Your business probably needs new software as it heads into the first full financial year of the new decade. Despite a rapid uptick in migration to cheaper, more flexible SaaS solutions in recent years, the majority of firms — particularly in the UK, Europe and North America — remain tied to systems that are desperately backwards-facing.

That inertia has to end. Growing productivity, reducing waste and maintaining staff satisfaction will all be pivotal to success in the next ten years. And getting the right technology in place is key to achieving all three and more.

Navigate this guide:

  1. What are legacy systems?
  2. The importance of leaving archaic software
  3. Successfully migrating from a legacy system
  4. How to find the right vendors
  5. Minimising disruption with change management

What is a legacy system?

A legacy system is an outdated piece of programming still in use by a business even though a better, more efficient option is available. Any tool can end up as legacy — across accounting, inventory management, CRM, production planning, warehousing or more.

There’s no specific point at which software gets the label of ‘legacy’. Technology that runs perfectly for one business might be a dangerous drag for another. But any solution that holds a business back — whether that’s because it costs too much, is missing features, is server-based, is hard to use or more — when a better option exists can be considered a legacy system.

Why are legacy systems still used?

There are countless reasons why out-of-date tech might remain in place. Sometimes, it makes logical sense: for example, when the cost to upgrade won’t deliver ROI.

Those cases are preciously rare, however. The majority of businesses know that they need to move software, but it’s a task that they forever move down the to-do pile.

For most, reluctance to move comes down to fear of the disruption and pain that comes with migrating systems. To an extent, that feeling is justified. Implementing software is disruptive.

But the fear doesn’t necessarily match the reality. Setting up a cloud solution takes a fraction of the time than server-based systems, and effective change management can lessen the pain of any migration.

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The importance of leaving archaic software

For every reason a company gives to stay with their outdated system, there are multiple reasons why they shouldn’t. These broadly fall into two categories: the challenges of staying put and the benefits of modernisation.

The challenges of legacy systems

1. Cost

The issue here is clear. With a legacy system in place, IT Managers can only spend up to a quarter of their budget on initiatives that look forward, emphasising short-term thinking over long-term planning.

And that’s just the cost of keeping servers and solutions up and running. Buying licences, or investing in the specialist support required with unwieldy and out-of-date systems can also prove prohibitive.

According to Microsoft, cloud software can reduce expenditure on technology by 54%. Freeing your IT team to focus on the future — and putting an end to the days of unexpected overheads.

2. Productivity

Productivity remains an ongoing concern in the UK and beyond. Archaic software is by no means the sole cause of stagnating productivity, but it undoubtedly plays a part.

For one thing, those unwieldy systems take a long time to learn. Training new staff to use tools that should have been abandoned long ago wastes your two most valuable resources: time and money.

They are also inefficient, forcing staff to navigate a maze of superfluous functionality to complete core tasks. They don’t provide the insight required to set healthy margins or manage complex supply chains. And they create unnecessary manual tasks that could be automated. These are all pivotal to productivity.

3. Security and compliance

Risk is a fundamental factor of any legacy system. They are more vulnerable to attack or malware than cloud apps, which are online by their very nature. Once you take other risks such as server failure into account, it’s unsurprising that Vijay Samtani, Chief Information Security Officer at the University of Cambridge, described supporting legacy systems as ‘as much about risk management as traditional IT’.

For regulated product companies, such as food and beverage manufacturers, the risks are even greater. Meeting the requirements of accreditation bodies (such as SALSA in the UK) requires complete insight, delivered in real-time. Archaic tech is incapable of achieving this, leaving you hopelessly unprepared for an audit or mass recall scenario.

The benefits of modernisation

Clean data

Legacy software breeds poor data processes. The longer your company sticks with an outdated solution, the bigger the data clean up required when you finally do move.

Moving to a modern system provides the opportunity for a data spring clean — a one-off task that sets the business up for accurate reporting for years to come.

Margin review

Far too many product businesses are operating without an accurate idea of what they make on each sale. Another symptom of dirty data, this issue means that the information which could provide an immediate profit boost is missing.

Software migration is a perfect time for a comprehensive margin review. Again, helping you ensure that you have everything they need in place to hit targets in FY21.

Integration

Managed integrations are a common missing feature from legacy systems. Instead, they require third-party APIs to sync up with other tools.

Connecting different tools is essential for almost any medium to large business operating today. It removes the need for complex manual processes. Without a managed sales channel integration, for example, processing online sales orders requires manually noting down details and uploading them to get the order processed.

Agility

Companies need to be agile to take ownership of their goals. Legacy software is a drag on agility, hoovering up time and capital. It makes identifying and seizing opportunities difficult.

The cloud is the natural next step for businesses who need more agility. It gives a real-time overview of the business, is much easier to use and typically comes at a much lower price point than server-based systems — giving companies a platform to manoeuvre at speed.

But perhaps most importantly, SaaS applications are updated automatically without any effort required. So it can’t go out of date, helping your company scale whatever its size.

Successfully migrating from a legacy system

A successful migration from legacy software to modern systems involves a few simple steps: evaluating what you have now, bring key staff members on board and assessing risks.

The hardest step, though, might just be the first.

Overcoming paralysis

We’ve heard the reasons why companies stick with out-of-date technology, and a few compelling reasons why they shouldn’t. But actually making the decision to move is another matter entirely.

For the decision to be official, it needs to be a project that staff are aware of and that has time allocated to it. After all, while there are lots of ways of minimising the pain of migration, the process will still require work.

Consider adding a realistic date to switch off legacy systems, so there’s a point to work towards. Working back from a particular date should provide a rough framework for a migration plan, with a few milestones to track progress.

Why now?

Traditionally, the run up to the start of a financial year has always been the perfect time to move software. It gives you a clean break, and the chance to stick with a single system for FY21 and beyond — with no need to keep old systems up and running for reporting purposes.

That shouldn’t mean waiting a year if the Q4 window is unattainable, though. As long as the implementation is handled correctly (more on that later), moving in the middle of a financial year is no worse than moving in Q4.

The real reason why now is the best time? Because delaying making the improvements that can secure your business’ future is a fool’s game. A better way to manage accounts, inventory, operations and more exists — don’t overlook it.

Evaluating your existing solution

Finding software that fits your needs and goals requires an in-depth audit of the tech you currently use. Assessing the frequency of use for functionality in current systems is critical, to ascertain the features you rely on and the ones you can leave behind.

This also helps ensure that your upgrade doesn’t end up as a legacy system down the line. Cloud applications don’t go out of date and should provide flexibility over the long term — so getting the right functionality in place is the top priority.

The final step here is to discover where new technology can benefit the most. Survey staff to find out what frustrates them. Review processes to identify areas that are creating chokepoints or require excessive manual admin.

Convincing key stakeholders

Evaluating your existing solution should provide sufficient evidence that it requires replacing.

Make it clear how the move will benefit the stakeholders themselves — if they aren’t using software day to day, then they may not be aware of how poorly it is performing.

Quantifying the problems caused by the current system adds weight to the case. Even minor time costs can add up once applied to staff across the business. As an example: a system that takes five minutes to start, used by ten staff, is wasting the business over 200 hours each year.

Knowing, however roughly, the benefit that a new solution will bring helps sell in the ROI from the migration. More important, though, is to give a realistic expectation of the disruption that moving software will cause. In all probability, moving to the cloud will be less disruptive than stakeholders are expecting. Implementing Unleashed, for example, usually takes just 20 hours over a single month.

Assessing and minimising risk

Here are six common risks associated with a software migration:

  • Hybridisation. This is the risk of leaving some of your systems server-based, while others move to the cloud. Make sure you plan for a clean break
  • Integration failure. Most cloud business apps can talk to each other directly, but some may require third-party API access
  • Access to old data. Cloud systems automatically backup your data, but you’ll still need to ensure you can access information from before the migration, without incurring an excessive cost
  • Scope creep. Research will undoubtedly uncover additional apps that can help the business — but adding these to the plan will add to the time cost of the project
  • Leaving staff behind. Don’t assume that you know what’s best for your team. Failing to properly include them in the process will hamper proceedings
  • Failed futureproofing. Your replacement software will fix your issues today, but will it last over the long term?

Minimising these risks is straightforward. With the right level of planning, training, testing and evaluation, the process will run smoothly.

It’s also worth planning an exit strategy from each of your chosen apps. Once your migration is complete, switching between cloud providers is simpler than moving from legacy systems. So identify alternative software in case your first choice falls through.

How to find the right vendors

Leaving legacy software is pointless if you don’t migrate to tools that do a better job. These four factors may help when evaluating which vendors to work with:

How to find the right vendors

Questions to ask

When do you perform scheduled maintenance? No app has 100% uptime. So make sure you know when access won’t be possible.

Can I export data? Storing data in the cloud is more flexible and secure than backing it up offline — but there are scenarios when you’ll want independent access to it.

How quickly will you respond to support tickets? Support will be crucial in those early days using new software. So make sure your new vendors are up to scratch.

What developments have you made in the last two years? What’s planned in the next two? You want technology that scales as you do — adding new functionality and features each year. Looking back is a useful indication of how quickly a vendor is developing its product.

For more information on choosing the right tools for product businesses, take a look at our cloud software guide.

Minimising disruption with change management

Change management is your main weapon when it comes to minimising disruption. And the key to change management is a comprehensive implementation plan. Here are eight factors to take into account.

1. How long will it take?

It’s the first question anyone involved will ask, and one of the trickiest to answer. In truth, time to completion all depends on what you are moving from and what you are moving to. However, there are some rough guidelines to follow.

Unleashed tends to take two to four weeks to implement, with about 20 hours of hands-on work required to move data across, set up the system and ensure everything is ready to go. Some apps will take a bit longer, some will take less time. ERPs such as Netsuite, meanwhile, quote a minimum of 12 weeks — but implementation experts recommend allowing around six months.

Now you know which software you’re going to use, you should be able to set a ‘Go Live’ date. Work back from this point to decide when data needs importing.

2. Splitting data and behaviour

Developers split applications into two parts: state (which covers the data) and functionality (which covers the behaviour). They require two different approaches when it comes to migration.

As we’ve seen, moving systems is an opportunity to clean up data that’s been allowed to get messy over a long period with inadequate systems. Moving functionality is simpler, but just as important. Map out exactly how the legacy software is used, and align that over the new systems you’re choosing.

3. Preparing staff

Getting key stakeholders on board is only half of the job. For the process to be a success, staff across the business will need to support it.

A change management team is the best way to manage this. Comprising staff members from every department who will be affected by the migration, this group will push through the change, acting as spokespeople for the benefits to the business.

Consider appointing a change management leader to drive the process. Give someone else senior top-level decision-making responsibility, to avoid delays when a committee is split. And make sure that someone is regularly communicating progress.

4. Training

Many a well-planned migration has failed because staff weren’t given the right level of training. Handing out a few training resources and letting staff get on with it might seem like the easiest way forward, but it risks alienating team members who are probably already wary of new processes.

A series of hands-on sessions is guaranteed to work better. There’s no substitute for using the software itself when learning — so get as many staff using it as possible as part of your free trial period.

5. Pilots

Often, cloud-app vendors will include a sandbox environment, which provides an excellent area to train staff. You can also use it to put your implementation process through its paces before risking any live data.

Testing is crucial to success, so spend as much time as possible using your sandbox. If possible, attempt a complete pilot implementation as a precursor to the real thing. Then thoroughly test out your new processes in each app, to make sure they all work correctly.

6. Bedding down

Bear in mind that it can take a few months before you see the full benefit from your migration. This is natural, as everyone gets used to the new processes and tools.

Additional training is often a good idea — book in regular catch up sessions to see how everyone is getting on, and set up new training as necessary.

7. Measuring ROI

After the implementation is complete, you’ll want some concrete evidence that it has been a success. That way, you’ll be able to justify further projects as and when they arise.

The best way of achieving this is to create benchmarks on your old software: including total cost of ownership, time taken to complete core tasks and ability to win new business. From there, you can calculate your break-even point, or the point at which the benefit of the migration outweighs its cost.

8. Outside help

Your chosen vendors will be able to make this whole process as simple as possible. At Unleashed, for example, we have a dedicated Onboarding team who’ll guide you through setting up Unleashed. Plus, we have a dedicated training portal, help centre and support team who’ll respond to tickets in less than an hour.

If you think you’ll need specialist help getting Unleashed up and running, we also have a directory of approved cloud specialists.

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