Legacy software refers to applications that are outdated in relation to the programming languages, architectures, and/or technologies that form the foundation of the software. A simple way to check if your software is considered legacy is seeing if it is still receiving continued updates and support from the developer, or if it is still meeting compliance requirements.
This POV will help organisations understand what legacy software is, the dangers of maintaining it, and how they can support or update their IT infrastructure to combat these challenges
What is Legacy Software?
Legacy software, as discussed above, is software that is no longer supported by the initial developer. Support may still be available through extended support contracts or third-party vendors, but ultimately, the software has been considered end-of-life or end-of-support.
Organisations running legacy software is not uncommon, and they come into existence for a number of reasons:
- They have become fundamental to a company’s IT infrastructure and upgrading is too risky
- It is a minute contributor to the overall architecture and is running fine
- People are unaware of its existence
- Extended support is available, so why bother upgrading
And hey, if everything is running as it should, why do organisations need to upgrade their legacy systems?
Dangers of Legacy
There are multiple challenges associated with maintaining legacy software. Most crucially, if business critical processes are dependent on the software, organisations risk downtime that is lengthy and detrimental to operations and brand reputation.
Enterprises need to modernise their systems to increase network security, boost productivity, and enable new software features and connectivity.
Organisations need to have the skills to maintain their legacy software on standby. This can be in the form of FTEs that maintain niche skills in the software and associated protocols and languages in the event of a failure, or a third-party vendor offering support and skills for a hefty price.
Legacy systems are typically outdated in the languages, protocols, and technologies they are built on. This makes it a challenge to increase the capabilities and to integrate the system with more modern software.
Maintaining legacy technology may be advantageous in that it delivers the required capabilities it was designed for, but this is about all it will ever be capable of doing, making it unsustainable in a growing infrastructure. Accessing the capability becomes limited as organisations seek to automate and integrate functions.
Furthermore, using legacy software means companies are limited in their adoption of new technologies, weakening their competitive advantage. This can be caused by the lack of compatibility with other software limiting the ability to integrate and share data across systems.
Ability to Make Changes
Legacy software often does not allow for testing, with older architecture making it difficult to make changes. This can lead to errors and even make it difficult to detect and eliminate issues.
Business change is a continuous process. At the point when legacy systems were implemented, they were likely optimised for the processes of the time. The lack of ability to make changes (including integration and automation) and test the system means the legacy system is stuck in the state it was in – again reiterating that the initial capability is all it will deliver.
Efficient software performance is critical to business productivity, and unfortunately, most legacy systems become inefficient as they age. This can be due to their lack of scalability, meaning they cannot be integrated with to streamline data movement, or cannot increase capacity to match usage demand.
If left unsupported, the likelihood of frequent, prolonged failure and downtime is increased, reducing the performance of the software and creating staff and customer irritation. Where the legacy system is crucial to operations, this means process bottlenecks and dips in productivity and successful business outcomes.
Another risk related to performance is recoverability. If legacy software is used for core business activities and has downtime, recovery becomes a risk as legacy software is not supported by its original vendors. Downtime can create complex issues that are expensive and difficult to fix, as resources are likely limited if the vendor does not support it anymore. Businesses should also ensure that there is not a single point of failure for legacy software. If there is only one member of staff that can maintain the software and they become unavailable, there is risk that business will stop performing as usual if the software goes wrong.
Backups should be done regularly and efficiently as data is important for business processes. However, legacy systems are likely to have longer data recovery windows which can impact day to day business operations, like staff productivity and application performance. When the legacy system impacts day to day operations negatively, businesses should assess risk and consider migrating to newer software.
Many regulations dictate that software needs to be supported; whether that be by the vendor or third party, to ensure no security breaches occur and thus company, supply chain, and customer data is protected.
Failure to comply with regulations can lead to penalties and fines, security breaches, and loss of credibility. Mitigating this risk should be a priority for businesses, especially those who hold sensitive customer and employee data.
Legacy systems risk non-compliance if they fall into the ‘it’s running fine so I don’t need to support it’ or the ‘no one knows it exists’ columns. They create an attack vector that is left unpatched and vulnerable to attack if it is unsupported or left in the ether.
Falling under the umbrella of compliance is the dangers associated with cyber security.
Legacy software does not receive technical support or patches from the developers (unless it is under a support contract). As a result, businesses compromise their software infrastructure and create vulnerabilities open to attack.
Extended support means your software is being supported under a new contract, like an extended warranty. This means the original or a third-party vendor is maintaining the software and providing security patches to known issues, reducing the susceptibility to attack.
Security threats are becoming more sophisticated. When a system or software is legacy, it is more likely that the ‘ways in’ have been discovered, making them prime for attack. Data is an asset to hackers and software can be easily hacked when not properly protected. As software ages, security falls behind unless updated and, in the case of most legacy software, it is not.
Furthermore, legacy software may not be compatible with current security features implemented across the organisation, such as virus checkers or attack surface monitors. This adds to the non-compliance of legacy software if it is required that all systems are protected or integrated with a security measure (multi-factor authentication) to be considered cyber secure.
Moving to new software or getting third party support are two ways of mitigating this risk to lower the likelihood of successful attacks.
What Should you do with your Legacy Software?
Although your legacy software and applications appear to be functioning as intended, they are not necessarily secure or reliable.
For all the reasons listed above, it is advisable to either  upgrade your legacy software, or  procure extended support via a third-party vendor to ensure your IT estate is not left vulnerable to attacks or downtime.
There are many risks associated with maintaining legacy software as discussed above, and they should not be taken lightly, no matter the department, company, or industry you are in. Whether it is an internal or external threat, your legacy systems should be audited and understood before a strategy is created for whichever route you decide to take to manage the software.
Do I Have Legacy Software?
Software has a short lifecycle due to frequent updates and capabilities. There are multiple signs that indicate your software is legacy:
- The software is no longer receiving support, maintenance, or updates from the vendor
- The software has been discontinued
- The software requires niche IT skillsets for the outdated technology
- The software will stop receiving updates
- The software is exposed to more security vulnerabilities as patches are not updated
Although legacy software is still operational, it is likely no longer the optimal solution or providing any strategic advantage. Legacy software is ultimately an unsustainable part of an organisation’s IT infrastructure if it is old enough to not have universal protocols, languages, or the ability to integrate.
Costs to support legacy software are high, and other more effective solutions may be more cost-effective and compliant without the need for extended support.
Managed services are a perfect example of this. Development, deployment, support, and hosting is covered by the chosen partner, meaning organisations get more for their money compared to just legacy extended support. Managed services also ensure your software is compliant, with certificates and licenses being monitored to ensure everything is above board.
Responsiv has a wealth of skills in numerous technologies, products, protocols, and languages.
This means we can provide skills for a majority of IT projects, including providing support for legacy software, migrating to new software versions, or creating new bespoke IT solutions in place of any bespoke legacy systems.
Responsiv can help you devise how your organisation wants to address your legacy systems; whether this be procuring extended support to remain compliant, partially or fully migrating away from the legacy.
For example: Should your legacy system be running fine with full support you may not want to upgrade the whole system, rather give your screens a facelift.
This can be done by wrapping the system with Responsiv Cloud Automation Platform (RCAP), using RPA to drive screens and present information, and APIs to integrate data. New screens can be designed and linked so users get an updated experience.
Doing this can also be the start of easing functionality away from the legacy system to remove dependencies.
Responsiv Assist is our support offering. We provide IT skills and support through our dedicated service desk, working on a credit-based system. By doing this, we can provide expert resources by the hour, instead of by the day, making it commercially sustainable for our customers.
Responsiv Assist can be utilised on an ad hoc basis, meaning organisations can get skills as and when they are required.
Customers can also access training, document reviews, and other technical support through the Responsiv service desk.
Responsiv Managed Services
Responsiv provide a managed service for our Responsiv Cloud Platforms. This means we help develop, deploy, host, and manage customer spaces on the cloud, removing this responsibility from in-house teams.
Get in touch for more insight into how Responsiv can support your organisations legacy systems!