Superseding legacy IS/IT systems challenges


Prepared by: Majed Abdeen

In my experience of managing Data Warehouse (DWH) projects, I have dealt with many challenges, of which, data migration was one. Some clients wish to have a DWH without ensuring their readiness. In one project, the client lacked the required documentation (the Data Dictionary) for the current systems databases. This was a big challenge for our team, we had to try to understand the tables, attributes, and relationships, which required an enormous effort, especially when one client promised (before we started the project) to provide the documentation on time. When it came time to deliver, it became clear the documentation did not exist. Another challenge such as data cleansing impacted the project scope, time, cost, and quality. Another challenge related to superseding legacy systems in different types of software projects is human resistance. Changes in user interfaces, including different colors and new designs, led to resistance from some end-users at the beginning, even if the new system is more user-friendly. PMs have to remember that people resist the process more than they actually resist the change itself. Thus, a smart PM works as a change agent rather than a change implementer.


Digital transformation/implementation of new systems brings challenges: manual work must be digitized and systematic. Legacy systems, now outdated, must be superseded with modern technology, while IS/IT PMs must successfully manage projects undertaking this task. While previously computer systems were implemented based on function, such as accounting or finance, now these disparate systems are being integrated into a single, ERP system (Monczka et al., 2016, pp. 712,713). Projects are required to bring together distributed platforms, web-based/cloud-based systems, and others, into a coherent unit (Martin et al., 2005, p. 2). Such projects naturally bring numerous challenges: PMs must carefully consider their approach to deal with these effectively.

Superseding legacy systems Challenges

Challenges are identified as User Acceptance, Workflow Issues, Unknown Dependencies, Not Planning for It, Re-Coding When Necessary, The Investment, Downtime Avoidance, Return On Investment, Open Communication, and Choices (Forbes, 2018). These can be categorized into three: Ambiguity, Human Behaviour, and System Behaviour (PMI, 2014, p. 12):

System Behaviour:

Rapid development means technology disparity is a challenge, as legacy systems, designed prior to cloud computing, are difficult to migrate to newer systems (TOGAF, 2011, pp. 407,408): challenges arise since legacy system environments discount cloud environment characteristics (Gholami et al., 2017, p. 102). Migration projects must consider digital data protection, efficiency, management of big data, and future developments (Hippmann et al., 2019, p. 17).


Unanticipated changes and challenges that take place during the project: they may have been hidden but then arise during the project. This challenge is related to processes and components in the project, and the interactions between them, which produce situations that cannot be foreseen (PMI, 2014, p. 21).

Human Behaviour:

Organizational staff may lack knowledge/understanding of new systems, requiring the use of external consultants and vendors, increasing both project risk and complexity (Martin et al., 2005, p. 2). Organizational management compound problems by adopting new technology while ignoring the need for staff training to manage the new systems, leading to outsourcing support while the company runs both legacy and new systems (EPMC, 2009, p. 190). Third-order change, when organizational leaders believe they can do things quickly without processes, is also a challenge (PMI, 2013, pp. 14-16).

In my experience, circumventing Human challenges is the most difficult task. Human resistance and user acceptance are not sufficiently accounted for by management, who do not assess where and why resistance might exist. Resistance can take the form of passive resistance or can be aggressive attempts to prevent/undermine the work (Kotter & Schlesinger, 2008, p. 132). In my experience, people resist the change process more than the change itself. In a project migrating from desktop to web-based applications, I dealt with challenges involving interface design, a lack of documentation, a lack of a data dictionary, and issues with data cleansing. These technical challenges could be resolved, but the scope creep resultant from over-promising by sales-people, and the resistance from the client's staff to sign-off on any task were the most difficult challenges to resolve.

Impact on Success

When successful, IS/IT projects for superseding legacy systems can significantly contribute to aligning the organizational processes with the strategic objectives (Paletta & Vieira, 2013, p. 75), resulting in reduced maintenance costs and increased functionality (Gholami et al., 2017, p. 101). However, if managed improperly, the challenges above will negatively impact project success. Project managers/teams must monitor the project and IS/IT systems continuously, evaluating performance. Start-to-finish dependencies arising in such projects must be carefully managed due to their complexity: legacy systems must remain online and active under new systems are operating correctly (Wysocki, 2014, p. 196). Project managers/teams/upper-management must possess sufficient understanding to enable migration preparedness, as lack of preparation and understanding result in failures in achieving project goals (Gholami et al., 2017, p. 100). Lack of knowledge and experience results in a higher chance of failure, as does unfamiliarity with new technology, which can negatively affect chances of successful completion on time/within budget (Martin et al., 2005, p. 2).

Human resistance to change processes can result in overall failure, as while most technological challenges can be worked around and mitigated, human challenges are harder to manage. In my experience, I recommend reviewing the change process and system; stakeholders’ perceptions are critical, and we must choose our communication methods carefully based on both convincing upper management and convincing organization staff and end-users. Persuasive communication can deliver successful outcomes.


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