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Software under scrutiny

Even the most cutting-edge, high-performance software can lose its power over time. In the fast-paced digital environment there are always new trends and technologies emerging that offer the potential for greater efficiency, smoother integration, increased functionality… features that can prove very tempting. 

At the same time, organisations will naturally grow and diversify as they mature - meaning that even if your software was once fit for purpose that may not be the case today, or in the near future. 

But how can you tell if you’re in possession of this kind of ‘legacy’ software? And what’s to be done if you are? These are the questions I’m going to explore in this post, to help ensure your software continues to serve your business goals effectively. 

What is legacy software?

When it comes to software, the term ‘legacy’ is typically used to describe systems that are considered out of date - possibly in terms of technology, possibly in terms of features. In addition to this, legacy software is often seen as difficult to replace, due to its widespread use within an organisation. 

Why is this a problem?

Firstly, I think it’s important to state that legacy software isn’t always a cause for concern. Ultimately, if an application is used widely in an organisation, it should probably be considered a success!

It’s true that the term is often applied in a negative context, but this seems unfair, as technology moves so fast these days that it’s virtually impossible to keep up. What’s more important is to ask yourself whether the latest advance will actually help you achieve your business goals - otherwise you run the risk of simply jumping on another bandwagon. By the same token, the users of your software will always have a wish-list of features they’d like to see, but these may not necessarily deliver the greatest business value. 

However… over time, all software is likely to suffer from age-related issues. These could include: 

  • Running exclusively on operating systems that are no longer supported - not only inconvenient, but also introducing the possibility of dangerous security risks
  • A lack of developers with the skills or experience to resolve bugs and add any new features that may be required
  • Performance issues, which may be the result of technical debt that’s built up over time
  • Issues when trying to integrate with more modern systems and services
  • An out-of-date interface that presents usability and accessibility issues (in addition to not looking particularly nice)

How do I know if my software is suffering?

To work out if your legacy software is putting your business performance at risk, you first need to know what software is actually being used within your organisation. While this may seem like an easy task, it can quickly become complicated by systems that have grown organically over time, or departmental siloes that have led to a disconnected and disparate technological environment. Conducting regular system audits as part of your IT asset management processes is therefore vital to maintaining a clear picture of your application system, as well as highlighting any integrations, dependencies and workflows that may be affected by future development activity. 

Your audits will also provide you with a clear, comprehensive and current list of software assets, which can then be analysed for risks. By identifying which, if any, of your systems have high-level risks associated with them, you’ll know exactly where to look when making improvements that will ensure your software continues to support you long into the future. 

What happens next?

If you do need to take action to stop your legacy software becoming a pain point for your business, many organisations may see a full-scale replacement as the only solution. However, this can be an incredibly complex process, and bring with it the associated time and budget implications you’d expect. This is especially true if your software’s been built to serve requirements, contexts and business logic that are highly specific to your individual organisation (a topic we’ve covered elsewhere on this blog).

Fortunately though, there are a host of other approaches available to guarantee your software delivers exactly what you need, without requiring a wholesale change to the way you operate. Before you consign your software to the scrapheap then, make sure you’ve considered all the options:

  • Does your software need to be replaced completely, or could the same effect be produced with updates to specific areas only?
  • Could it be given a lick of paint in the form of a new user interface, refreshed API or similar? 
  • Are there are any Software as a Service (SaaS) or Commercial Off the Shelf (COTS) solutions that have come to market since your software was initially developed which provide the functionality you’re after?
  • Or could an existing SaaS or COTS solution be enhanced with some custom development to give you what you need? 

Finding the right approach

All organisations will likely encounter legacy software at some point, but hopefully this post has shown that it doesn’t have to be a scary situation. And if you think your software could use a once-over, Box UK is on hand to help. Our software consultants are experienced in supporting organisations as they make improvements to their digital strategies, and can provide guidance at every stage of the journey - so get in touch today.

About the author

Phil Jones

Phil Jones

Technical Analyst Phil has over 15 years' experience in the IT sector. During this time, Phil has helped teams improve the robustness and quality of their software, resulting in happier customers and a happier team. He is also an advocate of mentoring and continuous improvement, having experienced their positive effects.

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