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9 signs that your business applications need replacing

EducationSummary: Many businesses still run on outdated applications. Is your business one of them? If so, how do you know when it’s time to replace your legacy apps? At what point do your legacy applications do more harm than good? Here are 9 sure-fire signs to watch for.

Let me ask you a question: At what point are business applications “too old?” At what point should you replace or overhaul your legacy business applications?

It’s a question that organizations struggle with every day. You see, many businesses run their operations on outdated systems and applications.

The problems vary. Sometimes, these applications cause minor inconveniences. Sometimes they hurt productivity. Other times, they keep a business from modern technology.

Here’s the million dollar question: At what point should these applications get overhauled? Today, let’s highlight a few signals. Here are 9 signs that your business applications need an overhaul.

1. The software is no longer supported

The first, most obvious sign: The vendor has stopped supporting your software. They’ve either gone out of business, or deemed the software “too old.” Either way, you’re stuck with software you can’t fix or maintain.

“If there is no support available for your software, then you need to consider moving away from it,” says Jonathan Hurdman, IT specialist at J&J Automation. “You don’t want to be in the position of needing support and being unable to get it because you are the only company still using that software.”

2. Your software is incompatible with the latest release

Of course, you never want to get stuck with unsupported software. What’s the first sign that your vendor will stop supporting your software? They release a new version that’s incompatible with older versions.

“As companies upgrade software, they often change its hardware requirements and the way the data is stored,” says Tim Singleton, President of Strive Technology Consulting. “New versions of a program often cannot read data from old versions. For example, you can’t use Quickbooks 2014 to open a data file created with Quickbooks 1999, they have changed the way the data is stored. You may as well try to open an Excel document in Adobe Reader; it just won’t work. Similarly, when older programs will not install or run on currently available hardware, you are dangerously out of date.”

3. The software (or hardware) required to run your software is no longer supported

It’s something I say often: Don’t buy software that ties you to a single platform. What happens if that platforms disappears? What happens if that platform becomes obsolete? You’re stuck.

As mentioned below, Internet Explorer is a great example. In the past, many companies built applications specifically for IE6. It made sense at the time. IE6 was the dominant browser, by a large margin. That’s not the case anymore. Now, those companies must scramble to overhaul those applications.

photo credit: evil nickname via photopin cc
photo credit: evil nickname via photopin cc
“If the software that is required to run your software is out of date and/or no longer being supported it’s time to upgrade,” says Jacques Vincilione, CEO of Lucien Consulting, Inc. “The cost of having someone come in and fix an archaic system will be quite expensive. There is another large issue with having outdated systems – your IT department is not advancing their knowledge working for you. If they’ve been stuck troubleshooting and bug fixing your web app that was built for IE 5 or 6 for the past 10 years, they’re going to have a steep learning curve when it’s time to upgrade.”

“While that example may seemed far fetched, I know of a company that had a web application built and finished in 2011 that was built for IE 5.5 and 6. Now $4 million dollars later, they’re upgrading 3 years later.”

4. The software can’t take security updates

As threats evolve, security updates are constantly applied to any piece of software. But, what happens when the security threats evolve to a point where your software can no longer keep up? That happens all too often, and is a sure sign you need to replace your applications.

“There is a point with an application when the security risks are too high to continue using the application,” says Vincilione. “The worst part is, some companies will install and/or build insecure applications from the start. I used to work for a Electric Utility Company, and they could not update Java or it would break their application. A lot of updates for Java ( a couple a year) are for security fixes. “

5. You regularly use workarounds

Here’s a great tip: Take the time to regularly talk with your users. Understand how they use your applications. This is especially important as applications age. Do your applications enable your business processes, or slow them down? Are users forced to work around the applications to meet their needs? The number of users relying on workarounds may surprise you.

photo credit: Phillie Casablanca via photopin cc
photo credit: Phillie Casablanca via photopin cc
“Occasionally using a workaround is common to commercial software as opposed to software that is custom built, but if you are constantly working around the program instead of it doing what you need it to do, then you need a different software that works with your business model,” says Hurdman. “It may have been fine initially, but business models and procedures change.”

6. Business processes accommodate the software rather than the other way around

On a similar note, examine your business processes. How many of these processes must accommodate your outdated applications? How much does this contribute to inefficiency? Your applications should always accommodate your business processes. Not the other way around.

“This one is more subtle because it happens over time, but if a company observes that they have changed their business process just to allow that old quirky application to keep being used, it’s a good idea to think about replacing it,” says Glenn Mores, President of MicroData. “The inefficiencies of having an entire business accommodate an application or system can be enormous.”

7. Users report waiting ‘X’ minutes for something to load/run/finish

photo credit: mao_lini via photopin cc
photo credit: mao_lini via photopin cc
Another benefit of talking to your users: You’ll understand if your applications harm productivity. Applications grow slower over time, yet users often accept this as “normal.” For them, waiting around 5 minutes for an application may be normal. For your business, it’s a giant waste of time. How much time do your old applications waste? What does that equate to in dollars?

“We just replaced an entire network at a 30-user company where some of the engineers reported a ‘normal’ application load time of 10 minutes,” says Mores. “Bells should go off when you hear that.”

8. The application doesn’t work with modern hardware/software

Can your company take advantage of new hardware and software options? Maybe not…if you’re stuck with outdated applications.

What does that mean for your business? The problems vary. Maybe it means you’re stuck with old hardware. Maybe it means you can’t adapt to new trends (like mobile). While they don’t show up on your balance sheet, these missed opportunities translate to real lost revenue.

“If an app doesn’t really work that well with the current generation of peripheral devices, that’s a good tip-off that it may be time to retire/refresh rather than fight with compatibility issues,” explains Mores.

9. The cost of maintenance exceeds the benefits

Finally, speak with your IT team. Understand how much time and energy they dedicate to supporting these outdated applications. Do the benefits of these applications outweigh the burden of keeping them around? How much time could your IT department save in the long-term if they replaced the applications?

“When the cost/effort of keeping the apps working, or working around their inadequacies, exceeds the benefits remaining, it’s time for an overhaul,” says Steven Lowe, Founder/CEO at Innovator, LLC. “This is also an opportunity to overhaul the processes that use the app.”

So, what do you think? Is there anything you would add to this list? If so, please share your thoughts in the comments.

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