How to escape the trap of legacy software systems

Do you have a legacy software system that drives you nuts? Maybe it runs slowly, or stops working at inopportune times, or just hurts your eyes because it’s so stinking ugly.

We’ve been there. Our company had a system that fit all three categories—and we had to use it every day.

Talk about annoying.

We are out of that hole now, and we thought we’d share the story of how we escaped for those of you whose companies are in a similar situation right now.

Read on, laugh at our pain, and learn some lessons we learned the hard way.

Our Story

As a software development company, we take pride into being able to build anything. So back around 2009, we built our own project management tools. These tools included:
* A system to track tasks against projects and milestones, and to create reports based on that data

* A system for employees to clock time to projects and milestones

* A system to manage client accounts and payments

* A client login to manage profiles and submit payments

These were business critical systems for us, and we needed our employees to use them every day so we could effectively track our productivity and profitability. We also needed them to work for our clients at any given time.

But after a few years of use, they started to drag. The systems didn’t work quickly or especially well, and we soon fell behind the curve of user experience. The systems that were supposed to help us serve our customers well instead weighed us down.

Make sure you don’t miss that—we are a software company, and our software was holding us back. This is a common trap, and we were smack-dab in the middle of it.

We had to do something.

What We Did

We had a few options:
* Ditch the old systems in favor of something else

* Use custom web development to make the systems easier to use

* Stay with the miserable status quo (not really an option)

While we have a team of software developers, we did not have the bandwidth at that moment to quickly execute a full rebuild or replacement. So we opted to use custom web development to try to extend the life of these systems.

We built a web portal for our employees to use to clock time and update tasks. This portal did a couple of things:
* It kept most of our employees from having to log into two of the overloaded systems, at least on a daily basis.

* It added the ability for employees to mark progress on task, giving us more of a window into progress for greater visibility into scheduling. This added feature aided our planning.

How It Turned Out

The web portal bought us about 18 months of extra life of our systems. It was a smidgen easier to use than our old systems, but it didn’t remove the all-too-regular glitches that our employees faced. Nor did this portal improve employee satisfaction or efficiency to any great degree.

And this solution did nothing to address the problems of slow data reports or client-facing errors.

In other words, it wasn’t a permanent solution. And everybody knew it.

We still needed a long-term change.

What We Did the Second Time

We examined the situation and came to the conclusion that at this point we should explore some SaaS options. That may seem odd, since we’re a custom software developer. But that decision comes from the same mindset that led us to build a web portal a few years back—and the same mindset that influences the solutions we recommend for our clients.

That mindset is to only custom build software when it’s essential. If there are other sources that can meet your needs, exhaust them first.

Our research led us to JIRA, one of the leading project-management software products on the market. We also added Freshbooks for our customer-facing billing needs.

So we implemented JIRA and Freshbooks in our organization and have been using them over the past year or so.

How It Is Turning Out

Externally, Freshbooks has been a great addition for our clients. Internally, JIRA has been an upgrade over our past systems—but it hasn’t been perfect. Like most SaaS products, it is not custom fit to how we work.

So our software developers have implemented some customization to JIRA to fit our needs. These changes include several custom reports, as well as a web portal for our customers to report issues. We’re still working on a data warehouse that will provide even more power for this solution.

Unlike our former in-house system, there is an ongoing monthly seat-license cost associated with using JIRA. But we have found that cost is covered in the ROI we’ve gained from greater efficiency and from being able to assign the effort that would have been spent rebuilding an internal system to customer work instead.

The Bottom Line

Why do we share our story? First, to tell you that you’re not alone if you’re feeling trapped by your internal software systems. It can even happen to software development companies.

Second, and more importantly, to show you that there are options in this situation. From a web portal to SaaS platforms to custom software development, there are tools that can help you escape this trap.

Start by analyzing the options in front of you, and choose an option that will bring relief as soon as possible.

Stay current, because a solution today isn’t a solution forever. Make sure you invest in regular updates and/or upgrades so you stay current and continue working efficiently.

And if you need help picking the right solution, get help from a software development company—especially one who has escaped the trap and lived to tell the tale.

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About Worthwhile Storyteller

We'll never tell you a lie, but we might tell you a success story that protects the intellectual property of our clients and partners. Our Worthwhile Storyteller is an amalgamation of all of our thoughts, experience, and expertise brought together to give you the facts about our relentless improvement in the software development space.