Legacy PBX systems complicate digital transformation efforts, but replacing them isn’t always a choice. Fortunately, there are ways to adapt legacy systems to meet the demands of today’s business world without starting from scratch. You can merge them into a more modern digital architecture.
One thing that holds companies back from modernizing their digital strategy is the amount of time and money they have invested in their legacy PBX systems, but tthey don't have to rip out their entire digital infrastructure to take advantage of modern technology.
There’s a misperception that digitization has to include scrapping, ripping, and replacing existing technology, and starting over. The sheer scale of such an endeavor keeps companies limping along with outdated systems because they keep upgrading them and kicking the can down the road.
The Financial Drawbacks
Legacy systems carry some baggage for a few reasons: hardware maintenance only gets more expensive as equipment ages, and they require a significant amount of upkeep. Also, vendor support may end when it falls out of general assistance — requiring costly upgrades. It’s also harder to find qualified technicians who work with outdated technology.
Legacy systems tend to have large codebases and poor documentation. Their complexity discourages developing with new technology because even small changes could cascade into more substantial problems. All these issues contribute to the main problem with legacy systems: they’re expensive. The cost drains resources from other business projects — but it doesn’t have to. There are ways to blend legacy systems into something more compatible with your digital strategy.
Invest in the System, Don’t Uproot It
Despite the risks, there are a lot of sensible reasons that companies resist ripping out and replacing their legacy systems. First, those systems represent a serious investment. Meaning a lot more than money went into them. There’s also considerable operational capital involved. Companies spend a lot of time and effort training staff, end users, and shaping policies to work with their legacy systems.
Being old, however, doesn’t mean it no longer serves its purpose or doesn’t add value. When a legacy system still meets the current requirements, it’s hard to justify spending resources and dollars to stay up to date.
In fields with extremely high operational requirements like healthcare, there’s no time for a system overhaul because many legacy systems serve critical functions. Switching to a new system — even if it eventually leads to greater efficiency—causes a loss of productivity and revenue. Companies might not see return-on-investment (ROI) for years, to compensate for the disruption.
Best Practices — The Middle Ground
Rather than ripping out and replacing everything, reach for the middle ground. Leave legacy systems as the foundation and overlay the next-generation platform on top of them. This strategy creates a hybrid system that allows companies to use cutting-edge tools while retaining the functional parts of their legacy system.
The middle ground isn’t easy to find. For best results, start with a complete audit of the company’s technological infrastructure. A lot of companies don’t know every piece of technology or application they use. Before changing anything, make a point of inventorying everything that is in use – this should go beyond simple identification. Include an assessment of each component’s contribution to the business, including factors like:
- Maturity: Which applications are still being supported? Do they interface easily with more modern applications, or has technology moved well past them? Are they analog, digital, IP or SIP-trunking supported?
- Value-added: Is the application essential to the business? Is it a peripheral system that could be replaced without affecting the core business, or are other components dependent on it? Can any legacy applications be migrated to the newer system?
- Cost of maintenance: How much is being spent on maintenance? When projecting that cost over the expected length of time until your ROI is reached for replacing the system, ask yourself–is it more expensive than the potential loss from disruption?
Efficiency is a primary goal of creating a hybrid system. Next, identify and establish optimal integration points for the legacy systems. Implement new functionality outside the legacy systems to allow for the “heavy lifting” of new ones. Additionally, keep the legacy PBX for analog ports, disaster recovery options.
Finally, prioritize small steps over sweeping change — remember that choosing integration rather than replacement is often done to minimize disruption, and plan to modernize in stages rather than all at once. Be careful to drive towards ultimate functionality rather than patching small issues with something that won’t integrate well or scale over time.
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