Technology: Legacy Challenges

The question of how best to transform legacy systems in today's increasingly challenging and competitive business environment is becoming critical for the organizations.

Legacy systems represent a significant investment for most businesses. Moreover, they often house mission-critical information. Most legacy systems have evolved over two or more decades, with continuous refinements to support new business activities, along with large investments in time, money and effort.

Due to their longevity and sheer scale of deployment, legacy systems account for approximately four-fifths of global IT resources. An estimated 180 billion lines of COBOL code alone are currently in use worldwide.

Given the amount of resources expended on the development and maintenance of such systems and the mission-critical data they usually contain, it is fair to say that many organizations depend on their legacy systems.





















The Business Challenge

Nevertheless, in today's global business environment, legacy systems are increasingly falling short in satisfactorily addressing new information requirements. Most legacy systems are generally not matched cleanly to the demands of a web-oriented, real-time world.

For legacy systems to remain viable, it is imperative that they are revitalized to enhance their usability and control over the cost of ownership.

Today, flexible component based back-office systems, as business process servers, are fast becoming the key to integrating a multi-channel e-business environment.

Worldwide, several IS managers are grappling with how to address the legacy systems challenge. In today's increasingly competitive global business environment, they know that being late for this task can be a serious handicap.

Some organizations have sought to integrate existing legacy systems directly to the web. Others seek to run the two as separate systems in parallel.

The Platform Challenge

Most legacy programs are over two decades old. Updates are increasingly difficult, given the proprietary architecture of legacy systems, the heavy levels of in-place customization by organizations as well as the strengthening trend by vendors to progressively withdraw support or increase its cost.

Software licensing costs have long been a complaint of mainframe users. Most vendors charge high yearly usage fees based on the size of processors the software is running on. As many companies hike capacity annually, software costs too rise.

The main strength of mainframes lies in TPF (Transaction Process Facility) power processing, in the form of online transaction processing (OLTP) applications, which have high volumes and an unavoidable need for large system uptime and data integrity.

Legacy systems are also seriously limited in terms of connectivity. They often require proprietary (and expensive) networking equipment, with regard to Internet connectivity. Furthermore, public key infrastructures (PKIs) frequently do not support legacy systems.

So far, organizations facing a legacy challenge have been compelled to cope with an expensive chicken-and-egg syndrome. While competitive pressures require correction of architectural weaknesses in core business systems, attempts to address this have been weak. Most organizations have been forced to adopt a mixed bag of ad-hoc transitional tactics, which has simply shifted the focus from maintenance to a replacement scenario.

These are major short comings given the demands on increasingly-decentralized business organizations in a globally competing world, coupled to the sheer pace of technological change.

The Value Challenge

Legacy systems are however not something that can - or should - be simply swept aside.

"Organizations must use legacy functionality as the foundation for killer e-business applications - not as software to be discarded." according to Massimo Pezzini of The Gartner Group. "Not only will the e-business environment require new applications that will use legacy functionality, the infrastructure to support more responsive e-business functionality will have to evolve and use portions of legacy infrastructure as well."

In spite of all this, it has been difficult to develop a precise correspondence between legacy systems and their contemporary counterparts, largely due to the incessant growth of new architectural requirements.

The People Challenge

The expertise to write and maintain legacy systems is dwindling. Legacy systems do not have a simple, easy-to-use interface and often require expensive user training and/or retraining.

In addition, organizations moving towards legacy-web integration have to confront two incompatible cultures within their own staff: the first engaged in modern e-business and web initiatives and the other, in existing legacy system administration.


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