Re-engineering Legacy Systems for Digital Transformation

Old has a character that has stood the test of time. It is the old stains and scratches, the wear and tear, that adds an inalienable beauty and value to it. The old can also be pristinely clean yet still command higher prices. Some things are just better with age. But unlike wine or vintage cars, software gets anything but better with time. There’s a reason you’re using an iPhone 12 and your mac runs Big Sur. Similarly, the business you started twenty years ago is different from the one you run today. You might feel like your business is ready to take a leap, but the old infrastructure and legacy business processes are holding you back and keeping you down.

On your path to digital transformation, you’re bound to face the challenges of migrating the complex, antiquated legacy systems to digital channels. From product configurations to multitiered pricing contracts, almost all of your existing processes need to be adapted, transformed, and reengineered to suit the digital medium. The question is how to transform, simplify, and adopt your legacy business processes. Here, old doesn’t mean good anymore. In fact, you may need to rethink your legacy systems or rebuild them altogether from scratch.

Luckily for you, there are plenty of options to consider when transitioning your legacy systems to a digital medium.

We will use the broad catch-all terms “digital transformation” and "digital medium" primarily in the context of shifting your business online and adapting old processes for B2B ecommerce platforms.

What Is a Legacy System?

As defined by Gartner, a legacy system is “an information system that may be based on outdated technologies but is critical to day-to-day operations.” Legacy systems are an essential part of your overall infrastructure, whether it’s older management, inventory, or finance, but maintaining them comes at a price.

Perhaps the biggest challenge of outdated legacy infrastructure is a poor user experience, which drastically affects employee efficiency. Legacy systems are often unwieldy because they were designed for a specific purpose and user some time ago, limiting their adaptation and scalability.

On top of the outdated user interfaces, legacy applications lack sophisticated reporting and analytic tools and provide limited data flow visibility between systems.

Some of those legacy applications might not have been designed to communicate with new technology. As a result, enterprises end up with a multilayered architecture of middleware designed to connect newer technology with older ones.

One can argue that more mature companies with legacy infrastructure are worse off than brand new ones, which are not burdened with a technical debt of a legacy system. While this may be true to some extent, you have an abundance of data that you can leverage while transitioning your legacy processes online and loyal customers who already know your products and brand.

Knowing how to transition, however, and having the right transformation tools, is essential, so keep your scratchpad open, and let’s dive into it.

Strategies and Tools for Reengineering Legacy Systems for B2B eCommerce

Rather than simply automating or transferring the existing processes, rethink the whole process, the touchpoints, and the steps involved, then add or remove the stages that don’t have to be there.

It’s fine if you don’t want to rip out the existing systems for the sake of adding ecommerce. You don’t necessarily have to – there are ecommerce packages that directly integrate a B2B ecommerce platform with existing systems. Moreover, there are pre-built application connectors that come as part of an integration platform.

If, however, none of the packages with integrations “out of the box” suit your business, you can create your own cost-effective system integrations or find partners who can help you integrate your legacy systems with modern applications.

The problem with any technological undertaking is the possible disruption of business processes while change is underway. It is imperative, therefore, to carefully plan a flexible integration while keeping the critical B2B business processes operational.

Below, we’ll discuss a few options for transitioning your legacy systems with minimum disruptions to your business.

System Integrations

System integration automates the movement of data between your ecommerce store and other platforms like ERP, 3PL/shipping, POS, or CRM.

Before you start integrations, think about what processes and systems need to be integrated and in what order. The problem with out-of-the-box integration packages is that they often have limited point-to-point capabilities and might only be suitable for small and medium-sized sellers. If, however, you need to integrate complex systems like ERP, you may consider cloud-based “middleware” platforms. These are usually more flexible and can be fully customized to meet complex B2B scenarios like order-splitting or real-time inventory updates. Apart from leveraging APIs, these platforms are capable of integrating legacy systems that can’t connect via APIs. Although custom-built solutions that require writing custom code are costly and time-consuming, they may be the best fit in your case.

Re-platforming

If you’ve been doing business online for a while, your legacy system might be the old monolithic B2B ecommerce platform you have been using for years. If that’s the case, you have two options: you can stick to an older-generation platform and pay for its development and maintenance, or you can re-platform to a new and better B2B ecommerce platform. Even though the second option is daunting, it’s well worth the journey.

The ‘big bang’ or ‘lift and shift’ approach is a massive undertaking, which is, thankfully, getting a bad rap and becoming the least preferable. Cloud commerce services and headless B2B ecommerce platforms like Virto Commerce help companies manage the migration in stages. The gradual or phased-in approach enables you to continue operating your business while a part of your infrastructure is offline or in migration. Since headless allows you to decouple front end from back end, you can work with a part of your solution while the other stays intact, thereby enabling individual pieces of your ecommerce system to be independently deployed without affecting monolithic code.

Besides headless, look for a B2B ecommerce platform that’s also composable.

The major issue that contributes to hampering IT departments is their efforts to make legacy systems work with each other and then tinker and maintain those fragile components. The pressure to deploy new approaches to legacy business problems is forcing legacy app manufacturers to adopt SaaS (Software as a Service) versions of their software. This usually implies replicating, adapting legacy platforms in the form of SaaS-based solutions, creating templates for functions, and applying patchworks of add-ins to compensate for missing functions. Those SaaS solutions are often cumbersome, slow, rigid, and not easily extensible. Instead of going down that path, choose a composable B2B ecommerce platform that is 100% API-driven and allows for the easy addition of data structures that your business needs.

6 Principles for Successful Replatforming in 2021: Way to Composable Commerce

Other Insights Into the Transformation of Legacy Systems

Stepping away from the technological side of things, it’s worth going through the transformation of other legacy systems that involve different business areas. Below, we’ll outline major insights about transforming, digitizing, or reengineering such processes:

  • Modernization of core commercial processes like pricing and sales almost always involve enriching the legacy systems with data and analytics;
  • Reengineering legacy systems involves rethinking and redesigning the customer journey; and
  • Moving an on-premise business process to a digital medium means going back and rethinking its logic, so that during the transition, you won’t lose important inputs that make up that logic.

How Virto Commerce Can Help Reengineer Legacy Systems

How exactly does Virto Commerce fit into this picture? In addition to offering a headless and composable B2B ecommerce platform, Virto Commerce has a wealth of experience working with legacy systems and helping companies digitally transform their operations.

One of our oldest customers – a manufacturer and supplier of a huge selection of beer brewing equipment and beer ingredients – faced the complexity of reengineering its legacy systems for ecommerce. One of those systems involved complicated pricing contracts where all customers had individual pricing arrangements that depended on the volume of an order, SKUs, contract dates, validity of business agreements, and other input parameters like the granularity of an ingredient.

From our experience, the biggest problem in such legacy systems is to find a key person who knows the ins and outs of the business logic of the existing system. It’s important to find that responsible person; if they have left the company and are no longer available, then collect as much information as possible from other people in the company. Misunderstanding or not understanding the logic enough results in transitioning incomplete systems that lack essential functionalities.

While deducing the logic, the Virto Commerce team discovered and documented all the inputs that affected the quote calculation and then wired them into the Virto Commerce Price List Module by extending its logic. Thanks to the maturity and flexibility of the Virto Commerce pricing module, the developer team didn’t have to reinvent the wheel, but rather extend the capability of the existing system.

What was especially challenging was the complexity of order customization that was included in the price calculation. Customers could have a lot of ingredients in their shopping carts, all of which had different types of granularity or could relate to different contracts. To account for such different inputs, engineering teams developed a contract module that stored data on each individual customer’s contracts, interoperated with SKUs, and connected it with the existing price list module.

Through mutual collaboration, effective communication, and development modifications to the existing Virto Commerce modules, it became possible to incorporate the complex pricing logic into the customer’s ecommerce platform, which worked even better than the old system.

In case you’re looking for help in transitioning your legacy systems, schedule a demo now and see how Virto Commerce can help your business.

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Marina Vorontsova
Technical author and eCommerce advocate