History looks fondly back on technological revolutions. No one laments the demise of the typewriter—instead, they rejoice over the invention and continued improvement of the computer. With each pivotal point of innovation in history comes a mass extinction, and we’re likely on the cusp of one right now. Unless they find ways to innovate, legacy software providers could find themselves going the way of the dinosaur.
Legacy software fades to subscription model
For years, legacy software providers had a proven model. They offered access to their platform for a licensing fee, charged for additional keys and, in return, produced regular updates and patches to ensure the continued reliability of their product. Every few years, they’d launch a new version, charge for a new round of licenses, and the process would cycle all over again. That is, until the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) revolution.
SaaS offers customers a more inclusive, incremental approach to software access. There is no beginning or end to a SaaS model. Instead, the customer pays for all-inclusive access (at their desired tier), month-over-month. They don’t need to worry about new licenses, version or keys—or even downloading or updating software. Everything exists in the cloud, with the latest version and features always available on-demand.
For the customer, SaaS provides something legacy can’t: consistency. They don’t need to think about their software and its capabilities or plan ahead for future updates. All they need to do is log in and get to work.
The obstacle anchoring legacy software
Despite the surge in popularity of SaaS, there’s one strong factor in favor of legacy software: familiarity. Many legacy systems are entrenched because of their widespread use within different industries. There’s a reason these are legacy systems. Transitioning away from them isn’t as simple as pivoting to a SaaS solution.
Often, skilled software developers and engineers are trained exclusively on certain legacy programs. While their skills remain versatile, the application of those skills might not have a perfect 1:1 translation between software systems. Retraining is time-consuming and expensive, not to mention disruptive to workflows.
On the flip side, customer considerations also persist. Just because you’re using a new SaaS system doesn’t mean a customer is. There’s often a loss of synergy during the shift away from a legacy platform, which can impede a company’s ability to function seamlessly with collaborators.
Finally, the long-term implications of abandoning legacy software arise when workflows aren’t linear. What happens when you need to pull a job from three years ago and no longer have a legacy software license? How do you port legacy files over to a SaaS platform after years in a legacy archive? Future demands present unknowns that many companies are hesitant to open themselves up to.
The transition to SaaS needs to be smooth
As is the case with most technological revolutions (and mass extinctions), the shift happens when we’re willing to embrace the unknown—when the reward outweighs the risk. When your company looks at its legacy software, are you making due with what you have or is it genuinely the best option out there? For many organizations, this is a sticky question. Waiting until your capabilities become deficient isn’t a reason to embrace SaaS solutions. Often, proactive innovation is the solution.
For many companies, the best way to embrace SaaS is gradually. The switch from legacy software to SaaS doesn’t need to happen with the flip of a switch—and shouldn’t. Instead, the two systems should operate side by side with synergy: a gradual phase-in and phase-out. To coordinate this successfully, leadership needs to embrace several core philosophies:
- Transition from legacy to SaaS doesn’t mean double work; it means iterative work.
- Training and education need to come first, to reduce employee resistance to change.
- Trials, demos and free versions are important tools and shouldn’t go to waste.
- Don’t fall for the sunk cost fallacy; be prepared to admit when a solution isn’t right.
- Don’t look specifically for a 1:1 replacement for legacy. Instead, look for improvement.
Embracing SaaS as an early adopter or before it’s essential affords companies the ability to explore these solutions at their speed. Companies that wait and are forced to leave behind legacy systems will find themselves surrounded by unknowns.
Don’t force change where it’s not needed
All of this comes with one big caveat: not every legacy platform is destined to die. In fact, many have already pivoted to contend with SaaS competitors. Industry staples from Adobe, Microsoft, Salesforce and others have already moved their legacy products to the cloud. In these situations, there’s far less of a demand for change. If you can continue doing what you’ve always done with the promise of continued innovation, why change?
There’s an abundance of new SaaS solutions out there, for virtually every type of software across every industry. In fact, so many options can be overwhelming. CIOs and CTOs need to take stock of their company and its technology needs, and decide what the best forward-looking solution is. Do you continue to rely on legacy software for the near-term? Adopt a SaaS solution and experiment before inevitable change? Explore cloud software from proven providers?
The answer will differ for every company, but the dilemma remains the same. The legacy software apocalypse is coming. How are you preparing?