Organizations are increasingly recognizing the importance of modernizing their consumer-facing products and improving the user experience. In the last two years, a whopping 69% of organizations have implemented or overhauled a customer-facing product or application, according to our soon-to-be-released research at Modus Create. Another 44% of organizations will be investing in the launch of new customer-facing applications or features in the coming year, up from just 20% in our research last year.
44% of organizations will be investing in the launch of new customer-facing applications or features in the coming year.
At Modus Create, we continue to see many companies’ mission-critical applications that are monolithic and hosted on-premises. Monolithic applications, also called “monoliths,” are characterized by a single code base with a combined frontend and backend where the business logic is tightly coupled. One problem with these legacy applications is they are often hosted on traditional, on-premises infrastructure, which is provisioned for peak user demand, resulting in expensive infrastructure idling for large amounts of time.
What is application modernization?
Application modernization is a process for assessing legacy applications and updating their infrastructure, architecture, and features to leverage recent technical innovations and improve the efficiency of the system. Application modernization doesn’t only improve the technology, it improves the processes in the organization.
One benefit of application modernization is that it extends the life of mission-critical applications, particularly those where retirement or replacement is not a viable option. An additional benefit of application modernization is the improvement of ancillary technologies and processes such as cloud computing, DevOps, and release management.
Why modernize applications?
Scaling legacy applications to meet customer demand is challenging and expensive. Monoliths require scaling the application as a whole. A performance bottleneck in a single area necessitates complex refactoring or the acquisition of additional infrastructure to bolster the entire system.
The tightly-coupled nature of legacy applications makes them expensive to operate. There are fewer deployable artifacts, and they are hosted on shared infrastructure. The infrastructure is procured and provisioned for peak application load; however, it is underutilized most of the time. The cost to operate the application is constant rather than fluctuating with user demand.
On the other hand, modern applications are highly cohesive, consisting of many components, each with a single responsibility. These domain-specific components are less complex, and they promote reuse throughout your organization.
Benefits of application modernization
By modernizing your applications, you are able to achieve three major improvements with the functioning of your system:
- Increased agility
- Better UX
- Cost efficiencies
Legacy application logic is immensely complex, with business logic interwoven throughout, resulting in lengthy timelines to add new capabilities and update existing features. Older technologies often limit innovation, leading to feature stagnation. Competitors with agile, modern platforms can gain a market advantage by offering capabilities that are too cost-prohibitive or technically complex for aging systems to implement. By modernizing your apps, you can gain these advantages, too.
Another benefit of modernizing your apps is an improvement in the experience for both external users (customers) and internal users (employees and other key business stakeholders). In today’s competitive marketplace, companies must offer robust and performant applications that deliver a best-in-class user experience on browsers and mobile devices. Technically savvy customers gravitate to products that have the latest technologies and capabilities. With new offerings from both startups and established competitors crowding the market space every day, you need to operate efficiently to maximize profit margins and increase market share. Attempting to achieve these goals with legacy applications presents several significant challenges.
Finally, application modernization can reduce your costs and improve your overall operating efficiency. By modernizing applications to a microservices architecture, components are smaller and loosely coupled, making them easier to deploy, test, and scale independently. A decoupled application combined with modern CI/CD pipelines focuses testing and deployment activities on solely the changed components, improving release velocity, stability, and availability.
Organizations may derive many other benefits from application modernization. These may include:
1. Improving ancillary processes
Modernization inherently requires organizations to review and improve ancillary processes surrounding the applications, such as:
- user experience
- quality assurance
- continuous integration and deployment
- disaster recovery.
Rethinking, consolidating, and streamlining these processes and toolchains enhances the benefits of modernization.
2. Talent acquisition and retention
Application modernization helps business leaders with one of their top challenges: attracting talent. 90% of product development decision-makers agree that finding and hiring the right talent/human capital is a significant challenge for their technology organization, according to our research.
Application modernization leads to the consolidation of languages, frameworks, and technologies. This empowers developers, engineers, and operators to become experts in a curated suite of technologies rather than generalists in a large collection. Staff can flex to different teams as needed to support company initiatives when projects are built on common technology stacks. It is far easier to attract new engineers to your organization with modern technologies than obsolete ones.
It is far easier to attract new engineers to your organization with modern technologies than obsolete ones.
3. Scalable and higher-quality apps
Refactoring monolithic applications into smaller, reusable components reduces application bottlenecks through targeted and independent scalability. Modular architectures also facilitate more frequent releases and higher quality by reducing component complexity and focusing testing efforts.
Modernization also leads to cloud adoption. Whether your organization is already in the cloud or is using modernization to begin your cloud journey, hosting applications in the cloud allows you to integrate cloud-provider services with less effort and greater security.
Assessing your legacy applications
Begin the process of application modernization with an assessment of your legacy apps. Document your current portfolio landscape by creating a comprehensive inventory of your applications.
With your applications enumerated, assess the cost and value of modernization of each. “Cost” and “value” may take different forms, reflecting the contextual nuance of your organization. For example, “cost” may be:
- the resource commitment to modernize
- the complexity of the modernization effort
- market share loss.
Some ways to consider “value” are:
- how critical the application is to the company’s mission
- potential operational savings
- improvements to customer experience
- improved performance or scalability
- the availability of new capabilities.
Upon completion of this assessment, you will be able to readily identify those applications that are the obvious candidates for initial modernization efforts. However, it may be more difficult to decide the fate of high-value applications, which also are high-cost.
App portfolio assessment example
In the simplified example assessment above, the SellStuff application’s low cost and high value indicate it is a good choice for a modernization pilot project at BuySellGo. On the other hand, it may be more challenging to prioritize the mission-critical BuyStuff application, having both high cost and value. BuySellGo has created custom applications for expense and project management. Since these do not differentiate the company, third-party SaaS applications can replace them.
Next, create a modernization plan and roadmap. Roadmaps allow stakeholders to visualize the timeline and resource commitments. Ensure that you allocate time for additional training to upskill staff on new languages, frameworks, or technologies.
Finally, identify a pilot project. Select an application with low complexity and risk that, once completed, demonstrates measurable benefits of modernization. Leaders often approach modernization initiatives with trepidation. A pilot project provides an opportunity to get an early win, building confidence and momentum for subsequent phases.
Approaches to application modernization
For each application, select a modernization approach:
Applications with little or no user base or which have an alternative in your portfolio are candidates for retirement. You can replace applications that do not differentiate your organization from your competitors with third-party Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) or Commercial Off-the-Shelf (COTS) applications. Modernize those mission-critical applications which represent your company brand by rehosting, replatforming, or refactoring.
Rehosting requires little or no changes to the application. Sometimes called “lift and shift,” this technique migrates application hosting to the cloud. This strategy is often used to migrate large-scale apps or to accomplish specific business goals in an expedient way.
While rehosting is the most expedient approach, it offers the fewest benefits. Additionally, the hosting costs for some rehosted applications may be greater than hosting on-premise because rehosting alone does not seek to update the application to leverage cost-saving cloud architecture.
Replatforming migrates the application to the cloud; however, limited code changes are made to leverage cloud services such as databases, messaging, load balancing, etc. Replatforming provides greater benefits than simply rehosting while allowing you to minimize the time and complexity of migration. The amount varies by the system depending upon the degree of application and hosting changes performed during modernization.
Refactoring is the process of restructuring code without changing its original functionality. To accomplish this, you make many small changes to the code without altering the code’s external behavior. By doing so, you are able to improve some of the nonfunctional properties of the code including its readability, complexity, and maintainability.
Refactoring entails significant architectural changes to the application, the technology stack, and the infrastructure. The most common example is refactoring a monolithic application to a cloud-hosted, microservices architecture. This approach requires the greatest commitment; however, it maximizes the return on investment.
In this illustration, we modernize the BuyStuff application by refactoring it from a traditional n-tier application into a collection of microservices and a modern, single-page application (SPA) user interface.
Implementation: best practices
When undergoing a major initiative like app modernization, you should always make sure to be mindful of and incorporate industry best practices. Here are some of the best practices available for app modernization:
Alignment with measurable objectives
It is essential to align your app modernization efforts with your overall business goals. Of course, this means being aware of what your business objectives actually are. Allow your KPIs to guide you. Will app modernization help you achieve your business goals and bolster these KPIs? If not, you may want to reevaluate your game plan. As you implement your modernization, make sure to periodically check against your goals and KPIs to make sure you are seeing measurable progress.
Diversify your modernization approach
You do not have to use the same modernization approach for every phase of your project. Instead, tailor each phase of your project by selecting the modernization process that makes the most sense. This has several benefits. By diversifying your approach, you can minimize the risk of disruption of your business by testing and refining your process as you go. It can also help you maximize the benefit of each phase of the app modernization.
Prepare for app modernization
Preparation is the key to success. For starters, create a roadmap and a timeline for your overall project. Use this to outline each step of the app modernization process and estimate how long each phase of the project will take. Another way to prepare appropriately is to think long-term about both your technology infrastructure as well as your personnel training. Not only should you make sure your tech stack meets your long-term business objectives and helps you improve KPIs, but you should delegate roles appropriately to your app modernization team. Make sure your team is upskilled with the training they need to complete the work well.
Implementation: Common mistakes in application modernization
The benefits of a successful modernization project are substantial. However, there are pitfalls along the way that, if not addressed, cause modernization initiatives to stall or to be abandoned altogether. These may include:
1. Ignoring the application assessment
Invest time and resources in the application assessment. The artifacts from a thoughtful assessment serve as one of the most important inputs for the modernization roadmap.
2. Starting with a large project
As excitement for modernization builds in your organization, it is tempting to start with one or more large projects. In the early stages, you will inevitably learn a tremendous amount and need to adjust your plans as new information becomes available. Begin with a small, low-complexity pilot project. Establish objectives and key results for the pilot, including things you expect to learn. Upon completion, share the win with your organization to build confidence and excitement as you embark on the next phase.
3. Not upskilling your team
Carefully consider the technology stack that will serve as the foundation of your mission-critical applications for perhaps the next decade. Create a training plan to upskill and empower your staff to become experts in your next-generation technologies.
4. Not sunsetting legacy tech
Once you have established the future technology stack, cease building applications with old or unapproved technologies. Developers are always keen to leverage the latest frameworks. Establish a review process for applications to ensure that they comply with your new standards and also a process to vet submissions for changes to your technology policies.
Create an organizational strategy for custom application development that ensures you are investing in custom applications that differentiate your organization from your competitors. Divest from applications that you can replace with third-party SaaS products. Build what makes you you. Buy everything else.
Modernize your application now
The benefits of app modernization are clear. Get ahead of the challenges of legacy technology and outpace your competitors with new capabilities. Check out how Modus Create’s Application Modernization Assessment can help you drive better business results today.
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