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Application modernization: a journey to the cloud
23 February 2022
by Jean-Paul Lizotte

Becoming better, means evolving. Application modernization is survival!

It should be clear at this point that innovating is one step ahead of simply surviving. Evolution is no longer enough. It means continuing to exist and not enjoying the benefits of being ahead of the pack, instead of somewhere in the middle or even all the way in the back. Application modernization is just a step towards innovation.

So how do get back in front? It starts with looking at what we can salvage. To be clear, salvage is not just a matter of collecting raw material, but really to take your applicative assets and to “force mutate” them into a better product or service. However, it is very hard to push an app or a service to be the best it could be, with innovation, when it carries a bagage of legacy tech, necessarily holding it back.

Some careful decisions must be made in order to get it done, but also to decide what pieces of your ecosystem should be modernized. The business aspect is usually the riskiest area to embark on. Usually when the proper areas of our business are targeted, the technologies behind, become easier to identify and then work with. So here are six steps to properly evaluate if and how you should, and what you should look at, as path your application modernization, like we would.

Find out why you should doing it.

Business, users and technological stakeholders both will want to see how they are going to come out of this journey with better value. Sometimes it’s lower maintenance cost, a better focus on the company’s core business and less on “I.T.” expenses. For sure delivering a better customer experience, but also determining what process can benefit from newer features and functionality. That’s what application modernisation means. Tech is much easier to “solve”. It’s much more rational than the subtleties of what makes you good at what YOU do. So focus on why this makes sense for you. For the rest, people like us can help.

Determine how you are going to measure success.

Not only this step will help you identify what to prioritize, but it will also allow you to manage expectations. An additional bonus it that, for future innovation on the same product or service, you will have established a benchmark or at the very least a measuring system to better objectively measure outcomes of changes in the said service or app.  Measuring how close you are to a target helps you define your target in a sense. A mentor of mine used to say: “It’s common not to know with surgical precision where you expect things to be, but it’s easy to know how far off you can allow yourself to be.”. So a measuring expectations and success are great tools to guide you towards your goals and defining them. It’s now a way of life for us.

Do a cost benefit analysis

I’m almost ashamed to have to say this. But some businesses just want to be ahead “at all cost”. In my view this is nonsense. There are many positions where be the close runner up makes better sense that being the first. And in application modernisation, making changes just to garner interest, certainly doesn’t make much sense. So with the best value, always in mind, try targeting what makes the best value sense. It is often deceptively difficult as well to identify the benefits and costs of the items you should be looking at, we get this all the time from our customers. So be aware.

 

Application modernization: a journey to the cloud in 6 steps

 

Look at your technical stack and garner your capabilities.

This one is a bit more straight forward. Innovating on something that’s promising and exciting (hot tech) sure is tempting. But it is at the risk of becoming Byzantine and/or difficult to maintain or even finding help to continue to improve, is very important to keep in focus. Longevity of tech and the ability/pace to mutate it also becomes paramount. We had a client recently whom had a case where a supplier decided to make a complete applicative stack/framework obsolete. And we’re not talking about something in the fringe, a big player in the software industry.

Millions of dollars invested in a business critical app, called to die in less than a year. Fortunately, these suppliers are becoming easier and easier to work around. We are beginning to see  more “mainstream” technologies and frameworks that will be supportable in the long term. The promise of a better maintenance and evolution capabilities offered by cloud adoption, for instance. So make sure you have visibility on who and how you are going to maintain your tech in the future, before you attack a modernization project. Are your processes up to snuff? Will you be able to properly modernize them too? Are “DevOps ways” something you can adopt to release and perform better? Have those answers ready because they will come in handy…soon.

I for one can’t wait to hand in the project to this customer where I will be able to say that, aside a bona-fide apocalypse, they can be confident that it’s maintainable and can evolve at their own pace. We should all expect this at the scale of our mission critical business investments.

Avoid too big “paradigm shifts”

This could be argued as being a relative of the previous point. But here we want to make sure we keep a handle on business and technological competences and structures. For instance if you want to implement DevOps/DevSecOps practices, make sure there is a alignment with Biz/Tech on whom is going to handle this new way of working. You may find that there is a bit of reorganizing to do. But since this is something that can be done in baby steps this is something that can make sense. It is manageable. On the other end of the scale, adoption of a radical hacker/dev approach to your current value delivery chain may seriously derail you and keep you from achieving your application modernization goals.  Tempering the excitement that comes with improving is always a challenge. See, I told you it would be handy.

Model a project timeline and a business case

The closer you get to breaking up your application modernisation into bite sized chunks, the more you will find that you are apt to realize it’s potential. It also becomes easier to rationalize the cost and therefore the actual benefits.

Every time we took on a new step it served to look for a new way we are going to gain ground. Here, we want to examine the investments more than on the short term gains or “savings”. Businesses usually benefit from a lot of incentives, from either private suppliers or even the government tax breaks, for making commitments to continual. It should already make it obvious that investing in the future is in important.  See how you are going to incorporate in your business the idea that amortization of assets isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Infrastructure maintenance costs vs Cloud adoption

We used to buy rack and rack of servers to host our applications, just to become overwhelmed with how everything around our apps evolved quicker than our tech. It’s not enough anymore. New operating systems, security patches and frameworks are quick to consume our legacy platforms. In a way that makes it unreasonable to expect that we can “host” all of our apps ourselves and therefore spread out the cost of tech, in time. In application modernization it will serve you to think about how saving money every month doesn’t exactly help you make more every month.

The split between both and how you plan to bridge it, is probably your best approach to ensure continuity in the application modernization space. Planning a good scope and a good investment scheme are excellent assets to achieve your goals. Hate to say it again, the plan which includes Agile, DevOps are going to be allies so that you mitigate delivery risks and high value in the projects.

Conclusion

It can be daunting to tackle a project that is essentially, by it’s nature, a bit behind. Modernizing is simply a step in the direction of innovating. It is enabling it. Not everything we have in our application stack, is worthy of it and there is certainly an order in which is serves us best to proceed. So it is our opinion, that you are the expert at doing your business and also in a position to start to identify what needs to improve in your application/services space. You should be able to leverage resources that are reliable, like good supplier partnerships and tech stack that is no more harder to maintain that it needs to be. Planning a way forward is certainly wise and hopefully we’ve given you some good pointers that can make sense for you.

But lastly, if we may, before you start your journey, toward the bleeding edge of being the best you can be in your application improvement journey, consider that it may also be wise to get a safety net, to get started. And our resources are at your disposal, for precisely that purpose.

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