Best Practices for Legacy System Upgrades

eWEEK DATA POINTS: Think of the technology landscape as a garden. If you take care of the weeds, prune the shrubs and maintain the property, you won’t have an unruly garden. It’s the same with technology; consistency with upkeep is key.


Next-generation technology is tomorrow’s legacy. In any enterprise, upgrading technology is a cycle and not a one-time activity, with the frequency depending on the desired business impact. Organizations need to upgrade in order to keep up as technologies evolve.

Based on their upgrade strategy, enterprises don’t necessarily have to do periodic full upgrades every two years, for instance. They can instead do incremental upgrades. Think of the technology landscape as a garden. If you take care of the weeds, prune the shrubs and maintain the property, you won’t have an unruly garden. It’s the same with technology; consistency with upkeep is key.

This eWEEK Data Points article offers some sequential best practices organizations can follow to minimize the business impact and successfully transform, whether you’re doing a large-scale upgrade or just upgrading a couple of components. This industry information for eWEEK Data Points comes from Thiru Sivasubramanian, Vice President, Architecture and Technology Strategy at SE2.

Data Point No. 1: Develop a clear rationale for the upgrade

Understand why you’re doing the upgrade. You may want to remove technology debt and the associated technology and resource risks. You might need to upgrade to scale and compete in the market, to improve customer service, to increase profits, to grow, or any combination of reasons. Some organizations have been on a mainframe for decades and they can’t find employees with the necessary skill sets, and thus, can’t compete in the marketplace. The drivers may be different, but it’s essential that organizations are clear on their upgrade reasons so they can more easily make appropriate decisions along the way. 

Data Point No. 2: Perform a current state assessment

It’s imperative that enterprises assess the current state of their technology landscape. They must know where their gaps are to have a clear idea on how to proceed, so they’re not doing an upgrade just to do an upgrade. A company may have legacy technology but have added rich business capabilities that help it differentiate in the marketplace, for instance. Sometimes it could be advisable to modernize the technology but not the logic, because the company might have decades worth of logic, which could be unique in the industry. Organizations don’t want to lose core strengths and capabilities in their upgrades, and they must ensure they don’t carry technology debt.   

Data Point No. 3: Envision your target state and create a roadmap

Based on an organization’s upgrade rationale, it needs to then envision where it wants to be and devise a roadmap to get there. When we’re talking about upgrades, we keep in mind that we have an existing business and servicing customers so the upgrade has to be as seamless and minimally impact existing customers during the upgrade process.   

Data Point No. 4: Design an open architecture

Organizations next need to choose and build an open architecture to enable them to reach their vision. They cannot just choose an architecture based on what’s available in today’s market.  They must come up with an architecture that’s core to their business but leave it open so it can integrate with a vibrant partner ecosystem to provide rich capabilities for clients. This also ensures that companies won’t be limited in what they can or can’t do by staying flexible and adaptable as the market changes. 

Data Point No. 5: Determine an upgrade strategy

Once the architecture in place, and even before choosing a technology, businesses need to determine their upgrade strategy. Companies can modernize legacy components by simply upgrading the technology while retaining the enterprise-specific business capabilities, or they can replace a dying technology with a new version or new technology that might require rewriting some or all of the business logic. They could also consider bringing in new technology to bolster the digital capabilities. In most cases, an enterprise upgrade strategy will involve a combination of these options. It’s essential that organizations ensure that in the upgrade process, they don’t lose the business capabilities and uniqueness they’ve built that give them a competitive edge.

Data Point No. 6: Choose the right technology

Based on the upgrade strategy, organizations then choose the technologies they want to upgrade. Companies can do a competitive analysis of available technologies to choose the best ones for their needs, looking to analysts for information on the ratings and market share for each technology. It’s also important to look at platform support in case issues arise, as well as to make sure that individuals with the skills needed to run the technology are available. 

Data Point No. 7: Expect the unexpected.  

Even with meticulous assessment and planning, enterprises will run into unexpected situations in any legacy transformation. Be prepared. Have the right stakeholders involved at every step of the way. Adhere to the roadmap, and also leave some flexibility to make minor tweaks to address issues along the way. Assess the risks in relation to the opportunities. And make the conscious decision to accept some known risks with the understanding that you’ll address them as they come up. 

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