The Benefits of an Application Modernization Playbook

What is application modernization?  Application modernization is the transformation of legacy systems into modern software applications and a key goal of the project is to overcome the accumulated technical debt inside the legacy software so that organizations can begin to advance the modernized application with enhancements and features for their user base.

This transformation has typically involved one of the following options – refactoring, re-platforming, re-architecting, or re-hosting to the cloud.  None of these are ideal particularly when you consider that the current team must be deeply involved in the project and the same team members are also responsible for the maintenance of the existing application and support of customers and business end-users.  These types of projects are risky, time-consuming, and expensive; and they usually create a like-for-like application in terms of features without any opportunity to enhance or add new capabilities until the entire modernization project is complete.  In a recent survey conducted by Wakefield Research they indicated that almost three-quarters of respondents (74%) say a typical application modernization effort (tied to traditional options) can cost on average $1.5 million and take 16 months.  But what’s more alarming is that failure is quite common.  Some four in five (80%) survey respondents said they have experienced at least one app modernization effort failure.

As a result, legacy applications may be difficult and sometimes even seem impossible to upgrade and modernize.  When a vital enterprise application becomes challenging to maintain or upgrade, not only does it negatively affect the business and those within the organization (IT, sales, operations, etc..), but the impacts are felt by customers – and there’s a real possibility that these technology hurdles become a competitive disadvantage.

Using Aspen’s Application Modernization Playbook and our Warp Drive Development Engine™, organizations can significantly reduce the risk, time, and expense of an application modernization project.

Application Modernization Playbook

An application modernization Playbook provides organizations with not only the necessary steps to successfully achieve an app modernization project, but also insight into the risks of the project for that organization and ways to mitigate the risk.  The Aspen Application Modernization Playbook is a five-step process to ensure that the organization can realize all the benefits of a modernized application, quickly.  These steps are outlined below.

Create a Vision

The first step of the process is to define a vision for the project.  The Create a Vision portion of the Playbook should focus on the business’ needs and wants from the new modernized application. 

  • Inventory Current Application Needs.  What do you NEED from your app modernization project?  What was the original purpose of the application and what processes did it automate.  What specific issues – perhaps included in the application’s product backlog – exist that must be addressed as part of this application modernization effort?  What benefits does the application currently provide but more importantly, what benefits could it provide if the team could begin developing enhancements or new features for its user base. 
  • Capture Future Application Wants.  This leads to asking the question: What do you REALLY WANT from your app modernization project?  In this section you should include statements like “If I had a magic wand, the application would be able to ….” or “In a perfect world, the application should allow users to …”  These should be visionary statements about what the application could do if the development team was unencumbered by technical debt.

Inventory Team Capabilities

The next step is an inventory of the team’s capabilities.  Once the application is modernized, can the team start to advance or accelerate the release of new features?  Is there adequate software design expertise to move ideas from the backlog to a development sprint?  Are there developers with the appropriate technical skill set to turn the designs into new features and functionality.  Finally, is there product management capacity to ensure that the team achieves and maintains a high sprint velocity.

Following the inventory, the organization should identify the gaps in capabilities.  What capabilities and expertise are missing within the team to take advantage of the benefits of a modernized application.  Especially if the application is modernized very quickly – which is something that Aspen can accomplish.

Communication Planning

To prepare the organization not only for a new application but also increased development velocity, communication planning needs to occur with the various application stakeholder groups.  The communication plan should outline the vision of the application modernization project and what new benefits users can expect as the project develops.  Further, the plan should also help the entire organization and customer base get ready to move forward with the new application.  These can take many different forms, here are some examples:

  • A statement that the team is interested in receiving feedback on the new application.
  • A method of requesting end user feedback on bugs, enhancements, and new features.
  • Tracking usage data to provide to executive sponsors to show increased adoption over time.

Modernize the Application

Modernizing an application using Aspen’s technology and approach is significantly different from traditional app modernization approaches.  Our Warp Drive Engine™ and related services can deliver all the major components to make an old application new again including

  • Data Security and Integrity.  We work only atop your database schema.  Data Privacy is assured; Data Integrity is maintained; existing reports and system integrations remain functional, reducing scope and risk with minimal disruption.  We will also identify all potentially sensitive data fields for you based on guidance as per FERPA, CCPA, GDPR, HIPAA, PCI and PII.
  • New Application Technology Stack.  Industry-standard design patterns and source code from the database up through the UI.  We deliver a consistent, scalable, fully tested stack easy to enhance, maintain, and deploy.
  • Business Logic ETL.  Business Logic nested inside database constraints, triggers, or procedures can be relocated to the core application layer bringing about consistency, simplifying maintenance and guaranteeing messaging needs out to all API consumers.
  • APIs, Automated Tests and Code Quality Checks.  Secure REST and GraphQL APIs serve as your application gateway addressing UI and System Integration needs.  Automated Integration Tests validate the entire data access stack while Unit Tests are leveraged by SonarQube™ giving you third-party validation as to the overall quality, cybersecurity included, of the code.
  • User Interface.  You never start from scratch – you’re provided with a complete “starter” React UI leveraging your newly created secure API which can be fine-tuned by your existing team to meet your unique needs.  The Aspen Designer™ takes this a step further enabling metadata management, bespoke UI development, and workflow orchestration.
  • CI/CD Deployment Packages.  We provide you with a complete deployment package for Azure, AWS, or your own on-premises environment.  Optionally, you can choose to host with us if that’s advantageous as part of your app modernization needs.

What makes this exciting is that we can accomplish all these things in minutes, to shorten your application modernization project from months and years to days and weeks.

Measure Success

Once the application is modernized to a state that you’re ready to release, compare what’s been accomplished to the vision defined in step one.  Have the wants been addressed?  Have some of the needs been addressed as part of the modernization effort?  Continue to assess and measure the application wants and whether these goals were achieved as part of the project.  If these goals are not realized, then identify the reason and start the process over for just that application want or need.

Todd Ingersoll

With over 20 years of experience serving multiple roles inside successful enterprise software and services organizations, Todd has been expressly interested in successfully overcoming app modernization challenges.  His first-hand experience and dissatisfaction with the limitations and business impact of the traditional options of application modernization led him to create Aspen ESS.  Aspen ESS was created to give organizations rapid, reliable, scalable and extendable solutions to challenges with legacy software products and portfolios.