Modernizing Your Applications - Beyond SOA

In today's economic climate, application modernization has an even greater significance and return on investment potential for global organizations than has been seen over the past few decades. While most business drivers for application modernization are well known and change little from year to year, some newer drivers are emerging, and certain older drivers are growing in urgency-all increasing the impetus for change.

Drivers for Application Modernization

For the CIO and application portfolio manager, the key issues are cost reduction and risk management, dealing with the legacy skills crisis, and improving time-to-market and flexibility to respond to competitive and regulatory changes. For end users, the key issues are gaining greater functionality and greater access to enterprise applications in order to support their key business processes.

Cost Pressures - Growth in enterprise application portfolios, in terms of the number of applications under management, has led to increased maintenance costs and correspondingly less money available from the IT budget for innovation.  In terms of innovation, the Unisys Modernization Benchmark found that 72% of companies have moderate, evolving, or no ability to support innovation. The resulting less money for innovation comes at a time when CIOs are being pressed to spend more on innovation to support the business.

Delayed Time-to-Market - For CIOs, legacy applications present an inflexible paradigm for application development and deployment. This raises costs and delays time-to-market to respond to changes in business application functionality necessitated by competitive and regulatory changes.

Loss of Skills - With baby boomers retiring, CIOs face an impending loss of business application knowledge and future issues in understanding and maintaining their legacy applications. Over the next ten years, this group will exit the workforce, leaving critical gaps in legacy development skills and a critical loss of knowledge capital pertaining to IT applications and the codified business logic these applications contain.

Unrealized Business Benefits - Within the past 24 months, the wave of front-end innovations in the consumer marketplace, coupled with the explosive growth of social software, has made legacy applications increasingly mismatched to today's expectations for application platforms, functionality and accessibility. Unmodified legacy applications typically present end users with limited application functionality and accessibility. When compared to new trends, such as the proliferation of low-cost devices (e.g., smartphones), the growth of social software platforms, and the growth in mobile and context-aware applications, legacy applications are becoming increasingly outdated.

These are the challenges for CIOs and application portfolio managers need to address when considering their application modernization strategies and roadmaps.

Modernization Beyond SOA - Technology Enablers

While business drivers dictate the strategy and specific approach for modernization, there are several technology enablers, beyond SOA, that enterprises can address strategically as they assess their application portfolios. These technical enablers can be leveraged to improve efficiency and effectiveness and to better support the technical and functional needs of end users.

Traditional "Gen 1" Application Modernization Enablers - Historically, some of the technology enablers for application modernization have included web enablement tools, service-oriented architectures, business process management tools, open source technologies, and wireless and mobility extensions, to name just a few. Each of these enablers has brought tangible business benefits to application modernization initiatives in addition to its technical benefits for IT.

Emerging "Gen 2" Application Modernization Enablers - New, up-and-coming technology enablers now include areas such as social computing, next-generation mobile computing, cloud computing, and software-as-a-service. Some potential uses of these enablers from an enterprise application perspective include:

  • Social computing-enterprise collaboration utilizing internal social computing platforms for transactional business processes, so that employees, such as social workers, can collaborate more effectively with one another in order to resolve and expedite critical business process transactions
  • Next-generation mobile computing-extending applications to smartphones, such as the iPhone, so that end users have access to a richer user interface, context-aware functionality and superior web browser capabilities when compared to prior-generation wireless devices
  • Software-as-a-service-reducing IT costs and speeding time-to-market with new software acquisition and delivery models, so that certain classes of enterprise applications, such as e-mail, can be procured on a more simplified, pay-per-use model with no installation or maintenance fees
  • Cloud computing-reducing IT costs by moving and outsourcing applications to the cloud, so that more of the IT stack can be virtualized and resources scaled up and down according to demand, in order to provide improved IT efficiencies

Tackling the Skills Shortage

Because the risks of wholesale "rip and replace" projects are too great, it is imperative to identify ways to deal with the reality that baby boomers are retiring and taking with them critical knowledge and skills across key applications. Some of the potential options include:

  • Application outsourcing: This is not a new concept, but it is an effective way many organizations have been able to reduce costs while at the same time shift the burden of maintenance to a third party.
  • Software connectors: More and more integration tools are becoming available that allow integration of industry standard programming tools with an organization's aging applications.
  • Knowledge transfer techniques: There are ways to transfer knowledge from baby boomers to the younger Gen Y population, but they are not without their challenges. These challenges, however, pale in comparison to the challenges of risky replacement strategies, so knowledge transfer is worth the investment.

Today's Modernization Enablers for Today's Business Challenges

In summary, enterprises can now employ the concept of modernization beyond SOA to take a leap forward and address the newer business issues with today's next generation of devices, technologies and platforms.

Today, a modernization strategy should no longer be just about a SOA roadmap or a Web-enablement approach, but about how to take advantage of the combination of these "Gen 1" and "Gen 2" enablers in a tailored fashion to best meet the needs of the enterprise.

Unisys has over 30 years' experience in modernizing applications and provides a range of services and tools to assess, design and deliver real business benefits.  Coupled with its innovative approach to incorporating Gen-2 modernization tools and approaches, such as the recent announcement of the iPhone integration with ClearPath, Unisys can deliver modernization projects efficiently and at low risk.