Application Modernization

What is application modernization, and why does it matter?

An overview of application modernization: what it is, why it matters, and how to get started.

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Rapid digitalization, legacy applications

The accelerated pace of advancing technology has challenged organizations in most industries to reevaluate their technology platforms (applications and infrastructure) and capabilities on a more regular basis than at any other point in history. Both internal and external customers expect high-quality, high-touch experiences that are faster and more connected than ever before—and organizations must keep up to remain competitive in their markets. This is true for organizations of all sizes and with varying consumer bases. From large corporations to local government agencies, digital transformation continues to make an impact.

To not just keep up, but keep ahead of the competition with these changes, organizations are looking to modernize their enterprise applications. Consider these enterprise applications in 3 categories: core IT, business process, and customer support. Core IT encompasses infrastructure specific to IT teams, so they are the most actively involved with management and oversight. Business process applications impact an organization’s internal customers, their employees, and streamline internal operations. The third category, customer support applications, is a top priority right now, as it covers the infrastructure to support and grow relationships with client bases.

In many cases, these applications are customized to meet the individual needs of the business, making them more complex and therefore more cumbersome to maintain. Especially when operating on a legacy platform with legacy data, the cost and effort needed to maintain business-critical operations are pushing organizations to optimize and streamline these workflows. But what is application modernization, and what are the long-term outcomes? Both of these questions are explored below.

What is application modernization?—Explained

Application modernization is the process of updating legacy software to better support current and future business needs. These updates could include adding new features, migrating to a newer hosting platform, updating or fixing broken code, and more. In many cases, enterprise application modernization involves re-platforming, a process by which applications are modified to function in a cloud-first environment. The goal of enterprise application modernization is to eliminate the time-consuming, rear-facing work associated with maintaining legacy technology—allowing organizations to focus more on the future and innovation.

A key feature of application modernization is that, rather than entirely replacing existing applications, modernization projects make updates to legacy systems. Focusing on updating rather than replacing allows organizations to better identify the core features that must be modernized, rather than starting from nothing. This gives project teams clearer objectives and often allows for faster turnaround times.

For example, a state Department of Transportation (DOT) was operating its oversize/overweight permitting processes on a legacy system built in 1998. The state needed to implement a solution with new functions and features to improve the end-user experience. Working alongside a CAI team, the state developed a modern version of the application using a phased approach. The first phase updated the external interface that integrated into the legacy backend, and the second phase modernized the entire legacy backend itself. In doing so, the agency saved considerable time and money while also greatly improving the experience for its end users.

While all 3 categories of applications explored above are business-critical, they are typically modernized at different times based on business priorities and strategic goals. Changes in regulations and customer expectations have made customer-related applications a top priority, so they tend to be modernized first. As security continues to be top of mind, core IT applications are looked at second to ensure compliance and keep organizations safe. This typically leaves business process applications to be modernized last, and employees often feel the impact of outdated, legacy systems on their day-to-day work. Developing a strategy to not only modernize these applications but also drive value from the modernized versions, is critical for both internal and external customer satisfaction.

Impact of enterprise application modernization

As shown in the example above, enterprise application modernization can make a big impact on a business’s bottom line. Modernizing reduces the time needed to maintain and correct cumbersome legacy systems, allowing teams to focus on the future and innovate.

Other notable benefits of modernization include:

A modernized suite of enterprise applications unlocks the potential for future innovation, delivers better user experiences, and keeps your organization secure—all while improving speed and efficiency.

Finding value in modernized applications

Once applications are modernized and migrated to the cloud, many organizations struggle to achieve a return on investment (ROI) and drive value after the conclusion of the modernization projects. In many cases, this is a personnel issue, as existing talent resources do not have the skillsets to manage newer applications. For example, an organization can upgrade to a new, cloud-based data suite, but without the proper analysts in place to report on the data in a meaningful way, there is little value in having the modernized application. While cloud-based applications allow organizations to shift focus away from constant upgrades, they must prioritize ensuring the right people are in place to work alongside the new technology.

Upskilling existing employees and augmenting application teams with individuals trained to manage the new applications is an effective strategy to address this challenge. With the right resources in place and the latest technology, organizations can more effectively drive value following their enterprise modernization projects.

Another important consideration for achieving value in the application modernization process is visibility into how applications work together as an ecosystem. The latest technology only goes so far if it operates in silos. Streamlining applications and integrating processes can help organizations move more quickly and focus on productive activities rather than being bogged down by manual, disjointed processes.

To ensure that your applications are working together and optimizing operations, consider conducting an audit of your existing IT environment and identifying areas for process improvement and consolidation. As part of this process, it is important to review your organization’s current technical debt strategy, as well as any additional deficits that may have been accumulated throughout the modernization projects. Knowing this information will help you to make actionable plans to keep all debt at a manageable level and map out an approach to pay it off in phases.

As with any large-scale enterprise project, it is important to apply organizational change management (OCM) best practices and engage stakeholders early and often. Understanding communication frequency, project update timelines, issue resolution processes, and more are essential to keeping these projects on track and ensuring they provide the most value to your organization. Having experienced program and project managers implement and enforce these practices makes the process much smoother. If this puts too much strain on internal teams, it is important to seek out a trusted partner for guidance.

Modernizing enterprise applications for the future

While the benefits of application modernization are clear, getting started and truly driving value can be cumbersome—especially considering financial constraints and teams that are already stretched thin. Before beginning any modernization project, it’s important to understand your technology environment—what is working, what isn’t, and what makes sense to modernize. Consider building an application modernization roadmap to help guide future decisions and planning. Once a roadmap is in place, plan projects in phases to keep teams on track and delays to a minimum. Taking an iterative approach rather than trying to modernize all applications and features at one time allows for continued process improvement along the way and makes it easier to identify the cause of issues that may arise. And once applications are modernized, prioritize leveraging the right talent and building an integrated suite to drive maximum value and achieve the most ROI. With these best practices in mind, your organization will be better prepared to modernize for the future in a scalable, sustainable way.

CAI has more than 40 years of digital transformation experience, working alongside the public and private sectors to modernize applications and streamline operations. We’ve partnered with enterprises of all sizes to help them drive value and realize their full potential.

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