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People, Process Just As Important As Technology In Legacy System Migrations

Enterprises and businesses rely on technology that will one day grow out of date and become ineffective. A legacy system migration effectively addresses the issue of modernizing or rebuilding older legacy applications to handle future business needs including business process optimization and workflow integration.

Enterprises and businesses rely upon technology that will one day grow out of date and become ineffective. From AS/400 to Open VMS and legacy ERP systems, businesses across all industries rely on such platforms for their business processes that can benefit from modernization to provide increased functionality in the short term, and long-term scalability for years to come.  Not every new technology innovation is worthy of adoption and there comes a point when antiquated software systems impede business continuity. However, a legacy system migration effectively addresses the issue of modernizing or rebuilding older legacy applications to handle future business needs. And given that software systems are by nature destined to be replaced, a legacy system migration attempts to retain as much possible value from your initial IT investments.

In order to optimally prepare for the jump to a modernized system, it is recommended that IT and management address several specific areas: maintaining documentation throughout the process, utilizing a services-oriented architecture (SOA) moving forward, and effectively communicating with key business stakeholders. These are all ultimately designed to maximize the inherent value of your initial software investments. Without an adequate understanding of the applications, their use cases and related business processes, it is impossible to make the correct decisions for moving forward with this type of investment.

Extensive documentation throughout the process

Prior to migration, it is crucial to involve end-users and critical stakeholders in the process of documenting business requirements and gaining a solid understanding of overall processes in each department. A legacy system migration often falls short due to the lack of detail and understanding regarding the responsibilities of current application stakeholders – so being on the ground and monitoring the way business users interact with legacy applications is crucial. 

Understanding and mapping the previous requirements used to develop said legacy applications can provide valuable insight regarding how an organization’s business processes and technology systems converge. Once you gain a complete understanding of the workflows, it is possible to optimize a migration to avoid repeating old system inefficiencies.

In non-profit organizations (NPO) for instance, the registration systems for managing member, volunteer or donor data can be difficult to adapt as the organization grows. Data input processes that once worked for a small member base can be ineffective during the scaling process.  Ultimately, documentation helps reveal why old systems were built the way they were, allowing a legacy registration system to go from handling hundreds of users to hundreds of thousands.

Benefits of services oriented architecture

With the abundance of software technologies used throughout an enterprise, migrations can often be stymied by the inability to align various software applications with each other. In a majority of enterprises, business processes and the software applications used to conduct them are segmented and closed off by departments. A SOA is a combination of best practices that effectively avoids this.

At a high level, a SOA reduces the overall dependency of all systems on each other, while still allowing systems to communicate. In practicality, if we revert to our previous example, it would allow our previous member registration system to communicate with a newly deployed event management system, which may have a staffing component to it. Systems that interoperate in this manner provide greater scale by allowing applications to work together or be completely independent of each other when needed. Ultimately, by liberating data from legacy applications, IT can provide a means for increased insight through more ubiquitous access to data and a reduction in overly opaque systems with little room for flexibility.

Coordinating with stakeholders for a seamless transition

During a migration, it’s not atypical for business processes to completely alter end-user habits, which is why it is important for the development team to communicate with and train users. The creation of user manuals, technical documentation, trial sessions to socialize the system and exhibiting system demos with additional technical support will help assure a seamless transition to the modernized system. 

Without an adequate means of measuring and explaining the value of a migration in terms of clearly defined business benefits, stakeholders will not jump on board. It is also highly recommended to obtain an estimation regarding the cost benefit in the early stages of a migration. Clearly defined metrics and measurable milestones are crucial components to understanding the true value and gaining faster acceptance of the change that will ultimately impact users.

Consider the earlier example of the NPO. When memberships are low, it is understandable that manual data input could be an adequate means to track member and volunteer information. Even after the initial numbers have grown, convincing the organization that their go-to processes are out of date can require concrete evidence. During some IT projects, it is not unusual for IT to implement speed tests to validate new processes against the old system compared to the new.

Legacy applications are defined by the investments and entrenched dependencies they create within a business. Migrating these applications when their functionality has outlived the current needs requires a holistic view of the process. Documenting existing systems, understanding their capabilities and identifying their gaps to future business operations is crucial. It ultimately provides the information to re-platform some or even all of existing systems modularly so that future scale is a matter of resources, and not feasibility.

And beyond the scope of the pure IT know-how required, a migration is only as successful as its marked ability to increase overall efficiency and make the lives of direct stakeholders easier, thereby leverage as much as possible from initial IT investments, while still being prepared for the future.

Devanshi is the COO of Icreon Tech.

Originally published on WorkFlowMagazine.