Legacy Application Modernization – Unlocking Latent Value

Legacy IT systems were developed for - and still run - about 60% of all mission-critical applications. They are still stable and reliable. However, the maintenance on legacy applications over time has made them so complex that rather than helping to solve business problems, most legacy systems have become a challenge that enterprises are grappling with.

Recent technology advancements have created a proliferation of home-grown and packaged applications in the periphery of legacy applications. But the inherent constraints in the legacy architecture did not allow for the integration with these applications built on modern platforms. This resulted in a complex IT environment with heterogeneous platforms, complex interfaces and a bloated portfolio that is expensive to run and cannot respond to business demands. Hence, the major challenge that we need to address is how to successfully manage and redeploy legacy systems to be able to meet tomorrow's business needs.

There are more options to modernize legacy applications, thanks to the recent technology advancements - be it the development of open/distributed architectures, service-oriented architectures, or the availability of automation tools for migration. Customers can take the advantages of the technology while leveraging the investments in legacy as more than 60% of the critical business still runs on legacy applications. 

Depending the business case and appetite, you can choose from a range of modernization solutions, including the following:

  • Migrate applications (change green screens, languages, data) to extend their life
  • Transform the architecture to distributed and service-oriented platforms
  • Replace applications with commercial packages
  • Reengineer and consolidate business process and applications

It's important to understand that a typical modernization program for any complex IT portfolio may involve a combination of solutions. Depending on the current state analysis and future needs, you may chose to migrate some applications, transform a few others, replace some applications with suitable commercial packages, consolidate and standardize a few applications, retain some or retire a few applications.

Modernization programs, especially the big bang adventures, tend to be risky, costly and time-consuming. The key is to come up with a correct modernization strategy and road map for phased implementation in order to minimize risk and ensure successful program delivery.  When it comes to developing a technical solution, the first thing you may have to do is to come up with a future architecture and communication framework so you have the foundation ready. Second, fit the applications in the architecture allowing streamlining of interfaces. Third, modernize the applications based on the priority and dependency. Fourth, test and deploy the applications in phased manner.

Modernization programs without quantifiable business benefits are a difficult sell, so you need the right strategy that balances between business and IT objectives. The IT portfolio of many organizations consists mostly of legacy systems and due diligence is required while assessing the value of these legacy assets. The modernization solution should be focused more on how best to reuse your legacy assets as opposed to trying to build or buy new technology or products.

Popular Modernization Solutions

A few considerations while exploring various solution options:

  • Discovery or portfolio analysis is the most critical aspect of modernization exercise. A tool-based approach may help create view about the current state and value of your legacy assets.
  • Define upfront a target architecture and technology stack is a must. A multi-tiered architecture that allows greater flexibility and easier integration with older/newer technology/platform is recommended.
  • Determine what mix of existing, new and package components will be needed under the target architecture.
  • Focus more on reuse than replace. Tradeoff between cost and value.
  • For web enablement, application migration and SOA - review and fix any underlying architecture issues or limitations.

Typically, legacy modernization programs are executed over a 3- to 5-year timeline. Industry experience suggests that a staggered implementation approach is the best way to mitigate risk and ensure a high degree of success. The overall implementation is divided into manageable smaller phases based on business impact, and other priorities.

Legacy modernization programs tend to be very large, take lot of money and efforts and do not enjoy good success rate. Many organizations still lack proper skills and expertise to handle migration or modernization programs, which are animals of their own kind.

Innovation and efficiency are keys to success in any migration project; otherwise, the cost may not be justified.  Building a factory model with necessary automation tools for inventory analysis, program comprehension, application language conversion, data migration and testing will be very crucial. It makes sense to automate any task that you may end up repeating hundreds of times.

Frequently, there is inconsistent use of the automation tools for migration. Most organizations either use basic utilities provided by the OS/HW vendors or use ad hoc proprietary tools developed by the organizations. Finding a commercial tool that can generate useful reports, extract meaningful business rules, or generate target language that is maintainable is crucial.

Business demands dictate that IT environments serve the strategic needs of the organization while remaining cost effective. CIOs have grappled with ways to rationalize these concepts for decades, and their decisions are not getting any easier. As applications age, and as new applications hit the market, IT leaders increasingly find themselves pressed to consider ripping out the old to make way for the new.

But there are other ways to keep pace. Enterprise application modernization is an option that can save time, money and disruption of ongoing activities. By following the right processes, and using the right tools, the CIO can extend, migrate and/or improve existing applications. This not only helps the business move forward on a tactical front; it keeps the CFO from beating a path to IT's door.