficult to swallow, but executives and stakeholders need to understand the opportunities that will open up with the modernization of technology—not only in new business opportunities and growth but also in bringing in new talent who have expectations of working with newer technologies. – Aleissia Laidacker, The Mill


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3. Explain The ‘Why’ To The Team

A major challenge when modernizing legacy tech is dealing with internal resistance to change. Get on the front foot by giving employees forward notice of the need to modernize systems, and be sure to explain the “why” and the “what’s in it for me?” Create a feedback loop whereby team members can submit questions and feedback before, during and after the tech has been modernized. – Andrea Davey, Scout Talent Group

4. Collaborate With Employees To Alleviate Pain Points

Modernizing legacy tech can have a negative cultural impact on a company. Digital transformation often involves a major shift in the day-to-day activities of employees. System operators may feel forced into this transition and resist change. One solution is to create a program where leaders collaborate with employees to establish a process for identifying and alleviating pain points. – Nicholas Domnisch, EE Solutions

5. Start Small

In my opinion, a bimodal approach is best. Start with a small proof of concept and clarity about which things need to be digitized or transformed. A small team (ideally comprised of members of your current teams) should carry out these new implementations and test the proof of concept. Once that happens, start shifting to more modern tech one step at a time. – Giancarlo Di Vece, Unosquare, LLC

6. Focus On Driving Value

Modernizing legacy tech can be daunting, and businesses are often discouraged by the process before it even begins. To make it more manageable, don’t try to do everything at once. Take a thoughtful approach—determine what will drive the most value to the business as well as ensure the business can remain flexible and agile in the face of changing market conditions. Focus on those areas first. – Kim Huffman, Elastic

7. Protect Legacy Data

Evolving from legacy tech can be a challenge, but it’s a vital one if companies are to efficiently manage back-office processes and product development. It’s important to take care of legacy data in this transition and maintain and curate it. Be mindful that technology will continue to evolve, and build an architecture with future capability and expansion in mind to optimize the cycle between major tech evolutions. – Alex Cresswell, Thales Group

8. Avoid Siloed Deployments

When modernizing legacy tech, many enterprises opt to use pilot programs or siloed deployments as a means of reducing risk. In reality, today’s tech innovations move too quickly to waste time on limited releases, and siloed activities are inherently incompatible with transformational change. The only way to succeed is to act decisively and move your entire organization in the direction of the change. – Adrien Nussenbaum, Mirakl

9. Ensure All Elements Of The Business Are Supported

Companies focused on digital transformation must avoid simply adding new tech on top of their existing stack. That approach causes businesses to overbuild digital infrastructure in a few areas, leaving other functions behind and creating technological inequity. Instead, enterprises must look to support all elements of the business and raise the baseline of the entire organization. – Jens Gamperl, Sourceability

10. Develop An Intermediate Software Layer

Legacy tech is often a critical part of a system, making a graceful migration difficult. My advice is to write an intermediate layer of software that can mimic the functions of the legacy system for all clients and that initially acts as a pass-through to the legacy system. Test your new system by sending the same client calls over both it and the legacy system before switching over cleanly with little to no downtime. – Garry Wiseman, Nautilus, Inc.

11. Set Up Overlapping Functionalities

Legacy tech has existed for more than two decades. Legacy systems are often very old—hence the need to migrate the data from the original podium before carrying out digital transformation. Operational approaches—such as providing complete business coverage with fully serviceable overlapping functionality, data duplication and temporary systems—can ensure the challenges of bridging legacy tech can be overcome. – Niranjan Limbachiya, KiwiQA Services

12. Leverage Cloud Or Open-Source Technologies

As companies are trying to accelerate digital transformation efforts, working with legacy tech makes it difficult to deal with the issue of data quality, which is crucial in building a strong data infrastructure to support real-time analytics. Adopting cloud or open-source technology can help you overcome these challenges and cost-effectively manage big data while adding agility and scalability. – Lokesh Anand, Sigmoid

13. Move To A Micro-Services Architecture

One challenge is ensuring the experience is an evergreen, ongoing process. The platform and core operational services must be a prioritized company investment, and you must always keep the customer in mind. Moving to a micro-services architecture to enable more bite-size releases and having a demo culture to quickly identify what works and what doesn’t are key ingredients to modernizing legacy tech. – Carleigh Jaques, Cybersource, a Visa Solution

14. Hire Digital Natives To Build In-House

With respect to data modernization, many companies hire external consultants, which is very expensive and perpetually keeps them one step behind. Most outside “experts” live primarily in the old world with only one foot in the new, so by the time these businesses complete their digital transformation, the next wave will have already passed. It’s much better to build in-house by hiring digital natives. – Derek Steer, Mode Analytics

15. Take A Dual-Track Approach

The key is finding the right balance of new tech that can help alleviate the well-documented IT backlog and existing technical debt. Single-point solutions, the use of multiple vendors, old code and so on take up too much time and money. Businesses need to take a dual-track approach in which IT leaders focus on large, strategic transformational changes while line-of-business leaders focus on innovation at the edge of the business. – Deb Gildersleeve, Quickbase

16. Find Solutions That Are Easy To Deploy And Remove

Sunk cost fallacy thinking is driven by a desire to save face or the hope that existing solutions are “good enough.” We set the bar high for accepting that change is needed; consequently, we lose myriad modest and sometimes game-changing opportunities to improve. We would be better served by finding solutions that are easy to deploy and remove to take advantage of the best solutions available. – Mike Palmer, Sigma Computing

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