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What is a legacy system, and why do companies keep using them?

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Freeport Metrics Team
September 2021

Legacy systems are applications that have been in use for a long time. They might be the backbone of your business and run on old hardware or software, yet you continue to rely on them for key functions. Why is this? The reason is simple: It's easier to stick with what you know than invest in new technologies that could be risky or costly. But like many things in life, there needs to be a balance between risk and reward. When it comes to legacy systems and digital transformation initiatives, knowing where the risk/reward balance lies can mean the difference between success or failure.

What are legacy systems?

The term "legacy" comes from the idea that these systems have been around for so long, they're now considered part of an organization's history and culture.

Legacy applications often have a lot of bugs and security issues because they were built using outdated technology, making them expensive to maintain over time as well as hard to upgrade or integrate with new systems. In addition, because they are unavailable for purchase, there is no market price on which you can base your decision about whether it makes sense to keep using them versus investing in newer technology--you have no choice but to keep paying whatever price is asked by whoever owns those assets at any given time (which might not even be your company).

If this description of legacy systems resonates with your business, exploring legacy system services might be the right path for you. Discover how modernization can streamline operations and create new growth opportunities by learning more about our legacy modernization services.

Why do legacy systems still exist?

There are many reasons why companies continue to use legacy systems. The risk of changing the status quo may be too high, and there may be no intention to change it (if it ain't broke, don't fix it). Internal teams may not have the needed skillset to migrate to modern systems. Converting existing legacy data to a new system isn't easy either--it can take years or even decades depending on how large and complex your database is. Finally, switching is too disruptive for an organization; everyone needs time to get used to working with new tools before they can start producing great work again!

What are the risks of keeping legacy software?

The biggest risk is that your company will be unable to adapt and expand as business needs change. As new technologies emerge, your software will be left behind.

For example, if you develop a new feature for your website using a modern framework like React or AngularJS but then want to add it onto a very old ASP.NET or Ruby on Rails site, chances are high that this won't work at all--or at least not well. This means that any time you want to improve one part of your product while keeping others the same (for example: adding chat functionality), it may require rewriting large sections of code just so they'll fit together properly. This process can be expensive and time-consuming; sometimes there are no easy solutions available either because no one has written an adapter yet or because nobody even knows how much work would go into building one before they even start trying anything out.

What are examples of the legacy applications?

If you've ever tried to get your insurance payments or bank account information sent to a new provider, you know what it's like to deal with a legacy system. The same goes for healthtech companies that need patient data from other providers so they can provide better care.

The reason these systems are so difficult to move away from is because they have been built over time by many different programmers and developers who have made small changes along the way--but never with an eye toward creating something flexible enough to be easily updated in future years.

How to identify and phase out legacy software?

In order to phase out legacy systems, you must first identify them. Is the software based on outdated technology? Is it incompatible with current systems? Is there no longer any available source code or documentation for this system?

If you have identified that one or more of your applications are considered "legacy," then take steps to determine if they pose a risk to your organization. For example:

  • How much does this application cost us per year in maintenance fees? If we were to migrate away from this system and move our data elsewhere (or rewrite it ourselves), how much would it cost us in labor costs and time spent developing new features/functionality for users who rely on our product(s).
  • What kind of impact will migrating away from our current setup have on customers who use our products every day--will they be able to continue using them without interruption once we've implemented changes during migration?


Legacy systems are a drag on your business, but they can be phased out with the right strategy. The first step is to identify which applications are legacy and prioritize them for replacement. Then you need to plan out how long each phase of the project will take, so that you don't overload your team with too many projects at once or leave yourself open to security vulnerabilities in older software versions as well.

If you're interested in modernizing your business but are unsure of how to navigate the complexities of legacy systems, our CEO Andrew and business development manager Pawel are available to chat with you. 

Fill out our contact form, and together we can discuss your unique challenges and collaboratively select the optimal legacy system modernization services for your company.