Software Modernization: driven by complexity and increasing business needs
As the world changes, businesses need to change with it. So do their IT landscapes, and as they do, deadlines, new regulations, and business demands take their toll. The constant stress of this change will strain an IT landscape, as it
seems there is never enough time, money, or people available to tackle an ever-growing amount of technical debt. In short, software modernization is needed.
Critical problems might be patched over, increasing complexity, and reducing flexibility. The time it takes engineers to tackle problems increases, and implementing new features becomes time- consuming and increasingly expensive. Companies start to feel constrained by their IT systems.
Instead of enabling, IT is holding the business back, preventing those companies from moving forward.
Once in such a situation, getting out of it can be a difficult, and often costly task. It may be tempting to scrap existing software and start from scratch. However, the results of this approach may vary, with cost overruns and missed deadlines frequently cited.
Software modernization is one way of dealing with legacy IT issues. It is defined as the changing, porting, rewriting or replacing of legacy software to modern standards. Before starting on a software modernization journey, we have compiled a list of considerations that can help guide you on the right course.
7 considerations before you start modernizing your application(s)
- Start with why
Although this sounds fairly obvious it is not. Ask yourself why, in the first place, you wanted or needed to modernize your application(s). What business challenges were the main drivers for this need? Is there major downtime impacting business results? If yes, where did this come from exactly? List the technical limitations that occurred and lead to you thinking “we need something modern”.
- No prescription without a diagnosis
Find out what you exactly need to modernize by assessing the current situation of your software and defining the desired state. The assessment of both states will show clear gaps. Look at what IT problems cause these gaps and you have the start of your modernization action plan.
- Waste not, want not (a.k.a. unlock valuable legacy)
Don’t just choose to modernize or rebuild everything. More specifically, don’t discard your valuable legacy systems. This starts with defining which ones are valuable to the business, or which ones have been invested in the most. In a lot of cases it is better to retain and optimize these systems so that they can work and communicate with the rest of your modernized application(s), than to rip and replace them. Research this thoroughly and you’ll see that the total investment needed for modernization will decrease.
- Decisions, decisions (replace, rebuild, refactor, or encapsulate)
There are multiple ways to modernize an IT system, ranging from encapsulating a system in APIs to replacing it. All these options have their respective up- and downsides and associated costs. As vendors of different solutions sometimes hail the strategy they have chosen as the “cure for all things”, it might be tempting to select just one and go all-in on that. However, we believe that no single one of these strategies is the best approach, but that every case requires a different mix of these strategies. While the options for modernizing are quite well- documented, the question of selecting the best option in any given situation remains. Focus on your dependencies, interoperability, IT department capabilities, upgradeability, time, and cost, and define the best modernization strategies for your software.
- Be Agile
Software modernization can be a long process, and it is really never done. Requirements from business change all the time, and external factors can shift rapidly. It is therefore important to be able to respond rapidly, all while not threatening business continuity. This is why an agile approach to software modernization is a must. Small iterations allow the business to profit from software modernization quickly while enabling the IT department to rapidly respond to changing priorities and requirements.
- Gain insight (a.k.a. monitoring)
Software modernization is not a one-time thing, rather we could almost apply the term “continuous modernization”. In order to find out where modernization might be needed in the future, we recommend incorporating technical and functional monitoring into any software that is modernized. Start measuring and provide yourself with insight to ensure successful future investments in your application.
- Be prepared for (cultural) change
Modernizing your software is one thing, but the people who work with it also have to change and adapt their ways of working with it. Users need to be trained, support needs to be available, and a positive mindset towards change has to be stimulated from the start. Create a plan for this before you start modernizing and over-communicate to your people to ensure you will not run into resistance along the way.