How To Combine Tech Debt And Modernize Legacy Software


Businesses should seek to modernize legacy systems regularly to better serve their customers. .

Digital transformations are increasing rapidly, fueled in great part by the ever-growing number of digital channels available. Amidst external and internal pressures to modernize quickly, IT teams can be guilty of making hasty decisions and rushing through processes with stop-gap software migration, which ultimately delays further transformation.

When teams prioritize a quick product launch over a quality one, they are forced to backtrack and rework product development, which can create technical debt. Rather than risk valuable time, resources, and dollars, IT teams should invest in tools and support services that help map out modernization processes and keep projects on track, thereby avoiding unnecessary costs.  

See also: Why Application Modernization Makes Sense

Arriving at today

Legacy systems and the businesses utilizing them, such as those in the state- or federally-regulated industries like insurance, healthcare, finance, and even government itself, are successful because they’re generally inexpensive to maintain and relatively convenient for teams to use. However, when functionality, security, customer expectations, and technological advancement all converge–as they do continuously–purposefully planning and executing digital transformations are imperative to remain an industry leader. Still, doing so is not easy. Here’s why:

  • Obsolete technologies can become more expensive to maintain over time, and interruptions in their operation can adversely affect direct costs.
  • Finding and recruiting the talent necessary to maintain legacy software can become more challenging to achieve. Technology frameworks and languages are continually evolving. The number of people designing and utilizing the latest advancements becomes the norm while obtaining their predecessors’ skills is increasingly complex and expensive.
  • Eventually, even proper training on legacy systems becomes inadequate or impossible as adept users leave the company through ordinary attrition and the antiquated processes, procedures, and documentation supporting legacy software become irregular or lost.

Instead, seek to modernize legacy systems regularly to serve better and incorporate customer feedback. While it’s impossible to revamp any technical landscape completely, the risk of drowning in technical debt decreases as new tools improve operational efficiency and resolve support issues faster.

Modernize to plan for tomorrow’s successes

Just as businesses choose to innovate within their products and services and become leaders in their industry, they should also plan and implement updates and transformations of their digital infrastructure. To do otherwise jeopardizes their standing as a recognized leader and instead opens opportunities for competitors to take the technological step, fill a gap or chasm in the market, and attract their customers or prospects.

Adding modern tools to the technology stack to perform today deserves consideration, as modernization wins in the long run.

  • Modernization costs less than legacy maintenance. There may be no better example of this than in the U.S. government, where approximately 80 percent of its $90 billion IT budget is spent operating and maintaining aging systems.
  • It helps reduce fraud and the time to recognize and respond to fraud and its attempts. Fraud accounts for at least three percent of all U.S. healthcare claims and possibly as much as 10 percent of the billions of legitimate claims annually. By adding or enhancing technology for security and ID verification, businesses can significantly improve fraud recognition and response capabilities.
  • Agile and evolutionary improvements to systems made possible through digital transformation result in adaptations to market changes that can be continuous and made more seamlessly. As humbly described by IT pros, the digital revolution is not just behind-the-scenes software advancements but, instead, making technology a central part of external-facing core business strategies that affect how people live and work.
  • Modernization boosts productivity and teams’ abilities to improve timeliness and quality of service. Streamlining and simplifying that result from modernization allows companies to become more efficient at core competencies, thereby freeing up time and energy to address goals to further the business.
  • Built-in flexibility and scalability to transformations save businesses from disruptions. No one wants to find themselves staring system failure in the face while business essentially stops. By addressing foreseeable issues and future growth today, companies can avoid creating a network of patchwork solutions that make the real possibility of future system delays or failures. 

To remain relevant, teams should take the necessary steps to modernize legacy systems.

  • Identify future business goals and the current systems’ abilities to meet and exceed expectations.
  • Align business transformation goals with a modernization roadmap and add realistic readiness capabilities.
  • Embrace solid IT expertise and employ its talents in the management of migration projects.
  • Accept that there may be challenges along the road to modernization and be ready to change and adapt.

Eventually, by planning and implementing transformative steps now, technical debt decreases, innovation and efficiency increases, and overall costs are mitigated.

Mike Watson

About Mike Watson

Mike Watson is senior vice president of agile product engineering at Excellarate. He is a veteran engineer with over 15 years of software leadership experience and excels at driving software programs, teams, and processes tailored to people, technology, and business goals. He has managed and led diverse software teams at Motorola, Tangoe, Synerzip, and many others and earned his computer science degree from Washington State University.

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