Barbara Babati 25.09.2019 14 min read

Legacy System Integration

In a lot of our articles, we’ve been talking about legacy systems. Still, we have never justified an entire blog for the topic while it’s highly relevant and important for many of our readers and our business.

As we strongly focus on bringing connectivity and real-time data to global logistics, we often encounter legacy systems while connecting different applications across organizations. A lot of companies we work with have 20 or even 30 years old legacy systems that were built on outdated technology. Often, while working with these systems, you will stumble across ‘spaghetti code’ that needs to be untangled. There are more to the challenges of legacy systems, but as we dive deeper into the topic, we will discuss those in more detail.

When you rely on legacy applications, you still need to be able to extract invaluable data from them. This is where integrations play a significant role. Nevertheless, the integration of these systems is a challenging journey full of roadblocks.

In this blog, we will clarify what we mean when we are talking and writing about legacy systems, what are the challenges of owning legacy applications, how these affect the supply chain, what integration problems they state for integration architects, and how a cloud-based integration platform can address the lack of ability to connect legacy systems with more modern applications.

What is a legacy system?

When we talk about legacy systems, we mean old technology, a computer system, or an application that is outdated compared to today’s standards and expectations or current IT contexts. Legacy systems may include complicated, obsolete, outdated business processes as well as data standards (often in-house ones). While legacy systems are often decades old, in some cases, they are not necessarily defined as a legacy by age but instead not being able to meet organizational requirements. These legacy systems are so deeply engraved in the DNA of the operations of a company that replacing them could be an enormous and risky task. This is why most organizations still today have legacy systems despite the benefits they could realize from legacy system modernization.

Legacy systems can have compatibility issues (e.g., a legacy system is rarely compatible with newly purchased systems), isolated from other applications, and could have a lack of security support. We will elaborate on these topics shortly.

According to Accenture, modernizing legacy applications could release 15-35% infrastructure year-over-year savings, 30-50% lower maintenance and run costs, as well as support regulation and compliance requirements.

Challenges of legacy system integration

Operating on legacy systems can present various challenges for organizations, and it restricts them from moving toward digital transformation.

The challenges include the following:

  • Legacy software runs on legacy hardware, and maintaining the hardware can quickly become expensive. It’s also unlikely that legacy software could be run on newer hardware.
  • Maintenance, improvement, and expansion of legacy systems are demanding. Sometimes, organizations lack the necessary documentation to system changes or overall system architecture.
  • Working with legacy systems requires a lot of patching. Often, these patches are not documented sufficiently.
  • Legacy systems may have vulnerabilities, and thus, companies could be at risk of being compromised by attackers.
  • Integrating legacy systems with newer applications or APIs can be complicated. If there are more than one integration, point-to-point integration is inadequate.
  • Legacy systems can cause an enormous loss in terms of business continuity if the systems fail or get attacked.
  • Typically, there is a lack of engineers that have the experience of working with mainframe systems. These systems require knowledge of legacy programming languages (e.g., COBOL) as they have been coded in “old code”.
  • Redesigning legacy systems is complicated and costly.
  • Relying on legacy systems slows down innovation in organizations. Integration with new technologies such as AI, ML, IoT, but even SaaS integration can be a challenge.
  • Even if the integration challenge is tackled, working around legacy applications can slow the pace of time to market of new initiatives – and the maintenance in this case too will be difficult.
  • Mainframes exist in silos, it’s different to work with mainframes with a sense of innovation in today’s business environment. DevOps can be challenging when an organization uses legacy systems.

Migration to contemporary hardware could have many benefits, such as enhancing the agility of the organization, simplifying integrations with other stakeholders and applications, increasing productivity, reduced the cost of running business-critical applications. Still, organizations rarely kick off legacy modernization projects. In recent years, there’s been news of enterprises that decided to change their legacy systems and the projects eventually failed, costing the company hundreds of millions of dollars. This is why many refuse to touch their legacy systems that do the job just fine – although extracting information from them can be a hassle.

Legacy systems holding back supply chains?

The lack of elasticity of legacy applications can hold back supply chains from operating more efficiently. We have identified some of the major problems with legacy systems that can hurt supply chains:

1. Integration is difficult

As we have already mentioned above, integrating legacy systems with other systems and applications can be a significant challenge for organizations. To operate efficiently, supply chains need to rely on integrations a lot. Typically, there is a lot of need for integrations with different stakeholders and systems. You may need to connect with vendors, suppliers, distribution centers, warehouses, or transportation management systems (TMS). The ultimate goal is to improve collaboration but enabling all parties to access all the necessary information and thus creating more visibility into supply chain processes and creating an opportunity for optimization. A data-driven supply chain that heavily relies on information and collaboration across supply chain partners is essential for companies that want to create a competitive edge with their supply chain operations.

Integration of different parties can get extremely difficult when all parties use different systems and applications; some can be on-premise legacy ones, while others cloud-based software. In addition to the nature of the applications, the endpoints can vary, as well as you may need to deal with different data standards and formats (e.g., in-house ones, EDIFACT, ANSI X12, JSON, XML, to name a few).

2. The data is buried in the legacy applications

  • There is a lot of data buried in legacy systems that due to the lack of integration often remains unutilized.
  • Unlocking the value of the data would be important so that supply chains can be improved.

3. Data management and process automation are not without challenges

Difficulties with integrating multiple stakeholders and a variety of systems mean that managing all the available data becomes difficult. Besides, companies still need to rely on manual tasks instead of automating processes that could improve the supply chain but also eliminate errors that can be caused by human intervention.

In addition to these, also, the quality of the data could be enriched if state-of-the-art integration solutions would be more widely available.

  • Providing information availability and visibility;
  • Enabling single point of contact of data;
  • Allowing decisions based on total supply chain information;
  • Enabling collaboration with supply chain partners.
  • Providing information availability and visibility;
  • Enabling single point of contact of data;
  • Allowing decisions based on total supply chain information;
  • Enabling collaboration with supply chain partners.

Cloud-based integration platform to address legacy system integration challenges

Today, organizations are developing strategic plans to make their supply chains more functional and data-driven. Integrations play a significant role in this evolution. After all, a well-connected supply chain that relies on information can be a competitive advantage: the better the supply chain works, the more optimized it is, and the more competitive a company can be.

Nevertheless, when you need to work with legacy systems that usually lack standardization, or these systems are just minimally standardized, it will take a tremendous effort to connect them with other applications.

A cloud-based integration platform (iPaaS) can help organizations to address their integration challenges by utilizing a hybrid cloud environment to connect legacy systems and cloud-based applications through APIs. In this case, you can keep your legacy systems running, there is no need for refactoring, but you will be able to extract data from them without sacrificing reliability, performance, or security. Your business processes will keep running without disruption, but you will be able to communicate with both your internal and external stakeholders in real time.

Integration platforms that can bridge the gap between legacy and modern applications are often referred to as hybrid integration platforms (HIP). If you are interested in the topic in more depth, you should check out our previous blogs on the topic. 

Hybrid integration platforms help you to tackle complex cases, such as integrating on-premise legacy systems with cloud-based applications. These platforms can work around a variety of endpoints, various data standards and formats (e.g., older formats such as EDIFACT, X12, in-house formats, or newer ones, such as JSON and XML), as well as can work around the underlying business processes for better automation.

If you are facing the challenge of connecting legacy systems with cloud-based applications, you could be interested in our list of integration providers that can tackle hybrid integration challenges. Using the list will significantly reduce your shortlisting process.

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