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Legacy applications and software modernisation

By Alia Coster
12/03/2020

Legacy applications and software modernisation

As is the nature of the technology space, nothing stays new for very long. We are constantly seeing tech and software undergo modernisation, updates, or just outright replacement. As quickly as something arrives, something newer overtakes it. It is a cycle that never ends.

When asked what the number one cause of delivery problems for their business was, 9.4% of managers and 12.5% of developers claimed it was the ever-changing landscape.

For businesses, this often means hefty expenses to keep up with the trends. To be competitive, you have to be the very best. And that usually means investing in new software or committing to keeping your existing software as up-to-date and modern as possible.

This is why legacy apps can be problematic. They are notorious for being difficult to maintain, hard to adapt, and a drain on time and resources. While in other areas of life a legacy is known as something great to leave behind, in software, the term legacy usually means you are the one being left behind.

What do we mean by a ‘legacy app’?

Technically, anything could be a legacy application once it reaches a certain age. It is software that is older and has become outdated as tech has adapted and changed. 

While a legacy app might be essential for your business’s operations, it will also often restrict you in some way. It won’t be as efficient or reliable as it should be, could have bugs, or just no longer fits with the trajectory of your operation. 

A legacy app will need resources to maintain, and may leave you in a double-bind, unable to refresh and modernise the software because all the needed time and effort is going into keeping it functioning. It can be difficult to update an app over time and introduce newer, more efficient code and processes, while spending money and resources running it as it is.

Legacy apps work and they can still be useful, but they are often unstable if looked after correctly. They may have compatibility issues, restrict to you one specific operating system or language, and don’t offer modern processes or interoperability.

Some people believe a legacy app is an application that doesn’t have any automated tests. Although this isn’t a widespread view, it’s a thought-provoking way to consider the idea. Creating software without test automation can feel a lot like you are backing yourself into a corner. With everything subject to change and transition, ignoring automated testing, you are leaving any software you build at increased risk of becoming outdated, unstable, and potentially more difficult to change.

Legacy apps in business

The effort to maintain a legacy app is much higher for a business. To put it simply, the older an app gets, the harder it is to manage and support. And a dependence on ageing infrastructure can be costly. 

Without automated testing, you run the risk of encountering issues and bugs that can burn through time and resources. Businesses build apps, put effort into keeping them running, but don’t have a long-term strategy to modernise or adapt them. If you aren’t regularly updating an app, there could be vulnerabilities in the software. In this case, businesses are opening themselves up to security breaches. 

As your business’s services expand, you might want to add features to the app. But doing so with a legacy app isn’t simple or straightforward. You will need specialist staff who are equipped in the specific operating system or coding language. And by nature, legacy apps aren’t the easiest to adapt and change.

Best practice

It is important for businesses to embrace modernisation of their apps. If done right, you can create new value from existing applications. You aren’t wasting a legacy product, but instead using it to build something more useful and suited to your evolving business.

Rather than forgetting about your app for multiple years at a time, we believe it makes more sense to continually work on the application. Regular, routine maintenance saves you the large undertaking of a complete rewrite or replacement if something were to go wrong. You don’t want to wait until things become critical; by committing to keeping your app up-to-date, you will see a reduction in overheads over time by implementing tests and planning ahead.

It is possible for software to be old but well-maintained. It is up to you as a business owner to decide if you are prepared to put continuous investment into the app, addressing issues regularly to avoid an app slipping into a legacy state. By using automated testing, you reduce rework and regression in your apps. Without testing, you risk reintroducing bugs into your software and adding even more work to your plate. 

Service-oriented architecture

There are things you can do to make your app more enterprise-ready and to maintain its performance long-term. When you reach a certain number of users or transactions, software can be split into multiple services. While from the outside your product still looks like one big app, behind the scenes, you will have two or three apps talking to each other. You provide the functionality of a large software application, but you actually have individual, separately maintained software components.

Service-oriented architecture makes the legacy landscape easier to maintain and manage. But you also want to avoid adding complexity too early. Service-oriented architecture isn’t where you start, but more so something you can grow into. Large organisations tend to look into this when their apps reach 10-15 years old.

While legacy apps aren’t a complete disaster for businesses, they can often drain your time, resources, and efforts. It can be frustrating to exert energy to keep software running that no longer actually does what you want it to. We recommend that every business commits to investing in their apps long-term. Instead of letting it slip into a legacy state, regular maintenance and testing can keep everything more efficient and running smoothly.

At Createk, we make product development, management, and maintenance simple. We are well equipped to help your business become more efficient, productive, and competitive, with up-to-date, modern applications. To find out more, visit our website or call us on 0330 995 0685. 

 

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