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Legacy System & Data Management

Last week, we discussed the importance of having a data strategy as you attempt to migrate your workloads to the cloud. This week, we discuss the data and other system remnants that are typically left behind following a transition to the cloud or to another on-premise solution. More specifically, we will identify what steps can be taken to ensure that those remaining assets are properly handled for the remainder of their lifecycle.

Week 1. Streamlining Unstructured Data Storage

Week 2. Aftermath of a Cloud Technology Adoption

Week 3. Legacy System & Data Management

Week 4. Business Impact Analysis of Social Distancing

Why Legacy Systems Remain Online:

Legacy systems tend to “hang around” for a variety of reasons. The most prevalent of which is that the data migrated to the new system is only a subset of the data previously found in the legacy environment or system. Sometimes this occurs by design, such as moving only the last X years of client accounts into a new A/R system or only the most recent patient encounters and/or years when transferring to a new clinical EHR system. Other times, it is far less calculated. The legacy system remains due to the lack of confidence in the migration process and/or the lack of a data governance plan that addresses system transitions and the retention of data remnants left behind. Let’s unpack these in a bit more detail.

1) Lack of Confidence in the Migration:

Prior to any migration taking place, data mapping developed between the legacy and future system(s) is critical. The data map must take data integrity requirements (unintended alteration of data) as well as data scoping requirements (how much of the data will be transitioned) into consideration. However, perhaps most importantly, the plan needs to clearly identify what data will not be transitioned to the new system and how that data will be managed going forward. Simply keeping data within legacy systems and allowing those systems to live on indefinitely often has some unintended consequences. These consequences include operational costs as well as a chance for an end-user dependency to develop on the legacy data source, thereby making it even more cumbersome to fully remove the legacy system from the environment. Once the data map and legacy data plans have been generated, it should be socialized with all key stakeholders to ensure that everyone understands and is comfortable with what will be transitioned and how the non-transitioned data will be managed going forward.

2) Lack of a Data Governance Plan

Having a data governance program and plan in place prior to a data migration makes the transition far less impactful to an organization. Being able to answer some of the following questions will help set minds at ease as to what data may not be included as part of the migration and whether that data is required to be retained.

Do you have retention requirements for the data?

If so, can you effectively manage the data to these requirements if it remains in the legacy system?

Are you aware of all regulations (state and federal) surrounding the disposition of certain data types?

Do you have litigation discovery obligations to retain any of the legacy data associated with a legal hold or reasonable anticipation of litigation occurring?

If so, are you able to efficiently and accurately address discovery production requirements from the legacy system?

Do you have a data classification schema?

Are you aware of the types of data that will be left behind and how they should be protected?

Does the remaining un-migrated data have value and utility for the business?

Does it support operations? Historical reporting and analytics?

Can the remaining data be recreated with relative ease?

Being able to answer some of these questions helps establish the plan for the data that is being scoped for the migration and the data that will remain.

Understanding the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) for Maintaining a Legacy System:

When we think about the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) for keeping the legacy system alive, there are often numerous areas of cost that are overlooked, some of which are more obvious than others:

1) Legacy System Licensing Cost: Paying legacy system licensing and/or maintenance cost is essential if the legacy system is being used as a repository for historical records. Oftentimes, forgoing this charge means that your legacy system will not receive the necessary support to protect against common vulnerabilities. Doing so usually jeopardizes the support contract for the legacy system should the team need technical support for the legacy system in the future.

2) Data Backups: Keeping the legacy systems online typically means that they must continue to be part of regular backup cycles. The cost of backups should include not only the backup software licensing, but also the media, offsite tape storage, any additional restoration costs and testing that might be associated with disaster recovery planning activities.

3) Access Management: If the legacy system needs to remain online, there is a good chance that some users throughout the organization will need to maintain some level of access to it. This not only comes with the added administrative expenses of provisioning and deprovisioning accounts, but it also increases the organizational dependency on the solution, thereby causing it to become further engrained into business operations.

4) Security: Allowing legacy systems to persist adds additional risk from a security perspective. This is especially true if the systems contain sensitive information. Legacy systems must continue to be patched and protected from common threats that include viruses and ransomware. In addition, when the legacy systems are housed in satellite offices, stores, clinics, etc. there is the added risk of theft of the physical device that must also be considered.

5) System Operations: Though a bit of a “catch all,” system operations includes those additional cost considerations such as power and resource consumption - both of which come into play if the legacy system is on-premise or in a cloud hosted environment. In addition, many organizations implement tech refresh programs that ensure infrastructure is replaced within a five (5) to seven (7) year period. The cost of refreshing the technology of a legacy system includes not only the technology costs, but also any associated data migration costs to the new infrastructure.

Costs associated with each of the aforementioned areas will vary, however businesses often fail to consider all of these costs when considering the TCO. Typically, while the license and maintenance costs are understood, the additional costs noted above are not properly captured and reflected in the TCO calculation.

So, What’s the ROI?

There are many hidden costs associated with maintaining legacy systems that should not be overlooked. When reviewing legacy systems and their relevance to the business, it is important to ask why the system continues to live on. If the answer is regarding the business need and/or dependency on the data, then housing that data in a suitable archival solution and allowing it to age in accordance with business needs and retention requirements is best practice. While a proper archival solution may have some associated up-front cost with the initial data migration, it is our experience, given some of the operational costs outlined above, that the break-even point is typically less than twelve months. This allows companies to quickly realize reduced operational expenses over the life of the archived data while also ensuring that it can be properly retained and recalled as needed.

If you are ready to get started on sunsetting legacy systems, but aren’t sure where to start, please email us at: We have helped numerous organizations implement governance plans and have successfully worked with various partners in the space to drive cost reduction and better data governance for legacy system data.

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