In this fast moving age of technology, we are used to continuously learning there’s something in the IT world that can work faster, better, or can provide us with more. Therefore it may be surprising to some that many of the biggest, most important and even vital organisations and services in the world run on what is known as legacy IT. A legacy system is an outdated IT system, programming language or application software that still provides essential business services. Legacy IT is used in the US Navy, the NHS’s Centralised Blood Supply System, HMRC’s VAT Collection Service and DWPs Pension Payment Service to name just a few. So why are such crucial services run on systems derived from those that were originally launched as far back as the 1960s? There are both challenges and benefits of using legacy IT which we’ve explored below.
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What are the Challenges of Legacy IT?
Using systems that were developed so many years ago inevitably provides challenges. We’ve looked in to some of the biggest challenges legacy IT users have to overcome.
- Barriers to Progress
Change and innovation can be difficult when relying on legacy IT. Systems can impose constraints on processes, timings, and flexibility which can make it harder to bring about change within one business or even a whole industry.
Data retrieval and sharing is costly because of the integration required with newer technology. Replacement parts and skills become scarcer, driving prices up. Businesses with legacy IT systems planned greater increases to their IT budgets than business without such systems.
- Skills Gaps
Young people are trained in the latest technology, programming languages and systems. This leaves legacy systems behind, with skilled programmers reducing in number. The skills gap is only getting bigger for those reliant on legacy IT.
Updates and repairs can be challenging, leading to disruption of vital services.
Why are Legacy Systems Still Used?
Despite the challenges that are linked with legacy IT, they are still widely used in 2015. There are many reasons why organisations are still reliant on legacy systems.
- Risk and Cost
Quite simply, the risk and cost associated with replacing them is too great. The possibility of data loss, downtime and disruption can be too large a challenge for some. Having a plan and solution in place to mitigate this risk may be too costly to implement.
Legacy system data can provide granular insight that is vital to a company. This type of data can enable closer relationships with customers, keep companies efficient and facilitate new product development.
Once a system has proven to be stable and reliable, catering to the specific needs of a vital service, it is a difficult decision to change it.
Although there are a number of challenges to using legacy IT, it is set to live on well into the future. In an interesting case study, NASA proved that some systems need so much testing to ensure certification, they will already be considered legacy systems before they are even approved for use. Whilst this is the case, legacy IT will always live on by default.