Moving Legacy Systems Online


Remember that time we kept track of everything with like, 4 different applications? Me neither.

Use a single online database and actually find what you’re looking for.

Three years ago, while riding the train to my mom’s house, I overheard a fascinating conversation going on between two men seated beside me. A younger gentleman was slowly, loudly (and I must say patronizingly) explaining the functionality and general awesomeness of his brand new iPhone 3GS to a very, very old man (who I am sure was a stranger) sitting next to him.  Having just purchased the device myself and being curious as to how the old man would react to this blatant condescension, I set my ears to eavesdrop. The old man, made what can only be described as a brilliant move. Grounded no doubt in his years of experience and wisdom, he smiled and nodded at the younger man meanwhile reaching into his bag and producing a brand new 15” Mac Book Pro. “I wonder if my computer has some of the same functionality” he said, and proceeded to give the young man a very polite, very Jobs-esque lesson on all things Apple (and manners). Nice. To me, this is what it’s all about-sticking it to haughty jerks. That, and letting go of old technology and systems so we can embrace the new and find ways to do all the things we did before, only better.

Change your ways

Like the old man, businesses need to learn evolve without fear or remorse about ditching dated business practices, legacy database systems and equipment along the way.  This is especially true as cloud-based data systems and applications become more intuitive, sophisticated and secure. Somewhere in each of our pasts there is a very large, very complicated, and possibly error-ridden Excel spreadsheet, MS Access database or other customized database housing a companies’ sole copy of a particular set of charts, reports and data. Explaining the tracking and reporting methodologies to new staff only reminds us of how unnecessarily complicated they are while annual reconciliations make us wonder if it might actually be easier to just keep it all on good old fashioned paper. If it’s an Excel form, it can be shared and there are probably many versions with things like “draft 74” or “use this one” written in the document title.  If it’s been around for any length of time, you’ll need a miracle to run the right queries or report commands to get the data you need. God help you if there is more than one data storage system in place and they should have to talk to one another.

But I digress.

By definition, legacy systems are old methods or programs that may (or may not) remain in use as a business grows.  The data contained within them may not make the cut or be agile enough to survive a migration to an upgraded database or database in the cloud, but its nature and context remain highly relevant and can influence everyday business activities. In other words, you still gotta use it. Legacy databases tend to operate from very expensive platforms and can come with a number of vulnerabilities.

To start, simplified or light databases like Access or Excel work well for smaller, individualized projects where information is likely to be input and managed by one or two people but as projects grow and the number of people using a database goes up, it can be tough to maintain data integrity while keeping up with group demands. The ongoing need to change formulas, functionality, add fields, track use and generate reports means databases and storage systems need to be flexible and responsible to everyone’s needs. The more people using the system, the less accurate and stable it becomes. Managing version control and sharing document updates and information security are constant issues.

Making the move

Depending on the tenure of your current legacy databases, applications and equipment, migrating the whole kit from the old platform to a cloud-based one may take a bit of time.  Having the right cloud computing provider, particularly where large migrations are concerned, is critical to ensuring data is properly captured and reconfigured to perform reliably in its new home. A good service provider will take care to ensure a businesses’ productivity, customer satisfaction, and services are as uninterrupted as possible throughout the changeover.  They may also recommend that businesses create mirror systems of their old databases on the cloud and keep another on the existing platform; to be sure everything is working well before completing the migration. Businesses using legacy database systems like Access and Excel or other business productivity software can head to the cloud much more quickly. Excel files are easily imported with fields auto created and populated while Access files are ushered in through simple plug-ins that allow data to upload in minutes. Configuration of a new database infrastructure and applications can be designed, tested and delivered in a fairly short amount of time. Some providers even have capabilities that enable secure synch-ups with 3rd party data applications allowing legacy databases to integrate with newly implemented cloud-based systems.

Change is tough.

Modifying the way a company manages its data and performs its work can feel scary and risky.  But with a little courage, the right support and a clear vision business’ can choose to move forward and save time and money turning their old legacy databases systems into agile, responsive and intuitive tools that produce usable metrics. They can be the old man on the train and enjoy the benefit of experience and the power of adaptability. I hope he’s up in iHeaven somewhere on a train with Steve Jobs.



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