How to Prepare for Legacy Application Modernizations

Like an albatross, in-house applications once associated with good fortune have now become burdensome. These systems may still run business-critical processes or orchestrate data between commercial systems, but their underlying, aging technology has become a real liability. You know it’s only a matter of time before something fails, and it won’t be pretty.

You may be hearing a lot of bluster about the best way to go about modernizing legacy applications. “Refactor,” “re-platform,” “encapsulate and expose for microservices,” “lift and shift,” and “low-code rebuilds” are just a few of the buzz-phrases floating out there. At Synchrony systems, we also have our own view of how best to modernize. But the how is not always as straightforward as some try to make it seem. How to modernize depends on many factors that span well beyond source code or target technology.

So where do you begin? The following steps should not only help you prepare for legacy application modernization; they also should help you clarify the right modernization methodology to pursue.

Know What You Have: Document Your Current State

While this may sound like a no-brainer, you’d be surprised at how many companies don’t have a complete, up-to-date overview of their technology stack. Perhaps that’s because they’re busy putting out daily fires or launching new initiatives. Or maybe staff turnover put the critical, technical documentation on the back burner. Regardless of the reason(s), before starting any potential modernization initiatives, you must possess a full technical understanding of your IT portfolio and which parts of it are mission-critical to your business operations.

Three dimensions of the current state must be well understood: architecture, timeline, and capital.

Architecture: While it’s ok to not have all the answers, accurately describing what you know—and highlighting what you don’t—is important.

  • Do you have access to the source code of your in-house applications?

  • Do you understand your applications’ source platform dependency?

  • Do you understand your applications’ component architecture?

  • Do you understand your applications’ runtime architecture?

Timeline: Many in-house applications are built using licensed, 3rd-party software. Understanding the timing of the maintenance and support contracts is an important input to the modernization effort.

Capital: Capital includes the dollars used to support the in-house applications, as well as the resources and time spent maintaining them. You also need to understand what other IT projects your company is currently funding, the budget for the modernization initiatives, and when those funds will be available.

With this information, you can start to map out the priorities for your modernization.

Know Where You Want to Be: Document the Future State

Sometimes the future state has a strategic mandate from the top—become cloud-first or consolidate technologies onto a single platform. Other times, the future state evolves more organically. Regardless of the path, you need a documented roadmap of the new vision for IT. This plan is really a risk-mitigation strategy for your legacy applications. It’s only a matter of time before the old versions start to fail, their security gets breached, a 3rd-party vendor stops supporting the software, or some other business-impacting event occurs.

Like the current state, your future state plan has the same three dimensions: architecture, timeline, and capital.

Architecture: Future state technology architecture needs to be aligned with the business need, and not just be technology for technology’s sake. The tech vision must map to the business vision and support the business value of investing in modernization. Along with technology, the future state should include recommendations about the people and process changes required to operate in this new architecture.

Timeline: Modernizations can be lengthy projects with many concurrently moving parts. A strong roadmap includes critical dates such as contract renewals, end of support, and/or end of life. It includes budget cycles for funding, and it maps critical hires such as short-term contractors, modernization specialists, and/or full-time developers/IT professionals. The roadmap also should include important business dates like acquisitions, major product launches, peak selling seasons, etc. All these factors can help shape your modernization priorities and urgency.

Capital: In addition to the investment allocation for the initiative, you also need to understand the capital outlay needed for resources—internal and external—required for success.

Determine the Path Forward

Now you can perform a gap analysis of the current and future states. The timeline and available capital will be key factors—the “how”—that inform your approach to modernization.

Another factor to consider is the relative effort of modernization. For example, rewriting an application from scratch is not only time-intensive from a greenfield development standpoint, but the effort to make it operational would include retraining users, rewriting documentation, re-tooling support, etc. Many hidden costs of rip-and-replace strategies that may be overlooked during the initial scoping will later become quite burdensome.

For very small, in-house applications with minimal business impact, simple migration tools may be all you need for the modernization. For very large, in-house applications, the strategy may be more complex and consist of several approaches, including:

  • Rip and Replace: replace with an off-the-shelf alternative

  • Lift and Shift: re-platform or re-host the entire legacy workload onto a virtual cloud environment

  • Rewrite: retire and invest in ground-up greenfield development

  • Re-architect: attempt to improve in place the underlying legacy application architecture into a more modern, service-based, web architecture.

  • Migrate: using automation, migrate “as-is” to a new target platform, preserving functionality and user experience

At this stage, talking with companies that specialize in modernizations is a wise idea. With the groundwork you’ve done, modernization experts should be able to give you a proposal for moving forward, a timeline, and a cost estimate for the modernization.

Start Now

As Benjamin Franklin once said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” It’s never too early to begin the work necessary for a clear strategy to move away from your legacy applications.

At Synchrony Systems, we have over two decades of experience helping companies modernize their legacy, mission-critical applications in the most cost-effective and transparent way possible. Whether you are just starting to think about modernization or have an urgent need, we are happy to talk with you about your specific situation.