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A recent survey by the Workforce Institute at Kronos found nearly half of employees (48 percent) said they wanted their workplace technology to perform just like their personal technology and more than a third of employees surveyed worldwide (35 percent) felt their job was harder than it should be because of outdated processes and legacy technology.

The findings, which are part of the “The Engaging Opportunity” research series, are based on data from a survey of 2807 employees located all over the world.

In the US, the most impacted industry and employees are those working in state and local government (55 percent), public safety (53 percent), and finance (43 percent). These employees felt most strongly that outdated processes and technology were making their job more difficult. Employees in contract and field services (38 percent), logistics and transportation (33 percent), retail and healthcare (both 30 percent), and manufacturing (29 percent) also reported difficulties.

Legacy Tech Hinders Productivity

John Frehse, senior managing director at the Ankura Consulting Group and an advisory board member at The Workforce Institute at Kronos, is quoted in the research on the role some of the big tech firms play in these changing demands. “Fair or not, employee expectations are set by the likes of Apple and Google. Those expectations are applied to all parts of their lives. Workforce management tools must provide the same ease of use, access to information, and level of value employees enjoy on their iPhone or Android device,” he said. 

So does this mean that there is no place in the enterprise for legacy technology?

IDC estimates that 30 percent of every employee’s business time — or the equivalent of 2.5 hours per day per working week — is spent searching for the people and information required to do their jobs effectively. On average, it takes workers up to eight searches to find the right document or people they need. There are two problems here: outdated technologies, as well as corporate cultures that layer on bureaucracy.

Legacy systems don't move at the speed of current business needs, said Rafael Solis, COO and co-founder of workstream intelligence platform provider Braidio. Things have changed immensely in the last decade, let alone the last 15 to 20 years since the rise of the internet and connected mobile experiences. Today's business success revolves around delivering on the needs of customers, clients, and winning business, not around formal layers of paperwork or forms.

“Legacy platforms only have a place if they can quickly adapt and/or can embrace more nimble platforms and services that augment the value they provide and enable them to stay relevant,” he said. “Companies can easily absorb the cost of embracing new platforms that can help either reduce costs and/or increase revenues.”

If we look at the evolution of enterprise software, Solis said, we went from:

  • Creating Systems of Record Platforms that helped standardize data and record keeping of key organizational metrics, to
  • Systems of EngagementPlatforms that helped drive employee and customer engagement to facilitate brand loyalty, positive employee sentiment, etc.

Currently, digital businesses are reaching for systems of productivity, which optimize employee productivity through workflow automation. Modern business platforms are in a better position to deliver on this, not legacy solutions.

Related Article: How to Modernize Your Legacy IT

Digital Transformation Challenges Legacy Tech

David Jones, VP of product marketing at content services platform provider Nuxeo and a member of the board of directors for AIIM, said the survey validates what we already know: digital transformation has changed the scale and nature of the information management challenge. There is more data and content residing within more places and systems, and more types of content (video, audio) and bigger files that must be managed than ever before. 

“Call this information overload, big content, digital landfill or whatever you like — the challenges are real and will only increase if organizations continue to rely on outdated legacy applications that were designed for an era of the past,” he said.

That said, it is unlikely we will see these solutions disappear from the workplace anytime soon. It’s a mistake for businesses to think one monolithic system to replace all the various solutions will solve these challenges. If “rip and replace” were that easy, everyone would be doing it already. That kind of approach is rarely successful.

The more logical thing for businesses to do instead is modernize these systems. Jones suggested content services platforms can act as a buffer between modern needs and legacy systems, by interfacing and integrating with existing applications and repositories so people can find and retrieve the information they need, until you’re ready to sunset the legacy systems at your own pace.

Related Article: An Iterative Approach to Digital Transformation

The Workplace Has Changed 

The workforce is changing, not only when it comes to preferences, but location too. According to Upwork, 63 percent of companies have remote workers. Legacy systems helped lay the groundwork for enterprise communications today, but in many cases, these systems don't fit in with the needs of a remote workforce. 

Desktop phones and onsite hardware won’t cut it anymore, said Vik Verma, CEO of 8x8, provider of a hosted VoIP solution. Companies need to implement cloud-based services that integrate text, voice and video conferencing into one platform and into critical business applications while also providing intelligence and data. “Imagine being able to access the entire company directory with one-click on your mobile device? These types of features enable hyper productivity in our increasingly mobility-driven workplace,” he said.

More to the point, legacy technologies often only address one component of an organization's operations and struggle to integrate with other systems. Companies historically had several different systems installed at different times and in different locations that were unable to talk to each other efficiently. 

Related Article: Establish a Strong Collaboration Strategy to Handle Changing Workplace Demands

Challenges of Transforming Legacy Tech

The biggest challenge with legacy technologies is speeding up the rate of transformation and acceptance for employees of all ranks. According to IDG, 89 percent of enterprises have plans to adopt or have already adopted a digital-first strategy, which includes weaving data analytics, mobile technology, and private cloud into their operations, Steve Weiss, founder and CEO of Facebook advertising agency MuteSix said. The smartest folks will go the extra mile by exploring and trying out machine learning, virtual reality and artificial intelligence, among other emerging tools. 

The key is to embrace the change. “There’s just no way to get around this. Companies have to work to untangle their integration from deeply embedded legacy technologies with minimal disruption and look to phasing in newer solutions that are built for flexibility, and scalability and can deliver maximum value. Prototypes/beta migrations always help,” Weiss added.

Adopting agile tools to integrate with tech stacks make transitions easier. Advance preparation and planning company-wide rollouts are a must. And never underestimate feedback from your customers. It helps with being more relevant and having a constructive dialogue with the people that will end up using your services as well as develop additional products on your platform. Given the velocity of change today, no system will ever remain defensible.