10 reasons why legacy apps are doomed

Escalating support costs, lengthy rollouts, vendor lock-in, and problems adapting to today's mobile world... is it time to retire your aging enterprise software?

Thanks to factors like cloud computing, increasing costs, and changing end-user demands, many IT shops are reconsidering their legacy applications. Here are 10 reasons why their days are numbered.

1: They're expensive

As applications age, they become increasingly expensive to support. Vendors generally ramp up support charges as their applications get older, and internal knowledge becomes increasingly scarce as a platform ages.

2: They take too long to roll out

I started my career doing ERP implementations, where 6-36 month implementation timelines were not uncommon. Most end users no longer tolerate multi-year timeframes for massive, monolithic implementations, just as most C-suite players no longer have the patience to finance an extended boondoggle.

3: They're proprietary

Many legacy applications are built around proprietary, single-vendor tools that included everything from a unique programming language to methodologies and management tools. Modern applications have largely transitioned to common tools and programming languages, allowing IT staff with appropriate knowledge to work on a wide variety of applications.

4: The infrastructure is expensive

Older applications generally require an older technical environment, which might include legacy operating systems, databases, libraries, or even specific hardware. Just as applications grow more expensive to maintain as they age, so does the underlying infrastructure. Modern applications that are designed for virtualization and cloud-style platforms don't have this problem.

5: They're too big

Many legacy applications were built with the goal of solving a big business problem. Applications like ERP and CRM tackled huge swaths of a business problems and offered extensive integration, mostly because the only other way to accomplish this level of integration was via piles of custom code. With technologies like service buses and standardized APIs, it's far easier to integrate smaller applications, allowing organizations to purchase just what they need and rapidly integrate it, rather than trying to purchase a massive application that covers every eventuality.

6: Cloud has changed pricing

Cloud computing has completely revolutionized several sectors that were once dominated by large and expensive legacy applications. The CRM space is a major example, where companies can now provision an enterprise solution with a credit card. This takes a massive capital expense off the balance sheet for the CFO and alleviates the need for huge teams of consultants or specialized engineers reporting to the CIO.

7: No one wants more "talk to Joe"

If you've been around a company with lots of legacy applications, there are often several with no documentation, where all the supporting staff have retired or left the company, save for "Joe." Need an enhancement or have a question? You must "talk to Joe." While this may provide job security for "Joe," it's a poor way to run a business. If your legacy knowledge is leaving or has already left the company, that's a great reason to get rid of legacy applications.

8: They require legacy infrastructure and licensing

Even in organizations with modern virtualized or private cloud infrastructure, there are always a few holdouts that require some combination of hardware, OS, or convoluted licensing that keeps them on aging technical infrastructure. As support expires and warranties end, costs increase -- embedding another hidden cost into supporting a legacy application.

9: Legacy is difficult to mobilize

Mobile devices have revolutionized enterprise computing. While technologies like virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) can serve as a "quick and dirty" means to getting legacy applications onto mobile devices, applications designed for large screens, keyboards, and mice generally have a difficult transition. Rather than rebuilding a legacy application or attempting to create a new mobile front-end, it's often easier to deploy a more modern application instead.

10: Someone has probably built it better

In the intervening years since your legacy applications were first deployed, there have been obvious advances both in technology and in business processes. Product development, marketing, sales, and even supply chain management and accounting have evolved, and abandoning a legacy application gives you a chance to adopt modern practices and let go of years of workarounds and convoluted processes.

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