Replacing legacy tech that takes the workforce and customers with you

Balázs Kóti
October 6, 2023

For incumbent banks, moving to the cloud and developing new applications that mimic the services being offered by digital only banks is core to their new direction.

Others seek to do this and strip out inefficiency too, such as in the supply chain and logistics industry where it’s becoming imperative to adopt new technologies such as robotics and artificial intelligence as well. But no matter the end vision, it’s often bound by the necessity to replace or integrate legacy systems.

And here lies the biggest challenge – understanding how to move to the future and take the past with you. Everything from migrating data to the cloud, introducing systems that can talk to ones built in code that’s rarely used today, and of course convincing the community of users who manage and work with the systems day in day out that change is good and essential for success.

But when you consider that over a third of digital transformation projects are said to fail because of the lack of skill, you can see that you have your work cut out before you even start.

However, it’s important to realise that your project doesn’t have to be a victim of statistics. Far from it. But there are some guiding principles you need to embrace to ensure it.

Get the right team. It’s highly unlikely you will have a team in place that has the experience to undertake transformational projects lock stock, if at all. It’s therefore important to look for partners who can do all or part of the programme for you. While many software development firms trade on their ability to deliver systems built in modern languages there are few who can also work with languages that have fallen out of favour, and therefore have the experience and knowledge to bring the old and new worlds together in a coherent fashion.

It’s something we’ve encountered numerous times when we’ve been asked to come in and recover a project that’s gone off the rails. Our teams are versatile and are adept at working with legacy systems in such a way that the transformational vision is realised. Find a team that can do this at the start and you’re already on the right road for success.

Familiarity with old systems. People are creatures of habit and if you have grown up with an old IBM system with keyboard shortcuts then moving to a system with a mouse will be alien and baffling. If you are going to take your workforce with you then the plan to introduce new systems must capture this cultural quirk.

Indeed, the ‘Hard to Learn / Quick to Use’ nature of engineer designed interfaces needn’t be left behind entirely. It is possible, and we have done it, to build new systems that honour the current ways of working yet adopt modern practices too.

What’s more, it’s entirely feasible to include ways of working that aren’t written down. So for instance, a warehouse operative might know whether someone will get their order today or tomorrow by manually counting the number of orders displayed on the screen – if the count is more than 15 for example, they might know that it’s not possible to ship orders 16 and 17 until the following day. Why not do that automatically in the new system design?

Design to remove risk and reduce the hit to performance. This brings us to the final consideration, a good design team will watch the system in use, understand the quirks people have adopted to be efficient and build this into the new application. They will build without an expectation that the users will have to leave what they know behind and re-learn their job.

So if hitting ‘K’ on the keyboard is how you get to a customer account, or hitting ‘shift and B’ together pulls up a delivery schedule then carry these shortcuts over because it will ease the transition. You can of course, have a mouse driven version but it might not be right for the scenario.

Keeping language consistent with the old system can also really help people get up and running quickly and feel more confident to try new functionality that that system has really been designed for, like better real time reporting or integration with a finance and accounting system.

When written down, these three approaches seem obvious, but they are actually incredibly hard to do and get right without the right skills in place. Working with people who know how to blend the old and the new, can manage challenges along the way and build agile systems people want to use is what will drive transformation that’s lasting and producing positive outcomes for all stakeholders.

And that’s the really critical point. There is no point in committing to such significant change if it won’t lead to a positive change for customers, suppliers and in turn shareholders. The strategy won’t be to get rid of legacy systems for the sake of it. Instead it will say improve the customer ordering process and reduce customer returns with a supply chain that works at optimum efficiency.

It’s all about experience and done well, reduces cost, improves efficiency, makes coming to work inspiring and doing business with you a breeze. Wouldn’t you agree?

If you have a complex project that could run into trouble if not managed well, then talk to us. From banking and insurance, through pharmaceutical to supply chain and logistics, our teams have huge experience in delivering strategic programmes that incorporate legacy systems and more.

What to know more? Our blog on technical debt underlines our approach to producing software that is future proofed.