It might be surprising, but legacy systems are still prevalent in the day-to-day operations of even some of the largest global organizations. There are multiple reasons why companies continue to use these decades-old systems. We will explore the reasons behind their persistence and shed light on the challenges of maintaining them in a business environment flooded with cutting-edge technology that continues to advance rapidly.
Integrating legacy systems can be a challenging endeavor. This article delves into some of the more effective options and discusses how Atomatik’s Robotic Process Automation platform can facilitate a smooth transition for these old yet dependable systems into the present.
What are Legacy Systems?
The term "legacy system" or "legacy software" encompasses various aspects, but in general, it refers to computer systems, technologies, or software applications that remain functional and critical for operations despite being outdated. These systems can range from in-house custom solutions to enterprise products that have been discontinued for many years. A common thread among all legacy systems is their lack of support and updates, often relying on early programming languages and/or hardware that have been surpassed by modern technologies.
Some common examples of legacy systems still in use today include COBOL-based applications, which are utilized by many financial institutions and governments. Mainframe computers also continue to operate and serve insurance companies, banks, and government agencies worldwide. Additionally, DOS-based applications are employed for specific tasks, particularly in manufacturing environments to control machinery.
Custom legacy applications represent another category, having been developed to meet specific requirements and now powering critical business functions and processes.
Why are They Still Used?
It might seem counterintuitive for large companies with substantial resources to continue using legacy systems. This practice, however, reveals compelling reasons upon closer examination.
Despite their age, these systems, especially custom-built ones, were initially costly investments. Companies committed significant resources to these systems with a long-term perspective, making reluctance to abandon them understandable from a business standpoint. Many of the original requirements these systems were designed to fulfill still remain relevant.
The adage "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" aptly applies to these scenarios. Sectors such as finance and insurance rely on obsolete applications because they consistently fulfill their intended functions. They provide stability, a critical attribute in high-risk industries like finance. There's genuine concern about transitioning to newer systems, as it could potentially disrupt critical operations.
As organizations often have unique requirements that even evolving technology cannot address, adopting a newer system capable of replicating the same level of customization would likely require a substantial new investment.
Scarcity of Resources
Professionals proficient in both legacy systems and newer technologies are rare, making smooth transitions challenging. In a business world grappling with talent scarcity, individuals skilled in both old and new systems are highly sought after.
Some organizations have intricate networks of interconnected systems. Changing a single system can trigger cascading effects on others, heightening the risk of operational disruption.
Familiarity and Resistance to Change
The user interfaces of legacy systems may appear outdated by today’s design standards, but for long-time employees, they are familiar and easy to work with. Retraining employees for a new system demands time and financial investment.
Regulatory and Compliance
Concerns Heavily regulated industries like finance and life sciences face challenges when introducing new systems due to compliance considerations, requiring careful navigation and additional resources.
Challenges of Integrating Legacy Systems
Strong reactions to old technology are common, especially in an era where consumer technology becomes obsolete within a year. However, in the business environment, the continued presence of legacy systems signals their significance. Yet, using obsolete software often comes with significant drawbacks.
One of the main concerns is security. Many of these systems and applications no longer receive updates and security patches, leaving them vulnerable to cybercrime—especially if they are used in a networked environment. This risk is mitigated when legacy systems are solely used on-premises with restricted server access.
Development and Maintenance
Most legacy systems were built using outdated technologies, programming languages, and protocols that are no longer employed for creating new products. This leads to technological incompatibility with modern tools, making improvements and maintenance challenging.
Optimization is rarely feasible when bringing legacy systems up to date. Consequently, performance issues and slow response times can arise, although this isn't a universal rule.
Limited Documentation Modern developers often struggle to understand the inner workings of older systems due to inadequate documentation. This hampers scalability, future-proofing, and maintenance efforts.
Lack of Standardization
Unlike modern systems that leverage microservices and cloud-native architecture, legacy systems are often synonymous with customization. They were developed or programmed using specific languages for specific tasks within a particular organization, lacking industry-standard protocols.
Data Mapping and Transformation
Legacy systems might store and process data in formats or structures different from modern systems. Mapping and transforming data between these formats can be complex and time-consuming, potentially leading to data loss or corruption if not executed correctly.
Future-Proofing While already an issue in the present for many organizations using outdated technology, anticipating future setbacks is straightforward, even in the absence of a replacement plan. Integrating legacy systems with newer technologies can provide a certain level of security in the years to come.
Complex legacy systems, like SAP R/3, are notoriously challenging to replace due to their extensive integration within organizational ecosystems. For a variety of reasons listed above and more, companies continue to rely on these systems.
Diverse Strategies for Integration
Over the years, organizations locked into legacy systems have explored numerous methods to future-proof their older technologies and integrate them with new applications. Common practices include API-based integration, event-driven architecture, and data replication alongside ETL (Extract, Transform, Load). Given the distinct characteristics and requirements of each integration project, measuring success and failure rates can be challenging. Most of these approaches are likely to encounter obstacles due to the inherent unpredictability present in integration projects, primarily stemming from the multitude of variables. It's important to note that regardless of the technology or approach used to integrate legacy systems, complete issue resolution is not guaranteed.
Atomatik’s approach to integrating legacy systems
Robotic Process Automation (RPA) constitutes a distinct and commonly employed practice for integrating legacy systems, yet it doesn't always find its place on the shortlist of options. It is arguably the least invasive choice, which itself constitutes a compelling argument. Downtimes are minimized, employee training is considerably faster than transitioning to a different application or undertaking highly complex API integrations, and costs are significantly lower.
In fact, RPA has been regarded as the most cost-effective method to bring legacy systems into the present, although not without encountering challenges in numerous cases. This is due to the nature of RPA, functioning as a generic technology that collaborates with existing systems.
Digital workers meticulously replicate employee actions on the screen with great fidelity. The user interfaces of these applications were designed in eras when design languages significantly differed, some even harking back to years before UI/UX was even a thing. This often leads to errors, performance issues, or limited integrated functionalities when following a conventional RPA approach.
Atomatik's approach to integrating legacy systems is different. The context of modernizing these systems arguably provides one of the finest showcases for our tailored philosophy. Atomatik serves as an easy-to-use, no-code automation platform that seamlessly empowers business users to automate tedious manual tasks such as data entry and migration—common use cases with legacy systems.
By augmenting our platform's capabilities through a tailored approach to automation, our team transcends the conventional boundaries of RPA technology.
Atomatik creates extensions or modules that seamlessly bridge the gap between legacy systems and contemporary platforms. These extensions function as intermediaries, enabling legacy systems to communicate effectively with new technologies. Our extension-based approach allows for easy adaptability to future changes and technological advancements.
We prioritize ease of use, meticulously considering the needs of end-users throughout the integration process. The ultimate objective is to ensure a user-friendly experience, thereby minimizing resistance to change.
In conclusion, integrating legacy systems stands as a formidable challenge that countless businesses confront as they embark on their journey of digital transformation. Atomatik's distinctive approach, characterized by customized support and extension development, stands as a steadfast anchor of confidence in surmounting this challenge.
By adopting a holistic perspective on legacy systems and formulating tailored automation workflows, Atomatik paves the way for comprehensive integration that bridges the gap between old and new technologies. This approach not only guarantees the preservation of critical functionalities but also lays the foundation for heightened efficiency, seamless transitions, and long-term adaptability. As businesses continue their evolution, Atomatik's approach presents a transformative solution to the enduring challenge of integrating legacy systems.
If you're interested in learning more about how Atomatik can facilitate the integration of a legacy system within your organization, consider scheduling a call with our sales team.