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When is the right time to modernize your legacy IT system with APIs?

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/Wright Studio)

Last year, organizations around the globe had to rapidly virtualize and present newly digitized versions of themselves to stakeholders. Indeed, a recent survey by McKinsey reveals the Covid-19 crisis pushed organizations to accelerate the digitization of their customer, supply-chain interactions and core internal operations by three to four years. 

Having enabled customer-facing digital interactions and new remote working models at speed, indications are that business leaders now view cutting-edge digital technologies as the key to future success. Consumer-facing industries in particular believe demand for online interactions is only set to continue to increase in a post-Covid world, while hybrid workforce models look to become a permanent fixture for many organizations.

With digital now embedded at the heart of corporate strategies, the pursuit of digital technologies that will deliver competitive advantage and operational agility is now the name of the game. However, legacy systems and applications are proving a significant roadblock for many organizations looking to initiate digital transformation swiftly and at scale.

Innovating faster: bridging the digitalization gap

Embracing new technologies and business models means reckoning with outdated, no longer fit-for-purpose legacy systems that act as straightjackets for digital dynamism. So much so that according to a recent study by GetApp, 31 percent of organizations intend to replace software due to legacy systems failing to meet digital business needs.

More often than not, however, legacy systems and applications occupy a central position in the organization’s overall IT architecture. Vital to the company’s needs, these mission-critical workhorses have been developed over decades and now power processes across the entire business. So replacing or modernizing them represents a time-consuming, costly, and highly risky proposition.

This represents a significant problem for many industry sectors. For example, payment processing in banks is still, by and large, undertaken on hard-to-change mainframe legacy platforms. Similarly, large insurance firms are heavily dependent on big monolith platforms to run their claims processes. Meanwhile, manufacturing and logistics firms are reliant on complex ERP systems that form the backbone of their operations.

Finding a way to modernize these legacy systems and applications is now a commercial imperative. Because staying competitive depends on being able to deliver new connected digital-first experiences that fulfill rising customer expectations. And that’s where APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) can help businesses shift to new operating models that make it straightforward to support digital innovation without disruption.

Overcome legacy infrastructure obstacles with APIs 

Digital transformation is a broad church that encompasses everything from modernizing IT architectures to the initiation of new digital services. For organizations with an extensive legacy architecture, APIs represent a flexible way to securely connect and integrate legacy systems with modern digital technologies and re-package existing legacy services in ways that are more consumable for the business. Whether that’s by exposing them to web or mobile services or through the development of microservices that can be deployed independently at speed. 

For IT leaders, spotting the signs that indicate it’s time to modernize legacy systems is the first step on the journey to adapting legacy platforms and applications for enhanced agility and speed. 

While it can be difficult to know when the right moment has arrived, there are some key indicators that will highlight when a legacy IT system is hindering progress, and that it’s time to embrace API-enabled transformation.

When an application is unable to provide access easily and securely to data, both internally or externally, or cannot support lightweight APIs utilizing common standards such as REST/JSON to present access to data, this is a good first sign it is becoming a legacy system that won’t be easy to consume into modern ecosystems. Similarly, if it is difficult to deploy changes rapidly without compromising the platform, this is another sign of a legacy application that won’t be able to keep up with the pace of change demanded by today’s microservices strategies. Finally, legacy systems deployed on a mainframe will not be compatible with cloud or mobile experiences, while those that exist on the mainframe won’t offer the flexibility needed to support modern-day cloud or user experience requirements.

Taking systems into the future 

Extending the life of legacy systems, APIs offer new communicative capabilities to legacy systems and open up profound new opportunities when modern systems are integrated. As well as working to actively modernize IT architectures, APIs can also work with a legacy system to minimize organizational disruption.

Whether that’s enabling a mainframe app to make data available to a web services storage interface. Or utilizing API interfaces to legacy applications and securely exposing these interfaces as REST-based APIs that can be consumed by mobile applications.

Using APIs, organizations can create whole new client experiences, featuring modern portals and mobile experiences, without having to painstakingly re-engineer their back-end legacy applications. In other words, it now becomes possible to update and re-vamp systems without reworking the entire technology structure.

Implemented appropriately, an API can effectively plug the gaps of business-critical legacy software. By wrapping legacy services in a REST API, enterprises can take advantage of new software or digital innovations and leverage the data and functions contained in their legacy systems in new and highly creative ways. All of which makes it possible to streamline business workflows, enable new scalability to cope with digital demand, or connect legacy systems to new programs to unleash novel features and digital services for customers and internal stakeholders.

Jumpstarting digital transformation 

While legacy systems can be a hindrance to digital transformation strategies, an API based solution gives organizations the best of both worlds. Making it possible to maintain consistency whilst modernizing operational performance.

Providing a bridge between the new world and the old, APIs offer an agile approach to protecting and extending the life of legacy systems and re-engineer them for today’s mobile and digital world of business. By harnessing the flexibility of API technology, organizations are able to modernize their legacy systems to stay relevant and competitive while maximizing their investment in legacy apps and backend systems.

Enabling enterprises to unlock data from legacy platforms in a secure and agile way, without breaking the bank, APIs make it possible for organizations to update their legacy investments in a fast and highly cost-effective way. 

With the race to digital transformation well underway, having the ability to continuously innovate without disruption and rapidly adapt to change now depends on initiating an API-centric architecture that shortens execution times and makes it possible to modernize legacy systems and enable the new highly connected enterprise.

Joel Reid, UK&I VP/General manager, Axway (opens in new tab)

Joel Reid is the UK&I VP/General manager at Axway.