Legacy apps have 9 lives

The term ‘legacy’ is most often used with a negative connotation when talking about old code and old equipment. After all, who wants to maintain that old code base in a programming language that is no longer mainstream? Who wants to work on green screen terminals? It’s expensive to maintain the equipment and so on.

But wait.

I’ve developed an appreciation for legacy software applications in the work place. Sure, they aren’t sexy and create support challenges. But like the popular saying “All I do is win”, all the legacy applications do is churn money. Last time I checked, it was the flow of money into the organization that keeps it alive and my direct deposit active. Those attributes definitely have my respect.

The legacy applications from my career that I have personal experience with get their name from age and from acquisition status. The more important a piece of software is to the organization the longer it lasts. It almost comes by definition if we think about it. The more important a piece of software is to the organization the harder it is to change out and replace. It gets complicated to change because no one wants to be guy that disrupted the flow of orders!

Then there are the systems that are part of an acquisition. When my former employer John Harland was acquired, the term “legacy Harland” started almost overnight. Suddenly all the Harland systems, whether new or old, were labeled “legacy” meaning they were not part of the new company go-forward plan.

One thing is for sure, it’s hard to retire an active legacy application. When I left Harland I think they were on attempt number five to shut down the main order processing program from the Harland mainframe. It may elevate to cat-like status before history closes the books on it. So hang on to the programmers that know those systems. As I recently heard a President of a sister company say “there aren’t many people left in captivity that know that system”. He’s right, and retention is important.

The next time you think about legacy systems, listen carefully. See if you hear the sound of a cash register.