The value of unlocking legacy applications
- By Craig Marble
- Feb 27, 2017
There’s an impulse to roll one’s eyes and think of legacy applications as problematic, almost by definition. They’re old, and they may run on hardware that’s slower or more difficult to maintain. But in many instances, that’s too simplistic an assessment. Would you respond the same way to an older bottle of a Grand Cru Bordeaux?
For many state and federal agencies, the data and the processes associated with legacy applications take on a similar rarified value. There may be years of insights bound up in that older database, processes that have been tried, tested and streamlined over years of use. That data and those processes may be an essential part of what enables an agency to meet its stakeholder needs. Rather than viewing it as a creaky old system that should be replaced, it’s worth looking instead at modernizing how users interact with it.
What do I mean by this? Let’s say a legacy application has for years been tracking and managing configuration and repair histories for an aging line of small naval vessels. What if the service members responsible for ship repair could now point a cell phone camera at a component on the vessel that has been misbehaving and instantly pull the service history of that component from the data center? Legacy applications don’t need to be rewritten from scratch to enable this kind of real-time recognition and remote data retrieval. It works because the way users interact with the existing data and processes has been modernized.
In this instance, the technician might be using a phone or some other device (think along the lines of HoloLens technology) that could capture visual information on site. The device would transmit the information about the component to a cloud-based application that would interpret the image data and formulate a query based upon needs. The cloud application would query the legacy application, gather a response and then provide the technician with the information required in a useful format -- a schematic diagram, a repair history or procedure or whatever had been requested.
There are clear advantages to a modernization strategy of this kind. An agency can continue to derive value from the investments already made in data and processes. At the same time, more modern innovations can help expedite resolution. In the example of the component repair on a naval vessel, a technician might be able to identify a problematic component, pull all the information from the legacy app required to repair it and get it up and running again within moments. Previously such a repair might have been more costly and time consuming.
Modernization is not limited to adding an image capture system, either. Modernization can take many forms, and that’s part of what makes it so exciting. An emergency management agency, for example, might pull data from a legacy application into a cloud-based virtual reality app that can show first responders where water pipes or electrical lines should be in a neighborhood that has been ravaged by an earthquake or flood. Thinking about how legacy applications can be modernized (rather than rewritten), sparks innovation and formulation of new ways of interacting with constituents or new ways of capitalizing on those assets to add value.
In this way, modernizing a legacy system can save significant amounts of money, even as it reduces the risks that always accompany a large system rewrite. But those reductions are not the best reasons to look at modernization. Better reasons focus on the ability to incorporate innovation while building on the assets already in place. An agency’s IT organization can play more of a consulting role. It can implement new ways to meet the needs of stakeholders -- both inside and outside the agency -- who can benefit from interacting with existing information and processes.
Craig Marble is the senior director of Astadia’s legacy modernization practice.