Strategize and prioritize: a long-term vision for app modernization

Mar 04, 2024
  • IT

Businesses today need to keep up with rapid economic and technological changes. That’s why many of them use app and platform modernization services: by bringing their legacy systems up to speed, they eliminate obstacles, increase productivity and strengthen security. Still, modernization should not be done without a clear purpose. Here’s why having a strategic plan as part of an enterprise architecture roadmap is beneficial in the long term.

Over the years – often even decades – most companies have built very complicated custom systems and applications to support their operations. Often, this has led to a huge tangle of code that is almost impossible to support. What used to be the core of the company has turned into a cause of constant annoyance to its users, a hindrance to the company’s growth and efficiency – and a serious security threat in most cases.

Strategize: aligning modernization with business goals

Application modernization offers a way out. When done right, upgrading legacy software will boost performance, improve scalability, and significantly enhance security. But the process is not without its challenges. According to BCG, 70% of digital transformations fail due to the complexity involved in replacing legacy technology. In other words: you’d better have a clear idea of where you’re heading, what your priorities are, and what value you can expect before you embark on any modernization project. 

That’s where enterprise architecture comes in. “Every app or platform modernization process should start with an enterprise architecture study,” says Rens Bonnez, senior manager at delaware. “It’s how you ensure that the effort and investment is aligned with your business goals. Moreover, enterprise architects also keep a close eye on proper execution and whether the intended benefits in terms of performance, scalability, and competitive advantage are realized.”

App modernization vs platform modernization

Both app and platform modernization are important for digital transformation, as they help organizations to meet customer expectations, market demands, and competitive pressures. However, they are not the same:

  • App modernization is the process of improving an existing application or a part of it. It can involve rewriting code, migrating to a different platform, adopting new architectures or frameworks, or integrating new features or capabilities. The goal is to make an application more efficient, reliable, scalable, and compatible with modern standards and technologies.
  • Platform modernization is the process of upgrading or replacing the infrastructure or environment that supports an application or a set of applications. It can involve moving from on-premise to cloud, changing the operating system, database, or middleware, or adopting new tools or services. The goal is to reduce costs, increase flexibility, enhance security, or enable new functionalities or integrations.

Moreover, app and platform modernization often need to be aligned to ensure optimal results. For example, modernizing an application may require changing the platform it runs on, or vice versa. Therefore, it is essential to have a clear vision and strategy for both app and platform modernization.

Prioritize: balancing IT and business priorities

When modernizing your application(s) or platform, it can be difficult to bring business and IT perspectives into alignment. What IT sees as an urgent problem may not matter much to business, who naturally focuses on business value. So should that problem be addressed or not? The only way to answer this question is by involving both parties in the development of your digital roadmap. That, too, is the role of the enterprise architect. 

An enterprise architect also helps you to focus your modernization efforts by finding the ‘low-hanging fruit’ for fast ROI and striking the right balance between IT priorities and business goals. This helps you design a roadmap of your modernization efforts, making sure that resources are used effectively and that the process doesn’t interfere with current operations.

Build or buy?

Sometimes, however, app modernization might not be the best way forward. Rens: “In fact, before you start modernizing a legacy application, the first step will always be to check whether there is an existing package that meets your requirements. That’s always the faster and in some cases even the cheapest option.”

There’s one important caveat, however. “If the application is a core differentiator for your organization, then custom development is always the better approach. You don’t want to trust what makes your company unique to a SaaS-company. In those domains where you need to outclass the competition, a custom approach is essential.”

“Moreover, the question of whether to build or buy key applications needs to be asked again regularly throughout any modernization journey. Circumstances change, and technology continues to evolve, so you have to be brave enough to question your earlier decisions to be able to move forward.”

Beware of vendor lock-in

Most large software vendors focus on providing seamless integration between their own products and systems. And while that’s extremely convenient for users, it can also create vendor lock-in. This means that organizations are unable to switch to another vendor without substantial cost. The risks of vendor lock-in thus include lack of flexibility, high costs, and reduced bargaining power. 

To avoid vendor lock-in, many companies choose to ‘shop’ with different vendors. However, this approach can increase complexity as well. Others prefer to develop their own applications, for example with low-code solutions. 

Beyond ‘lift and shift’

For delaware’s experts, app modernization is first and foremost about thinking along with the client and prioritizing what needs to be done. “We favor a brownfield over a greenfield approach, because it allows us to improve on what already exists,” says Rens Bonnez. “This method is more difficult, but also more rewarding.”

A brownfield strategy requires clear and transparent communication with the client. “Sometimes, we need to challenge the client's assumptions and explain why,” Rens continues. “Moreover, projects like these require an important commitment from the customer. It's like a fitness subscription: just because you bought the service doesn’t mean you’re automatically getting in shape. You must be willing to put in the work.”

explore the nitty-gritty of application modernization

Start plotting your own modernization trajectory with one of our experts.

Rens Bonnez

Industry 4.0 & Supply Chain of the Future Architect

Connect with Rens on LinkedIn

Tom Vandewinckele

Senior Manager SAP & Microsoft Cloud Services

Connect with Tom on LinkedIn

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