How (and when) to update legacy software

Ask any developer if they enjoy rewriting someone’s code. Or, don’t bother, I’m pretty sure you can fathom their answer. Updating old software to meet modern standards is a challenge not everyone’s willing to take. Here are some of our recommendations to make the process less painful (because we can’t exactly promise painless.)

Signs your legacy software needs updating

Besides the mere fact that a software product is old, there’s a myriad of reasons to update it, some of which you probably know all too well from your own experience:

Its performance is declining

Old products and systems were usually created in old tech and made for old environments. Old as in no longer supported, with better-performing alternatives widely used. As technologies change, the software might start underperforming, lagging, or plain crashing.

And with the erratic performance and clunky interfaces come (understandably) upset customers, whose experience with the software quickly deteriorates. And who might start looking for other alternatives soon.

Plus, you can’t really capitalize on new trends, missing out on new opportunities to grow and innovate.

It’s inefficient and costly to maintain

As the software’s performance takes a plunge, maintaining and fixing it takes more and more resources. And often, teams have to choose between developing new features and fixing old bugs, the latter always getting in the way. It’s definitely not an efficient way to grow a product if you’re still going in circles working on what prevents you from innovating.

Apart from severely impacting your productivity, fewer developers will actually know the old technology well enough to keep fixing the product, so it becomes even more complicated (and costly.)

It poses all kinds of risks

With legacy systems, the tech is often not supported by the creator. This means there are no security patches and updates released, posing increased security risks for your business and your customers.

Legacy software is often not compliant with rules and regulations (take data privacy as an example), endangering your company’s reputation.

It’s not well documented

One thing is the actual product documentation, which, for legacy software, is often scarce or mostly existing in the heads of the developers who no longer work for you.

Another thing is that legacy software often lacks proper data reporting built into it, which in turn impacts your business decisions.

It’s incompatible

As you grow new software and integrate it with newer tech, legacy software often falls short. It’s either impossible or completely not viable to connect it to other essential components and apps you want it to work with.

You’re growing your technical debt

And you’ll be paying it, sooner or later. If, at some point, you used shortcuts, hacks, or messy code thinking that you’ll fix it sooner or later, guess what. You probably won’t.

And with each new line of code, these will get more and more complicated to fix, entangled in all the other interdependent features and components. (Although, here goes one successful story of code refactoring.)

So, how do you go about updating legacy software?

A lot depends on who wrote it. And we’re going back to the initial question. It’s one thing to rework the code you created and a completely different thing to work on what someone else made, back in the day. But it’s not impossible (though words we can’t include here will likely be said.)

Here’s what helps.

Work with a trusted software development company

Preferably one that has experience updating legacy software – as this kind of work usually comes with its own set of challenges. People who’ve done it before will know how to tackle them.

(At DeSmart, we have tons of experience with software updates and rewrites, so we usually know what we’re in for.)

Make sure they can maintain the software and support you afterwards, in case things don’t go exactly as planned.

One thing we do at DeSmart is use unit tests when we’re presented with code we didn’t write (which is why it’s super important to have those in place). They’re crucial elements of the process and let us dive into the original code and understand what we’re dealing with.

Weigh your options

Updating legacy software can happen in several ways. These include (but are not limited to):

–   modifying specific components of the software,

–   refactoring the code to optimize and restructure it (and avoid tech debt),

–   rewriting the code completely,

–   replacing the old system with an entirely new one.

This is where choosing the right software development company will come in handy. At DeSmart, we’ll make sure we can recommend the most viable option, including one that makes the most sense from the business perspective.

Sometimes, it’s enough to refactor the code instead of rewriting the whole thing – and we’ll make it clear if that’s the case.

Know your costs

Let’s be frank – updating legacy software might not be the cheapest thing you’ve ever done. But it’s important to calculate the gains you’re going to get in the long run – and choose a solution that’s both technically possible and will lead to future profits (even if it looks like it sets you back at first.)

Again, if there are several options, and you’re unsure, we can help by recommending the tech and providing you with accurate estimates based on years of experience creating and recreating software.

It’s your call – but you can count on us for support

Let’s have a chat if you need to estimate a legacy software project. We’ll help evaluate your needs, challenge assumptions, and give you an idea about what’s coming, how long it will take, and how much it’ll cost you.

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