What to Consider Before Decommissioning Legacy Applications

By Amanda Maxwell

 Most companies still use one or more legacy applications – applications that have been in use for a long time but are now out of date. These applications may still do the job, but sometimes they cause more problems than they’re worth. It’s wise to periodically review legacy applications. Determine whether they are still valuable, if they support modern security measures, and whether they are compliant with legal or medical regulations. Otherwise, you might consider decommissioning those applications.

First of all, you need to look for the signs that an application should be retired. Bear in mind that people like to cling to systems they see as “working,” often to the point of not realizing how much better a new system can be.

Signs That You Should Remove an Application

  1. Nobody is actually using it. Poll your employees or use IT monitoring to see when an application was last used. If nothing and no one uses the application, then it’s safe to retire it ASAP and save resources.
  2. You already have a replacement ready.  You may find during your project scoping that you actually have two applications doing the same job. When comparing the two, consider making an application flowchart to help you spot duplicated content. After thorough evaluation, decide which application is most efficient, train employees to use it, and eliminate the other. Employees need advanced warning when an application is slated for retirement, since they'll need the information to migrate any data to the replacement.
  3. It crashes more often than it works. If employees complain that an application is unstable, then it needs to be recoded or replaced. Talk to IT staff about which option is best for that particular application. If it happens to be a commercial application which is no longer supported by the vendor, you should consider replacing it.
  4. It doesn’t support modern demands. These days, enterprises must be responsive to customers who need to check information quickly – often on a phone or tablet. If your databases or other customer-support systems don’t have reliable support for mobile applications, there may be a huge missed business opportunity. Keep in mind that many people use their own phone or tablet for work, so avoid using commercial software that leans too strongly towards one particular mobile OS.

Other Things to Consider

When updating or decommissioning a legacy application, take a look at overall performance. Measure KPIs before and after replacing a system to determine how much time and money you saved and how quickly the investment will pay for itself. Also, when budgeting or planning application replacement, don’t forget the time needed for your employees to learn their way around the new system.

The next thing to consider is what impact removing the app will have. It might be that the application or component isn’t actually doing anything and it’s safe and easy to remove it. Unfortunately, it’s far more common that a legacy app is still vital to work flow, data flow, or infrastructure. In this case, you will need to replace the application before retiring it. Retiring a legacy application can be a great opportunity to change a work process for the better. Talk to employees that will be impacted by the change, not just in IT, and find out what people really want out of the system.

Don’t forget to consider data migration as a part of application decommissioning. Yes, it can be a process daunting enough to tempt you to keep the legacy system in place, but keeping the old app running just to store data can be very expensive. Instead, consider what data has to be preserved and what can be cleaned out, keeping in mind confidentiality and legal reporting requirements. You may realize you're keeping a lot of data around that you don’t need. Look into information archiving to preserve data you're obligated to keep but seldom access. If you don’t already have a policy for how long you archive data, this is an opportune time to put one together.

If you have an application portfolio that has a lot of legacy applications, take time to run an audit and see if you can retire any. Use application understanding tools to create a plan. Replacing problematic applications will make vital business functions even more efficient. Removing legacy software can be complicated, but it results in improved performance and a much healthier application portfolio.

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Tags: Legacy Applications, Modernization