According to Gartner, a legacy application is an information system that may be based on outdated technologies but is critical to day-to-day operations. As such, it not only fails to fulfill business requirements, but also puts at risk the performance of operations such as accounting, managing payroll, sharing documents, or carrying out administrative tasks.
In this article, we’ll discuss signs that often come from the users when your app is not meeting their expectations or, what’s even worse, is disturbing their work. On top of that, we’ll see that investing in UX works well for all the cases mentioned above and allows us to monitor the system’s usability without putting your users’ performance at risk.
"Investment in UX is often the difference between businesses that grow and those that sputter" – Roman Nurik, designer and design advocate, Google
Signs that tell you to modernize your legacy application
How not to overlook the moment when there’s still time to react and save your meticulously developed system from becoming a relic of the past IT trends? Let’s take a closer look at three different business cases in which you’ll likely need a UX audit to deal with legacy solutions in your applications. The essential thing is that in all of them, your system’s users will be the whistleblowers of the change.
The app that’s your core business is getting old
When building a SaaS solution or an e-commerce platform to sell your goods, you’re especially vulnerable to dealing with your users’ moods. If you can’t keep up with the new technologies, it’s easy to drop off the race. After all, as the saying goes, if you are not moving forward, you are moving backward. One day, you realize that your quota is low and you’re not selling enough. When did that happen, you’re asking yourself.
We have good news and bad news for you. The good news is systems are relatively easy to measure in terms of performance and efficiency in fulfilling the business goals. Therefore, compared with other scenarios, you’re able to find your leaks and caulk them quickly.
The bad news is that, regardless of the industry, the software market is so competitive that in order to keep some of your ratings high, you’ll have to think not one but two steps ahead. How? By investing in adapting your software to the changing market conditions, tech possibilities, and customers’ needs.
You bought a service that technologically or functionally needs modernization
If you invest in existing businesses to revamp them and make them profitable, you must have noticed that any change in business model, processes, or the scale of operations has to be reflected in software.
A common scenario is that after the acquisition, companies try to open new sales channels, which often means new software. Another one is to find areas for improvement, which after fixing could tip the balance towards becoming your competitive advantage.
Interestingly, when enterprises look at their portfolio, they tend to distort the view about their apps’ health. As Gartner shows in their report, in most global 2000 companies, the number of legacy apps that should be decommissioned is twice as big as the companies note. Instead of modernizing the systems, companies tend to keep using the legacy applications, turning them into seniles, and finally, into zombies that are much more difficult (if not impossible) to revive.
Your legacy system enhances internal processes and operations
That’s the most difficult case to monitor and modernize. Internal applications are the most neglected and forgotten type of software. Written once, years ago in non-scalable technologies, they’re usually maintained only if there is a serious problem. What’s more, even when asked directly, employees don’t tend to share their frustrations for the software. You need to find other ways to loosen their tongues.
To prove our point, let us refer to one of the projects we worked on. The client we have in mind is an American insurance agency which learned that legacy internal systems are detrimental to the company's well-being the hard way.
When they approached us, their no. 1 problem was an application based on outdated solutions which made it slow, complicated, and required manual completion of a number of tasks that could easily be automated. As you may already expect, the user experience wasn’t satisfactory either and the learning curve for new employees was simply too steep. To put it shortly, the legacy application effectively prevented the company from growing.
The only way to remove this roadblock was to conduct an in-depth UX audit and rewrite the system to make it more functional. How did we do that? It’s not a place for spoilers so if you want to know, be sure to check our case study of this project.
Reading between the lines: how not to overlook the signs users send you?
No matter if you’ve released your application, bought an existing solution, or created an internal workflow for your company, there are several signs you should be looking for in terms of usability. They will help you figure out the moment when your legacy is starting to devour your product’s advantages.
Users complain and say goodbye forever
One of the signs you need to modernize either your processes or your product is high customer churn, dropping traffic, and negative customer feedback. As a result, users come and go.
Our findings show that people tend to quit using an application for several reasons, including:
- performance failures & glitches,
- device-dependency, unresponsiveness, limited mobile availability,
- incompatibility with popular services (e.g. social media) & systems,
- outdated tech and functionalities (e.g. Flash or Microsoft Silverlight) ,
- security threats,
- outdated aesthetics of the interface and design.
Bottlenecks, bottlenecks everywhere
As much as insights from customer service apply to customer apps, bottlenecks tend to characterize enterprise legacy systems. When completing simple activities requires too much time and effort on the users’ part, it often leads to users devising a workaround. A common example is using external Excel files and therefore corrupting the operational process leaving the data incomplete and impossible to draw conclusions from.
Another case that creates bottlenecks is when you’re working with different systems that don’t (and won’t) communicate because they’re closed for further developments. The chances are that your employees have to manually arrange the data that comes out of one system to feed another one with an adequate format. That’s a serious productivity blocker which, according to an EKN report, impacts 64% of retail professionals.
Top data management challenges in managing unstructured data.
Source: EKN report on Big Data in retail
Only a handful of people can use the software
As opposed to being customer-centric, a product-centric solution favors complexity over usability. Such an approach looks innocent on the surface, but when you take a more in-depth look, you’ll see that usability enhances productivity. When software is product-centric, it is usually difficult to master and requires special training.
For internal applications, such a problem becomes an organizational challenge because employees tend to get used to even least convenient processes, putting their efficiency at hazard. On top of that, with over four thousand dollars as an average cost per hire, the cost of unnecessary additional training doesn’t sound too reasonable.
People feel discouraged
User frustration and irritation come into the picture through impaired productivity, less commitment, or deprioritizing tasks that require legacy software. If you noticed that employees jump over the roof when working on your system, it’s time to make a health check.
Run regular UX research with the real users to see how they use the system. This way, you’ll be able to diagnose the source of inefficiencies and optimize the product so that it becomes intuitive, optimal, and easy to use.
UX audit to the rescue
Now that you know what signs to look for let’s talk about an expert assessment of your product’s performance and usability. It’s called the UX audit.
The audit itself can be made on different levels:
- On the visual level, it looks for ways to improve visual consistency.
- On the process level, it names the bottlenecks and suggests how to remove them.
- On the application level, it aims to design the usability for the new version of the software.
How we do it the Merixstudio way
At Merixstudio, our UX designers recommend two types of tests: user testing and heuristic evaluation. The former focuses on finding the areas or parts of the application that are difficult for real users to go through. The latter, on the other hand, gives the application a rating by checking compliance with particular heuristics.
Let’s take a look at the similarities and differences between these two approaches.
Enterprises with complex internal processes and multiple user roles across the organization are especially vulnerable to grow massive and unmaintainable systems. Interestingly, those systems are supposed to boost employees’ performance, but after some years, they become a burden rather than a helping hand. Sadly, companies realize the fact too late. Unless… they decide to invest in a regular UX audit and use a few handy tools to monitor the usability of their IT systems.
Ready to give your legacy application a new life? Read our whitepaper "Modernize and grow" to find out how to plan and carry out your system's modernization!