Application Modernization without Disruption

Plenty of businesses are just fine with home-grown code. Various developers may have contributed to the code base, as reflected in its varying quality and style. Architectures might also be older: a system may run on a thick client or even a mainframe.

Some leaders already recognize the advantages of application modernization, but they are daunted by the scope of potential changes it will require. Application modernization requires a fresh assessment of and investment in team culture, new skills and new technology partners. It represents a significant cost to small and mid-size organizations. So why modernize now when current systems support the business well enough?

Application modernization decouples front-end and back-end system components so that code and data can live anywhere, and user experiences happen on a multitude of devices. Pre-built components are plugged in from a design library to create reusable services, functions and methods that perform system tasks. Back ends are more reliable and available, and front ends flex to meet users’ desires based on device type, user type, location and other factors. Application modernization makes businesses more agile, provides flexibility to users and accelerates growth. Application modernization is becoming critical to the agility and relevance of small and mid-size businesses.

Given application modernization’s advantages, leaders are eager to get started. Considering the potential cost, complexity and disruptiveness, leaders often wonder how they can begin this journey. By prioritizing changes and planning in phases, by considering user needs, addressing culture and technical skills and choosing technologies wisely, leaders can avoid the disruption of modernizing everything at once.

Prioritize Top Issues

Businesses should initially focus on where application modernization will deliver the greatest immediate value. The process can look different from system to system and business to business. One size does not fit all, as two examples demonstrate:

  • Company A was running a customer-facing application that looked and felt dated. While back-end components were performing at an acceptable level, the users experienced the system as stale and outdated. Leaders knew they were losing market share because of the time-worn impression the system made. They chose to begin modernizing by decoupling the system’s front end from its back end. That way, they could defer less-urgent back-end changes to focus on modernizing the user experience. The changes addressed not only appearance, but also provided more efficient approaches to frequent customer tasks.
  • Company B experienced excessive downtime and slow response with its hosting partner. They modernized by moving to a cloud provider that could deliver reliability and improve response time while leaving the user interface alone. Their front end might need attention later, but for now, users are no longer frustrated by slow and inconsistent system performance.

Leaders at Company A and Company B recognized that phased application modernization could address their most pressing problems in the near term. Meanwhile, just starting to componentize their systems positioned them to take swift advantage of future technology opportunities.

Anticipate User Needs

It might be tempting to think of application modernization solely in terms of resilient cloud-based back-ends or more scalable databases. But it also provides an opportunity to continuously reevaluate user experience. Whether or not application modernization priorities focus on the system’s front end, modernization ideally always considers user needs.

User experience suggests capturing a market segment with fonts, graphics and so on. Deeper consideration of how users experience interactions with the system focuses on supporting efficient completion of tasks. Start by understanding users’ top tasks and their issues with the current system. Make work flows more efficient and intuitive for a result that not only looks more modern but behaves like a modern application.

Consider Skills and Culture

An IT staff with resident expertise in development operations (DevOps) is already ahead in application modernization. DevOps is a software delivery approach that accelerates system development by eliminating barriers between coders and testers, IT operations and the business. DevOps is central to application modernization, because it enables continuous delivery of system changes that characterizes modernized applications.

DevOps requires a nimble mindset from business teams as well as developers since business expertise is required for user-centric design. If these qualities are not resident in the organization, businesses can team up with partners to help instill it. Engaging partners for early application modernization efforts provides the opportunity not only for knowledge transfer, but also for encouraging a new cadence for system delivery.

Skill gaps grow more apparent once leaders identify the business problems they want to address and select the technologies they will use to modernize applications. Consider whether early priorities call for UX designers, front end developers, backend system engineers, or technical architects. Then filter further according to chosen technologies.

Choose Target Technologies

Revisiting strategy frequently to keep pace with market demands is a new, nonstop mission for senior leaders. Leaders can adapt to this new reality by monitoring market shifts and considering which of them should drive change for their organizations.

Customers and users have become accustomed to systems that appear to anticipate their needs. They expect user experiences that facilitate swift accomplishment of complex tasks like buying cars, homes, and insurance. By cultivating direct access to user and customer requirements, CIOs and CTOs can grow closer to the business, learn what is needed and share what is possible. Consider which technologies support your business strategy. Application modernization is one important way to remain flexible and growing. Technology can drive transformation when it is aligned with vision.

While businesses may be getting by with current systems, leaders can apply application modernization to act on emerging customer and user preferences and technology opportunities. By taking a phased approach to application modernization, leaders rapidly address current system issues without disruption, and progress toward flexible system designs, positioning their organizations for more flexibility, innovation, relevance and growth.

To learn more about our application modernization consulting capabilities, contact us.

Greg George

Associate Director
Software Services

Jeremy Gossett

Senior Manager
Software Services

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