Most businesses were having difficulties with inefficient legacy systems years or decades ago – and most still are today. New technologies come to market, and businesses and their customers both evolve, so outdated software platforms begin significantly impacting on performance across departments and functions.
As painful as these systems are, it can feel daunting to replace them with a new software product or go through the complexity of legacy system integration. The status quo prevails, until a catalyst like an ambitious new IT director getting approval on a sizeable budget, or a CEO seeking to transform their business, gets the process started.
There are various system integration methods out there and no consensus across the industry as to what the best practice should be. Importantly, these approaches aren’t mutually exclusive, and businesses will probably take a ‘mix and match’ approach using some or all of the methods.
However, in my experience there are four useful approaches which can be used as a starting point. Here are four key methods for systems integration which will help maximise the performance of existing software infrastructure.
1. Extending your current product
If you have isolated problems, instead of ripping out and replacing the legacy systems, one approach is to build a product that exists alongside the current ones.
Say a business has a sales team which is exporting central pricing data and then creating bespoke proposals; this means senior management has no visibility on potential sales opportunities, and operations receive orders which deviate from standard products and services.
Extending your product here could automate workflows during the sales process, ensuring consistency across the business, allowing the team to manage information and letting senior management get detailed reporting.
Extending your product gives you the opportunity to develop a richer user interface with additional functionality without having to replace your existing software or databases. You can do this as an extension for bespoke systems as well as products when there is an API available.
2. Cross-platform interfaces
Does your business have an interface overload, with various departments and functions having to access multiple systems on a daily basis? The most appropriate software infrastructure here is a cross-platform interface (or wrapper). Just as with product extensions, you keep the existing legacy system but improve the interface and functionality around it.
A common scenario here is customers emailing the business with spreadsheets of orders, which then get added to a CRM package, then to a production system, and finally a finance system – all of which have separate user accounts. Internal wrapper interfaces make the business’ own operation more efficient, and external interfaces for customers and suppliers will increase productivity and reduce errors.
3. Data warehousing and business intelligence
A common situation is that businesses have successful but separate software systems, so inefficiency comes from lack of centralised data. If engineers are using stand-alone laptop applications, your finance system is hosted on an internal server, and your HR system is in the cloud – wouldn’t it be more efficient to aggregate those processes?
Data warehousing is an effective business intelligence tool which works by aggregating data from multiple systems to create consolidated, real-time information, which in turn leads to informed decisions, all with zero impact on existing processes and user interfaces.
4. Modular refactor
Often businesses know that their existing system is coming to end of life, but it has years of undocumented tweaks made by several developers that could still be critical to day-to-day business. This is one of the biggest fear factors that stops legacy system upgrades going ahead.
The solution here is to refactor or rebuild the existing application one piece at a time. Modular refactor means separating the existing software system into modular components, enabling you to review your business needs against the module during the rebuild within an iterative and incremental upgrade path.
Short-term investment, long term gain. Any combination of these approaches requires short-term investment and resource, but will give you better efficiency in the long-term.
Remember that the integration of legacy systems can come in many forms, and there’s more than one way to maximise the performance of existing software.
For insightful and inspiring examples of how other businesses have integrated their legacy systems, visit our projects.
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