‘Legacy’ is a kind word when combined with the word ‘software.’ While it conventionally invokes some sense of grandeur or wisdom, ‘outdated’ or ‘obsolete’ are often closer to the truth. With the current economic downturn placing serious pressures on many businesses, for some it has exposed small but long-standing cracks that are now starting to fissure.
One particularly glaring recent example in the US is the breakdown of Southwest Airlines’ systems over the 2022 Christmas period, which left thousands of travellers stranded, making headlines worldwide. The company was using a software programme called SkySolver -- which was nearly two decades old -- to schedule crew, and it was not able to keep up with multiple rounds of flight cancellations and delays caused by a massive winter storm. It resulted in an incredibly expensive breakdown of Southwest’s systems, and dozens more flight cancellations and delays that could’ve otherwise been avoided.
Clearly, not investing in the right, up-to-date software can be costly for companies. It cost $825mn in loss revenue for Southwest Airlines, and $1bn more has been budgeted for software investment.
We call this ‘technical debt’: the cost of the future reworking required when organisations choose an easier but more limited solution which will need to be replaced later. By picking the right software the first time, or before the incumbent system collapses, businesses can avoid expensive chaos down the line.
Is your organisation in technical debt?
When it comes to technical debt, legacy software can be a key contributor.
The costs of licensing and maintaining legacy software and hardware, such as training new administrators and investing in custom integrations, can quickly add up. It can be difficult to find experts who are trained in maintaining ageing technology, as IT pros move on to train in the next big thing – and those that remain become more expensive, often rebranding as specialists.
Legacy systems can also pose a security risk if they have inadequate layers of protection, protocols, or access controls. The serious risk of financial fraud and cyberattack aside, such systems make meeting regulatory requirements more difficult if it’s challenging to quickly and easily find documents that prove compliance during an audit – which can lead to fines.
The user experience can leave something to be desired too, especially if modern devices, operating systems, and browsers don’t support the interface. These kinds of programmes can be frustrating for employees and customers alike to navigate, and it would take a braver author than me to ballpark the lost opportunity cost of letting talented but frustrated staff move on.
Finally, dated, proprietary software can be difficult to extend, integrate, or scale, especially on short notice — as Southwest found, to their detriment.
All of these issues with legacy software might be contributing to your organisations’ technical debt. But what is the solution to avoiding technical debt, and how can organisations implement it in today’s tight economic climate without breaking the bank?
Head in the cloud
For many organisations, the answer to technical debt lies in migrating to the cloud. Cloud migration is the transfer of applications, processes, and data from an existing datacentre to a cloud-based datacentre. This can happen all at once, or in stages.
There are several key benefits of moving to the cloud that are worth discussing, and chief among them is cold, hard cash.
Compared to the aforementioned rigmarole of legacy solutions that don’t quite fill the bill anymore, migrating to the cloud saves organisations time and money. Part of this is simply the increase in specifications for newer systems, with more modern alternatives capable of crunching more data, more quickly. These systems allow the business to move more quickly, and exist in a scalable and modular infrastructure – which lets organisations rapidly roll out new business solutions, or expand existing ones, across the whole enterprise.
It can also be helpful for employee collaboration, both inside and outside the IT team. Once cloud migration has been completed, businesses can benefit from the infrastructure and support teams of the cloud provider, allowing their own IT teams to support the operations of that business rather than worrying about learning and operating cloud infrastructure.
For employees across the whole business, modern systems are more likely to help IT teams tackle the day-to-day frustrations impacting the wider employee base. There’s the wider facilitation of flexible working to consider, too, with the decentralised nature of cloud-based software providing easy and secure remote access to corporate networks, processes and content.
Furthermore, it becomes easier to complete virtual HR processes like hiring and onboarding. Employees can quickly and easily use cloud-based, real-time communications platforms which can facilitate collaboration, with the comfort of being able to engage with HR issues outside of the public workplace.
Much of the speed and ease of use here directly ties back to the cloud’s flexibility and scalability. There’s room to grow when you need to store or process more data, but no lost investment in on-premises datacentres sitting around unused when there’s less need for computing power – and that means costs savings.
Moving to the cloud eliminates the huge upfront capital investments and ongoing operational costs of keeping on-premises infrastructure running. Once the cloud is operational, many of the costs associated with infrastructure including staffing, hardware, database maintenance, security, and software upgrades become part of the operational expense that can be budgeted for on a monthly or annual basis.
Taking the first steps
If you decide to move to the cloud, there are a few important initial steps. Like anything else in business, a plan is fundamental, and a solid cloud strategy is the secret to success for any business looking to make the jump.
A key first step is completing a content inventory, determining what will move to the cloud, what will stay behind, and why. It’s important to understand the value of the content to the business, as well as what content might be subject to compliance requirements from regulators. This is also a good opportunity to cull redundant or obsolete content.
Other key steps include making sure you have enough metadata for content so you can control access and move content to the right places. Once that’s done and it’s time to deliver a copy of cloud-bound content to the cloud provider, make sure you keep a record of what’s been shared and test extensively before officially going live.
In today’s economic climate, it’s more important than ever to make sure your company’s software is flexible, modern, and cost-effective. If you understand that technical debt is a serious obstacle to your company, and you’ve made the baby steps required to prepare for change, then there’s never been a better time to make a move to the cloud.