Technical risk assessment: Know the lifespan of your software systems

All businesses that use and rely on software systems have some element of technical risk. But what can be done to manage this risk?

Regular risk assessments are key to keeping consequences to a minimum, as is the ability to recognise when your software system is becoming risky.

Hanging on to old software and rarely updating programs could be detrimental (and costly) to your business, exposing it to viruses, faults, hackers and other risks.

Equally, if your software is running on an old operating system, it is likely the manufacturer no longer supports that version. This means your software will not receive the upgrades and protection it requires to run well. For example, every Windows product has a support lifecycle, and if you’re running an out-of-date version it may be exposed to risk. Learn about Microsoft’s timeline for dropping support on different versions of Windows here

Other risks might include hard-coded passwords, systems that rely on a single developer and the inability to fund repairs. Conversely, you may not have any risks or need to change your systems but you’ll need to determine if this is the case. 

By undertaking a risk assessment, you can find out whether you need to update your software system, in order to mitigate risks and boost the productivity of your business.

So how do you tell if your legacy systems are exposing you to risk?

How old is your software system? And when was the last time you had it updated? If it’s been so long that you cannot answer these questions, then it’s probably time to upgrade. 

If you’re starting to notice that your software system is running slowly, there are recurring glitches, or you’re unsure whether it has the capacity to perform in conjunction with other updated systems or applications, your business could benefit from a risk assessment to determine the issues. 

Do you know if your data is secure? Do you know if your backups work and have you tested that your systems can be restored in the case of an incident? 

A technical risk assessment is essentially like a health check-up for your software system, to determine which areas of your system are ‘sick’ and not performing as they should. The assessment looks at the overall wellbeing and functionality of a software system as well as the more specific technical issues that may require acute attention. 

A risk management plan can then be determined, which will outline what needs to be done to address the risks and how to implement the actions to deal with them. 

Results from a technical risk assessment will usually produce two parts: a condition and a consequence.

The condition is based on data and observations taken from the assessment to infer a diagnosis. The consequence, in this case, would be the identified risks associated with the current state of the software system if it remains unresolved. For example, a legacy system might be exposing your business to viruses, faults, hackers and other security risks.

The easiest way to find out if your software system is at risk is to carry out regular internal risk assessments, if you have an in-house IT department, or to employ the services of software professionals to do so.

RELATED: How to update old software: 3 ways to get away from legacy enterprise systems

Broken House

Avoid ‘technical debt’

In programming, technical debt is a concept that reflects the extra software development work that occurs when code that is easy to implement quickly (and in the short run) is applied instead of going with the best long-term solution.

According to techopedia, technical debt is often associated with extreme programming, mostly in the context of refactoring. “It implies that restructuring existing code (refactoring) is required as part of the development process. Under this line of thinking refactoring is not only a result of poorly written code, but is also done based on an evolving understanding of a problem and the best way to solve that problem,” the article says.

Technical debt is often likened to financial debt. For example, say you have some wood rot in your house. A ‘quick fix’ would be to spend a little money now to solve the problem for the short-term, such as patching it and painting straight over it. The smarter, long-term option would be to get professionals in to fix the rot properly, by tearing out the decayed wood and replacing it with new material and putting measures in place to prevent further rot from occurring. This is a job that will take more time and cost more money, but it will save the headache of having to deal with the rot spreading to entire areas of the house in the future and having to deal with costs of the repair job down the track. 

The same theory applies for technical debt, in the context of software. Implementing first-time code is equivalent to going into debt – it speeds development along but only if it can be paid back with a rewrite. The danger occurs when this debt is not paid back, and every hour spent on unsuitable code is like accumulating interest on that debt. Taking the time to refactor is like paying down the principal. 

Technical debt can be avoided by carrying out a comprehensive technical risk assessment to determine what would be the best overall solution for the software system in the long-term. Implementing this ‘long-term thinking’ approach will mean mitigating risks now and into the future.

RELATED: Old software is hurting your business

Manage Technical Risk Fb

Consult the experts for a technical risk assessment

Inoutput can come to your business to assess your technical risk and make recommendations for improvements and changes.

We also have the experience and technical know-how to help your business move away from legacy systems and transition to new, integrated software in a seamless manner.

Waiting too long could cost your business so contact us today to find out how we can help your business reduce technical risk. Phone (03) 9016 3066 or send us details via our contact form