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How to modernise legacy tech without blowing your budget (or your mind)

Like parting ways with an old friend, it can be difficult to say goodbye to your legacy technology. Familiarity and the belief that you can (or must) continue to sweat technology assets can cause you to lose sight of whether it’s actually doing what you need it to, as well as objectivity about the economics of what you’re operating. The good news is you’re not alone – a recent report found the HMRC spent an astounding £53.2 million on supporting their legacy estate during the pandemic – 80% of the tax collector’s costs. Because their services are so essential and tech-dependent, they had delayed modernisation by patching old systems, some of which had been in place since the mid-1990s! As a result, they have now recognised the critical importance of finding a balance between supporting legacy tech and harnessing future innovation. Just like them, it’s almost incomprehensible that your business is the same today as it was ten years ago, so why should your tech be?

Why do businesses stick to legacy tech?

There are many reasons organisations choose to keep legacy tech for longer than they should. Most of the time this is down to the fact that many mission-critical apps and services are reliant on legacy systems, and transferring them feels like too complex or risky an undertaking. The resources required to make this transition can also be substantial, especially if your internal team lacks the skills to do so. Often with ultra-legacy systems, as identified with HMRC, the biggest perceived issue is the knowledge pool in the IT team and uncertainty in choosing the best flight path to modernisation. However, the biggest barrier is often mindset. Convincing other business leaders like your CFO that modernisation is worth the initial expense requires a water-tight business case. It just so happens that we have some top tips to help you do this.

Why supporting legacy tech can be a bad investment

Continuing to support legacy technology without at least dipping your toes into modernisation can lead to a lot of problems. The word “legacy” doesn’t just refer to old tech either – it may be your systems are no longer fit-for-purpose, or some may have reached end of support. Regardless, maintaining legacy tech, whatever its definition, could end up being a bad investment:

  • Digital transformation denied

One of the main issues the HMRC encountered was that only one vendor, Fujitsu, was able to support the 30-year-old infrastructure. It’s likely your legacy IT will present similar issues, leaving you locked in (and possibly paying a premium) with only the vendors capable of maintaining it and restricting your ability to push for digital transformation. Some systems may be based on ancient programming languages that aren’t compatible with modern apps like Microsoft 365. This denies people both inside and outside your organisation the benefits of forward-thinking, collaborative technologies that accelerate productivity and unlock greater business value.

  • Support issues

Because technology evolves so quickly, it’s important your hardware and software keeps pace. It can be hard to do this when your tech has reached end of support or end of life, as manufacturers will no longer provide the TLC you may have become accustomed to. That means no more updates, no more patches, and no more lifeline. It’s likely your support tickets will go through the roof as a result, as frustrated users begin to be impeded by slow and unresponsive tech.

  • No support, no security

Critically, without support from the manufacturer, your legacy tech won’t have the same protections it once did. This leaves it more vulnerable to cyber threats, and your data at greater risk of a breach. The ramifications of this have been proven time and time again, most notably by the WannaCry attack on the NHS in 2018, where Windows operating systems well past end of life were exploited and held to ransom for Bitcoin.

  • Hidden costs

It’s not only the cost of support that makes legacy tech a huge burden on your budget. There are intangible costs you may have not even considered. If your tech isn’t up to scratch when the time comes for a regulatory audit, you could find yourself facing a hefty fine. Business opportunities may have been lost because your technology isn’t agile or efficient enough to respond to customer trends or demands. What’s worse, if your security vulnerabilities are ever exploited, the recovery costs aren’t the only thing you need to worry about – the cost to your reputation is incalculable too.

5 practical steps to help your plan to modernise

Whatever your reasons for sticking with your legacy tech, to modernise you’re going to need to take some practical and pragmatic steps. Here are 5 things you can do to improve your situation and take control of your costs:

  1. Conduct a root and branch analysis of your legacy estate

Only by truly understanding what you have can you plan for how to improve it. By conducting an in-depth analysis of your legacy estate, you can accurately determine the real role of legacy systems in your business. Furthermore, armed with hard facts you can be realistic about which assets require an upgrade, and which can be sweat for longer. This helps optimise your budget and prepares you for any future refreshes. It also enables you to establish which technologies are responsible for supporting your various apps and services, so you can ensure everything is upgraded with minimal disruption.

  1. Regular audits

Once you’ve conducted your root and branch analysis, make sure you keep on top of your estate by scheduling regular audits to assess compliance and the ongoing suitability of your tech. This puts you in the best possible position for when statutory auditors do come knocking, as you’ll have a firm handle on the state of your IT.

  1. Buying new can save you money

Although modernisation can seem like a huge upfront investment, it more than makes up for the cost in the long-run. The spend on support is vastly reduced as modern tech requires less maintenance, and the intangible costs that come with security risk are less likely to occur thanks to regular updates. Importantly, the longer you leave it, the higher the cost becomes to replace it, so it’s better to start addressing your legacy tech sooner rather than later. More than at any other time, buying new doesn’t have to mean upfront capital purchase; options to finance or adopt as-a-service acquisition models put you in a strong position to get what you need without breaking the bank.

  1. Don’t go all-in all at once

Modernisation can seem intimidating because you jump forward to the magnitude of the entire task and what this could entail. It can feel like a scary prospect, but it doesn’t have to be this way. You can start in small steps and modernise incrementally at a pace that suits you, picking off the ‘wins’ that make most sense or deliver the best return. That way you have complete control over what changes are made and when, making the transition feel more manageable. The best thing about this, aside from it relieving the burden on your budget, is the fact you can take your time with upgrading your mission-critical systems to ensure you get this right.

  1. Consolidate where you can

Another easy win for your legacy support spend is to consolidate it, rather than taking a piecemeal approach. While you may be using multiple vendor technologies, it may be easier to give only a certain number of providers control. Unlike vendor lock-in, this gives you the opportunity to choose who you want to work with and capitalise on better commercials through the uplift in contract revenue this will mean for your partner. Furthermore, your spend won’t be sporadically spread between lots of different providers and you have one partner to call in the event of an issue.

Modernising your legacy tech doesn’t need to be a colossal undertaking – it all depends on how you approach it. In the end, the rewards will outweigh the risks, seeing you save money, improve the user experience, and ensure your infrastructure is ready for the future. If you would like to know more about the steps you can take to successfully modernise your legacy technology and simplify its support, please get in touch.