Despite their incompatibility with modern software and potential security risks, legacy systems are still prevalent in many industries. For instance,
- 80% of healthcare organizations use legacy systems that don’t receive support from their manufacturers
- Legacy systems used by the US government cost over $300 million annually to maintain
However, modernizing these applications by replacing them is challenging, since they play a significant role in daily operations in industries such as healthcare, government, energy, and finance, where disruptions can be quite costly.
To integrate these systems, as opposed to replace them, organizations can leverage robotic process automation (RPA) as a cost-effective alternative. In this article, we explain how RPA can mitigate legacy system integration challenges in 2023.
What are the challenges of legacy system integration?
One of the most common approaches to integrating legacy systems with modern ones, such as cloud applications, is using application programming interfaces (APIs). Using APIs, software applications can communicate with, send requests, and receive responses from each other. Most modern applications support API connectivity, which makes APIs a flexible option for integrating different types of software.
The problem is that most legacy systems do not offer out-of-the-box API connectivity because they were developed before the advent of APIs. This means companies that want to integrate their legacy systems with other applications using APIs must develop their custom APIs. Such efforts can be time-consuming and costly because it requires:
- Expertise in API development,
- Knowledge in working with the technology that legacy system use,
- Refactoring the legacy system to be compatible with the API,
- Constant development and maintenance of your custom API.
Another option is to use an integration platform, or an iPaaS. These solutions enable businesses to integrate different applications by providing the necessary tools to do the job. This allows businesses to build and deploy integrations without months of coding. However,
- The platform may not provide specific tools that your legacy system needs for integration,
- Choosing the right vendor can be difficult, and changing vendors can be costly, resulting in vendor lock-in,
- It carries security risks, like other settings with third-party involvement.
How can RPA help?
RPA and intelligent automation can be an alternative approach to legacy system integration and can help businesses overcome the challenges of other integration solutions. AI-enabled RPA bots with computer vision and natural language processing (NLP) capabilities, also referred to as intelligent automation bots, can:
- Access to different types of software, including legacy applications and modern ones, and interact with the user interface similar to a human employee,
- Read screens with an understanding of the context of the interface,
- Extract and migrate data between different applications,
- Cross-check the validity and quality of the extracted data across different systems.
Since the technology relies on reading the screen as humans do, it does not require businesses to develop custom solutions for legacy system connectivity or buy third-party integration solutions. Moreover, most leading RPA solutions offer drag-and-drop capabilities for creating bots to do specific tasks, so you don’t need expertise in either software development or the technology of the legacy system.
These features make RPA and intelligent automation a faster-to-deploy and more cost-effective alternative for legacy system integration.
What are the limitations?
Businesses should keep in mind that:
- RPA is also not free from constant maintenance. Companies should test and monitor whether RPA bots perform as expected. Check our article on RPA testing for more on this.
- For high-volume transactions between different systems, APIs are a more scalable option for integration. However, RPA bots can also be used in conjunction with APIs to build an efficient automated workflow of integration. Check our article on RPA vs APIs to learn more about how to use these technologies together.
- RPA, or any other technology that helps integrate legacy systems, will not solve all problems of outdated applications. For instance, a legacy system may be vulnerable to security issues if the manufacturer stops supporting the software and does not release updates. As a result, businesses should consider integration solutions as a temporary measure and plan to upgrade their legacy systems in the long run. Check our article on digital transformation for more.
If you want a more in-depth look into RPA, check our whitepaper on the topic:
Feel free to check our data-driven lists of RPA software and intelligent automation tools. If you have other questions about RPA, intelligent automation, or legacy system integration, we can help:
Cem has been the principal analyst at AIMultiple since 2017. AIMultiple informs hundreds of thousands of businesses (as per similarWeb) including 60% of Fortune 500 every month.
Cem's work has been cited by leading global publications including Business Insider, Forbes, Washington Post, global firms like Deloitte, HPE, NGOs like World Economic Forum and supranational organizations like European Commission. You can see more reputable companies and media that referenced AIMultiple.
Throughout his career, Cem served as a tech consultant, tech buyer and tech entrepreneur. He advised businesses on their enterprise software, automation, cloud, AI / ML and other technology related decisions at McKinsey & Company and Altman Solon for more than a decade. He also published a McKinsey report on digitalization.
He led technology strategy and procurement of a telco while reporting to the CEO. He has also led commercial growth of deep tech company Hypatos that reached a 7 digit annual recurring revenue and a 9 digit valuation from 0 within 2 years. Cem's work in Hypatos was covered by leading technology publications like TechCrunch and Business Insider.
Cem regularly speaks at international technology conferences. He graduated from Bogazici University as a computer engineer and holds an MBA from Columbia Business School.
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