Application Modernization: Common Challenges & Navigating Around Them

The benefits of application modernization are difficult to ignore – easily-extensible new functionality, increased market competitiveness, improved security, cost reductions, and more.

We’ve covered them in more detail in an earlier blog post.

However, while application modernization can be extremely beneficial for SMBs, it’s important to note that some challenges are also associated with this process.

Application Modernization Challenges

1. Determining Where to Start

One of the most common challenges with application modernization is deciding where to start. Some businesses have so many outdated systems and legacy apps in play that they aren’t sure how to prioritize their technology needs.

We recommend a breadth-first approach to identify and document your existing systems into a backlog of modernization tasks. Next, identify the business need for each task and use a simplistic scale such as T-Shirt sizing. Apply the same scale to estimate the level of development effort necessary for each modernization task. Weigh the combination of “development effort” vs. “business value” to determine a priority order for the execution of your modernization tasks. Consider these situations when sizing your business value assessment for each modernization task:

Modernization for Growth Opportunity

For example, you can identify where your business has the most growth potential and focus on the application feature(s) that will take you from Point A to Point B. If you know you can grow 15% next year if an app has more modern feature(s), starting with the feature(s) that allows your application to extend to this growth potential is a great way to prove the power of modernization and pave the way for more initiatives in the future.

Modernization for Better Usability

Or, you can focus on the applications your employees and/or end users (usually customers) dread the most. If you’re struggling with customer retention due to an unusable system or if team productivity is lagging due to slow and buggy internal software, those are good places to make a significant impact immediately. Though usability improvements don’t often have a direct relationship to revenue, end-user confidence in the platform is key for retention

Modernization for IT Sustainability

Don’t forget about the important factor of internal resources. Does your business have only one person who knows how to wrangle a critical system? Maybe you have two people, but they certainly can’t go on vacation at the same time in case disaster strikes.

We’ve worked with many clients like this; they choose to modernize their systems to ensure more team members can access, troubleshoot, and update them. They don’t want to fear IT churn or the retirement of senior employees.

These are only a couple of examples. Your company’s goals will determine the right starting point.

2. Untangling the Monolith

Many businesses’ legacy applications have gotten so messy that it’s easier to ignore the problem. The application you’ve chosen for modernization may badly need a critical facelift. It may be riddled with technical debt. But the thought of untangling it from your far-ranging IT systems, business processes, third-party apps, hardware, and other technical resources may also feel too overwhelming to tackle.

Your company’s technical environment is probably made up of dozens of platforms and technologies, and extracting and updating a critical system without causing damage to others may seem impossible. We promise it’s not! You just need to prioritize planning and work with a partner who has a wide technical knowledge base. Application modernization is the first step to a stronger IT portfolio.

3. Choosing the Right Application Modernization Method

Another common challenge is deciding how to modernize the application. There are many ways to modernize an application.

You can rewrite the entire application, either on-premise or in the cloud. Rewriting the entire application can be very time-consuming and expensive but will yield the most extensible solution.

You can refactor the code to improve operations and performance without altering underlying functionality. While refactoring the code can be less time-consuming and, therefore, less expensive. It can also be difficult for new developers unfamiliar with the codebase and architectural decisions of the original developers to modify. And, in the end, you don’t have new features to enjoy; you have the old functionality, just faster or easier to use.

If you’re planning on leveraging cloud services, you have a suite of migration methods to consider – lift and shift, complete rebuild in the cloud, hybrid hosting strategy, etc.

A knowledgeable IT team member and/or a good development partner can walk you through the merits and costs of each. We recommend documenting a mini plan for each method to understand their differences.

4. Keeping Your Data Secure During the Modernization Process

Once an application is updated, data is often much more secure. However, the transition process does create weaknesses, as data is moved back and forth. If you have sensitive customer information or financial data that needs to adhere to federal compliance, one slip-up could spell disaster for your company.

Fortunately, you can mitigate these security holes with a strategy and/or partner that prioritizes security with encryption, permission-based development roles, and more.

Overcoming Application Modernization Challenges

The good news is that all these challenges are surmountable. But doing so comes down to the technical resources you use in application modernization.

Internal Development and IT Teams

Many companies have strong IT and software development teams, usually with critical knowledge of the application in need of modernization. You may already have the talent you need to undergo this project.

Consider, however, if they have the time to tackle a project of this size. How will this affect their other work? Will they be able to make time for this in their schedules, or will this turn into a multi-year project as they squeeze into a free hour here or there?

Also, consider their ability to remain objective throughout this process. They will probably be reluctant to point out their weaknesses. They may not have the platform knowledge your application modernization will need, but they may struggle with admitting needing outside help.

If you decide to move forward with an internal team, we recommend building a strong project roadmap before getting started. Then give the team permission to prioritize this project and demonstrate a willingness to contract help in challenging areas.

Finding the Right Partner

For those wanting to get the modernization process handled efficiently and quickly, outsourcing the entire process to a technical expert is a good move.

Many companies struggle to find the right partner in this business endeavor. A good partner has experience with various platforms and leverages strategic consulting to lay a solid framework before getting started.

Further, some companies may want to work with a development firm with even more specific experience, like industry know-how or SMB-level application modernization experience.

We recommend you take the partner research phase seriously, as these projects can span months. Choose a firm you feel comfortable with and prioritize responsiveness and technical knowledge. A team with nothing to hide will be open about its process and should understand your business goals and objectives.

We also strongly recommend working with a team experienced in building cloud-based applications. According to Gartner, by 2025, cloud-native platforms will be the foundation for more than 95% of new digital initiatives. In the 2021 study, less than 40% of all initiatives were expected to be cloud-based. This shift is happening in a big way and is happening fast. By positioning your modernized system in the cloud, you set your business up for success in the future. Our team might be a great fit if you’re looking for a partner for your project. Contact us to speak with a consultant today.

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