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Legacy systems can still move with the times

By Guy Tweedale, regional VP, Rocket Software discusses why legacy systems need not be a barrier to digital transformation

Legacy, on-premise IT systems are still the driving force behind a huge number of businesses and organisation. Far from holding back digital transformation, these systems can be fundamental to the process. In spite of this, however, there is still a fair amount of uncertainty around from IT decision makers – unfairly so.

Worry not.

Across all verticals, from finance to the public sector, organisations run on powerful computer systems such as a mainframe or midrange. These existing systems are often home grown and conceived specifically to meet business needs, but they were only designed to perform tasks in isolation and not to communicate with other systems. Businesses need to modernise, embracing web, mobile and cloud-based technology to boost connectivity, productivity and agility, but this can be a daunting task. A new study reveals over half (57%) of IT decision makers across multiple organisations cite legacy software as one of the biggest challenges they face, especially when trying to make cloud-based and on-premise solutions work together.

Worryingly, the study also shows four-fifths (81%) of UK businesses believe they could be out of business within five years if they don’t invest in technology. With a different survey revealing 92% of business and IT leaders prefer the cloud to on-premise solutions, it seems many businesses assume modernising technology means a complete rip and replace of existing IT infrastructure, substituting all legacy systems with the latest cloud-based applications. But this doesn’t have to be the case.

Instead of an expensive, disruptive and potentially risky systems replacement, businesses can use application programming interfaces (APIs) to unlock the value of their legacy systems. APIs can expose core functions as web services, allowing existing tech to work with mobile or web browser-based user interfaces that enable anywhere, anytime access to information. This integration is possible even when the source code of existing systems is unavailable, by creating services from screen interactions and capturing screen logic.

Here are three reasons to make use of APIs to integrate the old and the new rather than starting from scratch with the latest tech:

Value from core systems investment

Legacy systems are finely tuned to the way businesses operate and can often execute tasks or transactions more smoothly and efficiently than any other system, particularly if they are home grown. Organisations have made a considerable investment in developing and maintaining these systems and should not let that investment go to waste by embarking on the expensive and risky journey of recreating systems on a more up-to-date platform.

APIs are quick, simple and relatively cheap to implement. What’s more, they can be used to create new revenue streams from the investment made in enterprise applications, by charging for access to the core system. Enterprise systems contain incredible business value, but this can be difficult to release. By creating and sharing APIs with partners and customers, businesses can monetise the value of their enterprise application, determining pricing by continually correlating it with usage.

Speed, processing power and security

Legacy systems may not have the connectivity or agility of modern, cloud-based applications but the speed, processing power and security of these rock-solid systems are often second to none. Attempts to replace the mainframe for fear it will become cost-prohibitive and obsolete are continually thwarted, particularly in the banking industry, by failure to find a substitute that can deliver the power and efficiency needed for high-demand business computing.

Data held within enterprise applications may be siloed but it is also secure, with legacy systems built to protect transactional data from outside access. Mainframe computers enable end-to-end data encryption and deploy different layers of security depending on the data’s location, making them a valuable asset at a time when data protection is a high priority across all organisations. API tools allow businesses to retain the benefits of all these legacy system features, while also enjoying the agility and connectivity of web, mobile and cloud.

Real-time data and analytics

APIs ensure that data safely locked up in legacy systems can be accessed in real-time to support business decision making. APIs aggregate data from disparate systems into a single workflow for real-time analysis through a process of data virtualisation where stored data is replicated in a privacy compliant manner while remaining securely within its repository.

By creating services around production database queries, APIs can feed business information from multiple systems into analytics engines, or even artificial intelligence-based machine learning platforms. APIs can combine it with external data streams such as weather conditions, currency fluctuations, and stock market databases, to deliver granular insights that steer business strategy.

Legacy, on-premise, enterprise systems are seen as a block to digital transformation by IT decision makers across a variety of sectors, but the situation isn’t nearly as dire as they believe. By using APIs to unlock the value in their existing applications, businesses can modernise IT infrastructure and enjoy the many benefits of connectivity without the expense, risk and disruption of replacing their valuable legacy systems.