Among established companies, there’s hardly a CEO in existence who doesn’t know about the challenges of dealing with legacy systems. Long ago, they invested in IT infrastructures that are now showing their limitations. While they may have cut corners in the past with cost-effective workarounds, those solutions are temporary and, in the long run, accumulate to become a hopeless mess of incompatibilities and inefficiencies.

At some point, every CIO or CEO realizes that operating costs are rising simply because their IT infrastructure is outdated. And they’re seeing upstart companies, unburdened by legacy systems, spring to life and seize opportunities that once might have been a sure thing for them and for other big, established players in the game.

App modernization is knocking on the door and it’s time to answer.

So, why haven’t these companies taken action before? Why are they so slow to modernize? One obvious reason is the massive size of such a project. While every company is different, here are some of the basic challenges when embarking upon an application modernization project.

Modernization Challenge #1: Knowing When It’s Finally Time

Corporate change is notoriously slow and difficult. Throw in the fact that the dramatic changes we’re talking about are technical in nature and voila: serious inertia develops and it can take companies years to get the ball rolling.

People get used to doing things a certain way. From the way they make their coffee in the morning to the way they get their jobs done at work, habits develop and become ingrained. Jolting users out of the safe, familiar systems they’ve come to rely upon over the years has never been easy for any company, no matter how well the transformation is planned and carried out.

But when your legacy applications are preventing your workers from meeting business needs in a way that remains competitive (i.e. agile), it’s time to rip off the band-aid no matter how uncomfortable it might feel.

Plus, when your old system has trouble integrating emerging technologies, that’s another signal that it’s time to modernize. Most established companies developed their IT infrastructure at a time when there were very few, if any, mobile devices in the mix.

Modernization Challenge #2: Planning That First Step

Knowing you need to modernize is one thing. Understanding where to start is another. Your first step won’t likely be to take any action at all, but rather to assess the environment and start drawing plans. In other words, with such a massive endeavor, it’s not going to benefit your company if you charge in like a bull emerging from a pen. Be bold, but be smart, careful, and methodical with your digital transformation.

Here’s what you should be thinking about:

  • Impact. Transformation will make an impact in several different ways: users, on IT stakeholders, on your budget, and on the business itself. The more deeply you understand these impacts, the better your decision-making process will be. Start by studying the scene.
  • Size. Incremental changes can kill transformation because they allow the company to hold on to their legacy systems in bits and pieces. Your plan should make provisions for changes in every part of your company, whether they come sooner or later.
  • Risk Aversion. There are two different models you can follow to transform your IT infrastructure. The one you choose will depend on how much risk you’re willing to take. Here are two approaches to IT transformation: 
  1. Sweeping, broad changes that affect all areas of IT 
  2. Focused changes that affect only certain parts of the organization at a time

Modernization Challenge #3: Creating a Clear Plan

Now that you’ve set the stage, it’s time to start laying a foundation for your new infrastructure. Here at Making Sense, we call this the Discovery Process. It’s Part One of our Development Framework, which we follow when developing new applications for our clients.

For you, here’s what that entails:

  1. Take stock of your existing apps and decide which need to go and which can simply be upgraded
  2. Take stock of your stakeholder needs
  3. Decide what level and what type of cloud services is best
  4. Research and select a platform for your new application. It should not only accommodate your current needs but also the future needs of the app. It should also allow you to integrate it with your existing apps, provided you are keeping some of them.
  5. Keep tabs on costs… operating costs, maintenance, app failure costs, and replacement costs

The Discovery Process, as we carry it out, also involves examining user behavior and, if applicable, customer and competitor behavior. In addition, we’ll do mockups of user scenarios, study various user personas, create sitemaps, and lay out the workflow of end users… all in the name of getting to know how people will use the application that’s about to be developed.

But the planning isn’t done yet. You’ve set the stage and you’ve identified what you need as far as the platform goes. Now it’s time to start the actual planning of your new application itself. It might be easiest to begin with what you already know: what you don’t like about your current system.

For instance, if you’re dealing with a legacy system that’s experienced years of patches and workarounds, you probably see a lot of redundancy. That would be at the top of your list of things you don’t want in your new system. Try and approach the planning with the goal of simplifying things.

Modernization Challenge #4: Execute!

At this point, you’ve laid some solid groundwork. Time to start making decisions! The most important thing now is to decide if you’re going to rework your existing system, rebuild one from scratch, or purchase an application from a third-party vendor. During our Discovery Phase, our experienced team offers different options depending on the specific need. Most of the time, a combination of the existing system, a third party, and some new components are the best solution. Some companies end up doing all three or a combination.

Modernization Challenge #5: Tweaking for Success

Time to implement, train, test, tweak and deploy. Any new application is subject to small changes in order to tweak performance to as close to perfection as possible. At this stage of the game, you’re hoping to flatten the learning curve for your users while keeping hand-coded tweaks to a minimum.

One way to optimize this stage of transformation is to ensure that your stakeholders are involved at every stage. Facilitate feedback and encourage collaborative development in this last mile. We have a system that works really well for us for getting feedback and offering solutions — you can read more about it here.

Finally, once you’ve deployed, be sure to support your end users with built-in support.

Modernization Challenge #6: Ensure Ongoing Success With Agility and Scalability

If there’s one truth about change: it never stops. Even the best-built apps will need updating and they’ll need to scale with your business as well. The key to locking in success with ongoing support and maintenance is to build with clean, easy-to-maintain code. Code that’s agile will help your company be agile, too, and that’s part of why you embarked upon transformation in the first place!

At Making Sense, we’ve gone through several app modernization projects for our clients. Each client is different and has different requirements but there’s a common thread among them all: every project presents an exciting blend of UX challenges for us: keeping current users happy while improving and updating old systems. If you’d like to hear some of our stories, contact us and we’ll show you some of the results.