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Working Harder, Not Smarter: Legacy Software Challenges in Safety-Critical Product Development

Legacy systems, legacy software, legacy tools: you’ve probably heard it before, from eager salespeople in tradeshows or even your own manager. But what does it really mean, and why is it treated like some kind of bogeyman? 

Legacy Software Challenges in Safety-Critical Product Development“Legacy software” refers to outdated systems that are still important or even mission-critical for your day-to-day business operations. Every industry has them, but they are particularly prevalent in safety-critical industries, where regulations and standards abound leave absolutely no room for additional risk. Project management system requirements have led many industries to unified legacy solutions or a small menu of systems to choose from, creating a cyclical environment where innovation becomes next to impossible.

Despite these flaws, there is a simple reason why so many companies hang on to their entrenched legacy toolchains. Implementation is an enormous undertaking, whether your company has 50 people or 50,000. Adapting to a new, integrated software environment can seem daunting, and more often than not, your workflow is a product of your tools rather than the other way around. In teams with ingrained development processes, software implementation may even disrupt your workflow (and not in the cool way). That being said, moving to a more seamless and efficient approach is always worth the struggle. Read on for the main reasons why you should ditch your legacy systems and move towards an integrated ALM to keep your team on the cutting edge.

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The old guard

For all their limitations, legacy solutions do have their benefits — which is why they became defining systems that people hesitate to leave behind. Many of these solutions offer impressive maturity, which is the inevitable result of years or decades of widespread usage and the ample opportunity their developers have had for fine-tuning. Some are ubiquitous, meaning most working professionals are proficient in using them. 

Each industry has its own workflow offshoots, as well. This is especially true of safety-critical product development, where innovation and change create risks that most companies cannot afford. IBM DOORS, for example, is the “de facto standard” Requirements Management platform across several industries. The cost of new systems and retraining employees, plus the risk of new solutions that lack the substantial track record of legacy solutions, are often major deterrents. But what modern integrated tool sets lack in perceived safety and convenience, they more than make up for in efficiency and process improvement.

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Productivity problems: legacy development toolchains limit performance

Let me paint a (probably familiar) picture: you open up a Microsoft Word file for requirements, collaborate and update via e-mail, track requirements in Microsoft Excel, and manage everything on a shared drive. You work together in a bug tracking system like Jira or Zoho, and use an additional RM solution like DOORS to ensure compliance. This workflow easily takes you through 5 different tool environments - before you’ve even had your lunch break. Each has a different workflow, a different UI, and a different level of integration (if any is in place at all). 

When it comes to toolchains, less is often more. Switching between platforms is the least of it; users are often confronted with challenging and inefficient data migration, human error that requires extensive rework, poor traceability, and unnecessary administration. Legacy solutions mean your team is spending more resources on less critical work, costing you significant time and effort. Modern software offers seamless integration and automation, allowing you to focus on what keeps a company moving ahead at full steam: productivity, performance, and process optimization.

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Settling for legacy systems sacrifices innovation

Legacy systems offer product maturity and name recognition, but that may be just about all they bring to the table. Old-school solutions often offer little flexibility for innovation and improvement. This is multifold: first, much of your team’s focus is tied up in administrative or maintenance tasks, as well as duplicated work. With more attention paid to managing activities that could be automated, there is less time for developing innovative approaches or testing new ideas. Additionally, the often astronomical costs of legacy software allocate too many of your resources to solutions that keep you out of date. With so much of your daily process dedicated to systems management, there is neither time nor impetus to find the cutting edge.

But in an era defined by innovation at scale, there isn’t an excuse anymore to avoid change simply because of its challenges. Even in safety-critical industries, where innovation must be approached with painstaking attention to compliance and requirements management, many companies are shifting towards more innovative models and reallocating their resources to step into the 21st century. Your legacy solutions are probably holding you back – even if you don’t know it yet.

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Risky business: vulnerabilities in legacy software

When developing products in safety-critical industries, it is crucial to eliminate (or at least mitigate) human error at every step. And modern tool sets are here to help you achieve that, not to make your life harder than it needs to be. Having less disconnected or only partially integrated tool environments and manual data transfer can greatly reduce your vulnerability. With traceability and compliance requirements stricter than ever, you also have to ensure a fully transparent workflow. And unfortunately, when you use multiple solutions from various providers, you run a significantly higher risk of noncompliance or breaks in the data chain. A single, holistically integrated tool will help you mitigate these risks.

There is also the possibility that service providers will reduce or discontinue support for certain tool sets as time goes on. With inflexible legacy solutions, system updates can be long and arduous processes that leave you exposed, while regulations are regularly updated and improved. This risk is compounded by using solutions from multiple providers, who for obvious reasons cannot guarantee simultaneous updates. Modern solutions offer the flexibility to update quickly, and integrated systems offer greater assurance that your system is robust, wholly compliant, and secure at every step.

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Tool modernization will take you to the next level

At the end of the day, you’re innovating your industry - so why are you using outdated solutions to develop your products? Modern ALM tool sets offer a “single source of truth” for your workflow and lifecycle data. Moving to an integrated system will improve collaboration, productivity and transparency, providing both your team and stakeholders with everything they need to know at the press of a button.

The time has come to modernize your workflows. Leaving your legacy toolchain behind may seem impossible, but the benefits of integrated ALMs far outweigh the challenges of implementation. As regulations grow stricter and your competitors continue to innovate, you can no longer justify keeping systems simply because “it’s always been that way.” Modern tools will help you systematize your workflow and ensure effective requirements management while saving you precious time, effort, and vulnerability. Innovative integrated tools will help you streamline your processes and ensure compliance, freeing up precious resources to work on what really matters: optimizing productivity, improving performance, and reducing risk. Sound like a good outcome? Try codeBeamer today.

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