If your organization has been in business for more than a decade, chances are some of your original equipment and systems from those early years are still in operation on your floor. Technology has changed a lot since then, and what was once considered cutting edge only a few years ago may now be considered obsolete. You’ve likely felt the challenges that legacy business management systems can bring with them, including random shutdowns, vulnerability to security breaches, difficulty getting service, and problems integrating the old system with any newer equipment and tools.
There are two approaches to updating legacy systems and addressing these challenges: migration or modernization. While some consider them one and the same, there are differences that can impact the long-term goals of your organization. We’ll take a look at both to help you determine which is the best solution for your operation.
In general, migration involves replacing a current individual legacy technology with a newer version that performs similar functions. There are drawbacks to this approach, however. Improving the performance of one process or piece of equipment may be the goal of a single operator or department, but it lacks an overall big-picture vision of an organization’s growth objectives. Such an approach can improve efficiencies and safety for a particular function, and result in other benefits for particular users, but it may not take into consideration future technology needs, data integration with other systems and lines of business, and various operational processes. What can end up happening when systems are replaced on an individual basis is a organization full of cobbled-together equipment and siloed processes that impede the very progress you were trying to achieve.
For companies that are strapped for resources, however, replacing platforms one at a time instead of modernizing an entire system is often a first consideration. In addition, if the full capacity of your current business management tools isn’t being used, there may be ways to optimize their functionality.
If targeted migration of a current system is truly your organization’s most viable option, it’s important to involve multiple business units such as customer service, marketing, sales, inventory, and others to determine how the change may impact various internal processes and, most importantly, your customers. Consult with experts who can guide you through all the considerations, both the immediate impact and future growth potential, to ensure you’re not faced with even greater challenges down the road.
Improving overall operations and upgrading multiple technologies concurrently is not always practical for some businesses. In some instances, however, a smaller scale migration can help prove the case for a more comprehensive modernization effort. Modernizing technologies is an approach that connects systems across departments to replace a system of siloed workflows and processes; it can improve communication, collaboration, production schedules, inventory management, and more.
Modernization puts technology in place that improves and integrates new and existing interfaces to alleviate bottlenecks and create efficiencies—across the board, not just in a single department. Reports containing critical data regarding production output, sales, inventory levels, scheduling, and other analytics are available in real-time and allow a company to respond to issues and customer demands more quickly.
Additionally, potential problems can be proactively addressed before those issues interrupt operations. For example, if a project is scheduled for production but inventory of a necessary component is nearly depleted, the result could shut down a organization floor for an extended period of time while everyone adjusts to accommodate the oversight.
A modernized management system that integrates scheduling and inventory systems can help compensate for human error and create automatic alerts to restock inventory or inform the necessary parties about the situation before an entire production line is set, reducing downtime, employee frustration, upset customers and, ultimately, ROI.
Whereas migration can typically be done relatively quickly by simply replacing one technology solution with another similar product, modernizing a system will not be implemented overnight. Careful planning and coordination are required, and a mix of the right people and resources are needed to ensure success. Some organizations choose a phased approach to stretch out the project costs over time, addressing their most pressing areas or lines of business first. In either approach, the key is to maintain the greater vision of how a system migration will serve the greater overall operational strategy of integrating departments, creating transparency, and improving efficiencies.
No matter which solution you pursue, it’s important to seek the advice of technology experts who can objectively assess your current infrastructure and support your goals to move toward a more connected business model. An enterprise resource planning (ERP) system can help connect the plant floor to enterprise-level IT systems and position your company for success now and into the future.
If you’d like to talk through whether migration or modernization is most practical for your organization, talk with the consultants at Wipfli. We’re here to help.