Job Shop Insights


What to Consider When Coping with Legacy Systems

Jul 24, 2018
By: Thomas P. Schiesl

Dealing with Legacy Systems

If your job shop or contract manufacturing business has been around for a while (and most have), chances are you’ve still got some original business management technology operating in some capacity. The ability for those legacy systems to integrate with newer technologies and processes is a major challenge for many, and the cost to do so can be daunting. Not adopting new technology isn’t an option for most, however, as the eventual obsolescence of older software is inevitable. Falling behind industry peers that are embracing technological advancements will likely lead to an eventual decline in business and ROI.

For some, existing technology has been such an integral part of operations for so long that more than just planning a new system needs to be considered—everything from associated processes to production will need to be reworked as well, along with how all those areas “talk” with each other. One of the greatest hurdles, however, may have nothing to do with hardware or software platforms, or the cost—getting people on board who are accustomed to current systems and resistant to change is often a major challenge.

There are an infinite number of permutations that need to work together when migrating to or bridging new business management systems. Let’s take a look at the top areas of consideration.

Replace or Integrate Old Systems

Bringing a manufacturing facility into the 21st century in regards to its technology is imperative to its success. Upgrading and replacing existing systems is ideal for most in the long term and results in a state-of-the-art facility that can capture a competitive advantage over peers. This “start-from-scratch” approach is often inconceivable for most due to associated costs, however. Taking an evolutionary approach is often more practical. Starting with an easy user interface on the job shop floor that’s intuitive and creates efficiencies helps introduce new technologies and processes to employees without completely overwhelming them (or your budget). Then, gradually retire older systems when the time is right.


Be cautious of trying to replicate the functionality of your legacy systems into a new platform in an attempt to maintain existing workflows and processes. It can defeat the purpose of upgrading. Not only that, it will also likely be cost-prohibitive because of the required customizations, and any future upgrades would likely require custom applications, too. Most “ready-made” ERP systems have the majority of functionality that most manufacturers need because they were developed using modern-day best practices and industry standards, and they likely can be tweaked or formatted to provide the functionality you need.


Once you’ve made a determination about whether to replace your old systems or iteratively make improvements, a provider can work with you to determine cost. There is much more to determining cost, however, than just the initial price of a new platform. The yearly expenses to maintain the system and future upgrades need to be considered as well. Will there be scheduled downtime during implementation, training time, or staff changes? In addition to calculating projected savings and improved productivity as a result of a new platform, be sure to do an overall cost analysis to determine the true investment so there are no surprises down the road.


When establishing a timeline for replacement, the availability of upgrades for legacy systems and the expertise required to perform them needs to be considered. Everything has a shelf life. As systems age, parts and supporting platforms may become obsolete, and if there are only a handful of specialists who know how to service them, there’s always the probability that they may leave or retire, leaving no one to keep the system up and running. Analyzing a system’s shelf life will help you determine a cut-off date for retiring older systems and implementing new ones.


As mentioned, there may be some resistance to a new way of doing things. Attitude is everything when it comes to training. That’s why it needs to start long before a new system is even installed. Be sure to involve and inform employees about changes on the horizon and create a vision for how those changes will improve their workflows and overall job satisfaction. Be open and transparent about potential frustrations, yet ensure them that they’ll appreciate the improvements once they’re comfortable with the new platform. That way, when actual user training begins, there’s a greater potential for anticipation rather than apprehension. Enlist a few people who are excited for and easily adapt to the changes to serve as go-to experts within your company. Your provider can work closely with you and your employees to provide in-depth training to help ensure as smooth a transition as possible. They’ll also likely have a help desk and technicians available to answer questions as needed.

Future Plans

When implementing any new technology, it’s important to ensure it can be serviced and expanded as needed in the future. This is where making sure you work with a reputable ERP provider that has expertise and staying power is critical. Imagine going to the expense and amount of work to install a new platform, only to have the company you work with dissolve, leaving you to service the systems yourself. There’s an incalculable value in partnering with a provider that has experience and expertise in your industry, works closely with you to determine solutions, and will be there for you for the long haul.

While the term “vintage” may create nostalgia for some, it also can create a roadblock to success when referring to legacy systems. If you need some guidance on how to successfully implement an ERP and integrate or migrate your legacy systems, reach out to a Wipfli consultant today. We’ll help you take the next steps.


Thomas P. Schiesl, CISA
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