Why are Legacy Systems still used?

Angus Roberts

Technology is evolving so fast that past innovations become obsolete as soon as better versions arise. Still, many businesses cling to outdated technology even though their effect on business output is negative, begging the question.

Why are legacy systems still used despite more recent versions that are effective? Read on to find out the meaning of legacy systems, businesses that still rely on such systems, and why they do so to date.

What is a Legacy System?

It’s impossible to define a legacy system as a single unit. Rather, legacy systems are software, computer systems, applications, programming languages, and specific technological processes that are no longer:

  • Supported or maintained in any way
  • Compatible with advanced solutions
  • Available for purchase in the open market (legally at least)

Note that legacy systems don’t have to be decades old as some can be just a year old.

What Companies Use Legacy Systems?

Research shows that 31% of organizations’ technology comprises legacy systems. Many companies continue using legacy systems in their daily operations, despite how costly they’ve become. Examples of organizations that still hold on to legacy systems are:

Government Agencies

Government agencies are the most notorious for having legacy system technology issues due to under-funding or corruption. In fact, many IT government personnel complain that some of the systems in place were created almost 60 years ago.

A prime example of legacy systems in a government agency came to light in 2017 when an outdated IRS computer had a glitch that jammed up tax returns for five million other citizens.


The banking industry is another sector where legacy applications dominate because banks rarely update the COBOL – the mainframe for most banking systems. Outdated systems can’t integrate with new developments such as mobile banking. In 2013, the Royal Bank of Scotland openly admitted that the numerous glitches in payment processing and blocked access to accounts were due to obsolete technology in their systems.

Retail and Commercial Organizations

Although businesses should be technologically up-to-date, many companies still use legacy software in their daily operations. Business owners prefer maintaining old systems to upgrading them as the former is cheaper, and the fact that with modernization comes the risk of cyber security attacks.

Background Check Systems

Background checking systems comprise technology built decades ago that has already become obsolete. Part of the reason there’s a legacy system in such a critical sector is the complexity of migrating to new technologies.

For this reason, the U.S. National Background Investigation faced a massive intrusion in their systems in 2015 that led to the loss of confidential information.

Reasons Why Legacy Systems are Still Used

Companies using legacy systems may never realize significant growth for a long time. But on the other hand, updating technological systems reduces operational costs and increases output, which ensures business posterity.

So why are legacy systems still used by companies despite the growing negativity surrounding them? Outlined below are the reasons why:

Switching Legacy Systems is Expensive

While legacy management is always expensive for businesses, in the long run, upgrading to newer technology consumes a lot of money from the company’s coffers within a short period.

Remember, the process isn’t only about purchasing modern equipment. There are additional costs incurred during integration and training. The workers must learn how to use the updated versions, which costs time and money. As such, many companies find it not economically feasible to switch legacy systems.

Moving Legacy Data is Complex

Legacy systems in some businesses hold a lot of past and present information crucial to everyday operations. Moving such a vast amount of data is complicated, especially for an internal IT team with average skills.

Business owners are still reluctant to hire outside professionals to transfer data from the old system to newer ones. Some fear outside parties may become privy to sensitive business information, while others say the transfer process consumes significant working hours that paralyze business operations.

Compatibility Troubles

Companies obtain massive data stored in hard copy or soft copy form in legacy systems. The problem with upgrading legacy systems is that files stored in past formats may not read on modern technology. Businesses may lose a lot of critical information, which is a risk many aren’t willing to take.

Legacy System is Time Consuming

Reprogramming systems can take days or weeks, depending on how complex the business operations are. Business owners have no intention of changing internal systems when the old ones seem to work just fine. It doesn’t matter if the legacy system looks outdated to the outside world, as long as everyday operations run smoothly.

How to Deal with Your Legacy System

While much of the gospel in the technology world emphasizes having the latest software, such a move should be taken with the utmost precaution. Some of the issues to have in mind when handling legacy systems are:

  • Avoid modernizing ahead of the curve: Legacy modernization is failing all around the country because business owners are rushing into the decision. Take time to consider all the aspects the change will bring, including the period in which operations may halt.
  • Leverage legacy system functionality to Meet New Goals: Instead of replacing the entire legacy system, which is risky, why don’t you try to reuse the process in the older system in the new one? The Strangler Pattern by Martin Flower has helped many companies meet new goals.
  • Practice legacy system management: Take a comprehensive look at your current technology and the areas that require updating. Weigh the risk of staying with legacy systems versus updating for business growth.
  • Find a suitable development partner: Don’t just partner with any company for your legacy modernization needs. Find an excellent development partner that understands your business requirements and budget.

Now that you understand what a legacy system is, how it impacts overall business growth, and why they’re still popular, you are in a better position to make an informed choice. Both choices have their consequences, so make sure to analyze business infrastructure to determine if it needs improvement.

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