A Well-earned (Application) Retirement

The one constant in business IT is that yesterday’s new systems will become tomorrow’s legacy. As organisations evolve and new technologies emerge, IT departments have to deal with the impact of this constant evolution and change on business operations.

But change events are difficult to predict. Mergers and acquisitions (M&As) – such as those seen in retail and investment banking in the past two years – can render even relatively recent application deployments obsolete or duplicate, leaving IT teams with a growing management and integration headache.

These legacy systems represent a drain on IT resources, both in terms of cost and manpower. Analyst Gartner conservatively estimates that mid-sized and larger organisations spend between 10% and 25% of their IT budget in supporting and managing legacy systems – and I believe that this can rise to as much as 35% in some companies. This is especially true in the financial sector, where older systems and applications are commonly kept in service.

So given the current business climate, where capital for new projects is harder to come by and operational expenditure for existing systems under close scrutiny, it’s prudent to look for more efficient ways of dealing with these older applications other than simply keeping them running.

It’s All About the Data

In these circumstances, it’s essential to establish why the legacy system is being maintained. In the vast majority of cases, it’s because of the data held in the system or application.

I frequently hear the statement, “No, we can’t do anything with that service, we still need to keep it live”, even though nine times out of 10 it’s simply access to the data on the system or platform that’s required, rather than the actual application itself. This is often the case for financial systems, especially in banking, pensions and investment organisations, simply so that access to the legacy data can be maintained for legal, taxation, or compliance purposes.

A Retirement Bonus

So why not retain the vital element and let go of the redundant parts? By separating the key data that the business needs from the legacy system, and then decommissioning the applications and platforms, a business could make substantial savings in budgets, support and resource commitment.

There is also the opportunity to increase the efficiency of operations by giving staff wider, more flexible access to the legacy data. Let’s take a closer look at how application retirement should be approached and managed, and the benefits it can offer your business.

Migration Matters

The initial issue in application retirement is the migration of the data from the legacy application or platform. Exactly how this is done will depend on several factors, including the type and age of the application and platform, and how the data is stored. However, there are a couple of key ‘best practice’ points which should be observed in any migration project.

First, reduce the risk of data loss or damage by testing your procedures. Make sure you have a backup copy of the data before trying a migration, and if possible, pilot the process using a small subset of the data. Then you can compare the extracted data with the original to ensure the process isn’t changing the data in any way.

Second, ensure the data is migrated into a database format that is accessible by the widest range of applications, and that can run on low-cost, flexible computing platforms – ideally a structured, relational SQL-compliant database. This helps to ensure flexible, open access to the data for a range of different user types. Data structuring tools are available to simplify migrations to relational databases.

Access All Areas

Once the migration is complete, the focus should be on how users will access the data – it is important to build applications that will support easy, flexible but robust data access. The key to this is to use a tool that takes advantage of the open, web model to run on any hardware and operating system at both the server and client side, delivering customisable data views and queries within a browser-based interface.

This gives even non-technical users uniform access to data migrated from legacy systems from a familiar point-and-click interface, minimising the need for user training. It also helps organisations avoid ongoing licensing, maintenance and hardware costs for access to legacy data, and can give access to data over the web from any location.

Retirement is a more efficient and cost-effective way of dealing with legacy systems, compared to other alternatives such as modernising the application – which may mean expensive hardware updates, terminal emulation and so on – or transferring to a virtualised environment, which can carry a significant penalty in migration costs and ongoing management.

Considering the Benefits

By retiring legacy systems, considerable benefits can be realised. First, analysts estimate that payback of outlay is often less than 12 months and the total return on investment (ROI) over three years usually exceeds 150%. Even using the most conservative figure from the Gartner estimations, the 10% saving from an annual IT budget can be channelled towards new initiatives, or simply be taken off the bottom line.

What’s more, by decommissioning your legacy systems, your IT team can focus on more strategic tasks than maintenance and support for old, seldom-used platforms. There are also benefits such as reduced risk due to outages, acceleration of new product initiatives due to fewer legacy integration or support issues, as well as a more streamlined disaster recovery plan – simply because there are fewer plates for the IT team to keep spinning.

So with the benefits that application retirement can offer, letting go of your IT department’s past while preserving the business information could make a key impact on your operations. Applications and platforms will come and go, but data is forever.

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