When it comes to planning the modernization of any legacy software application, you will quickly be wrapped up in what you need for the future-state app — and rightfully so. Being able to establish an entire platform with the latest technology and legacy services can be an exciting—if not complicated—undertaking. It is easy to get caught up in the new beginning for the business, and even easier to get distracted by all the detail.
It is important to remember that the steps you take at the start of these often massive initiatives require a pragmatic, holistic strategy to ensure a smooth transition. The preparatory work can go along way in saving your organization time and money – which often both swell due to lack of planning.
In our opinion, there are three things that organizations can do before carrying out the modernization of legacy applications:
- Build your requirements using end-user feedback and input
- Really know now your current state
- Establish a thorough project plan
Get User Feedback
Nobody knows your organization’s applications better than the business end-users. This is especially true if you have long-time employees who know the system so well that they have figured out their own methods for getting the most out of it. Now, this could be by creating shortcuts, by knowing what to bypass and when, or by creating their own system externally (i.e. steps to a process that produce a better result than—or at least enhance—the internal system).
To that point, business users can also be the biggest challenge when it comes to implementing the target state application. We’ve all heard a co-worker utter the phrase, “That’s not how we have always done it” at one time or another. It is natural to expect there to be some pushback from employees regarding the new system.
To counter this change management challenge, organizations should actively seek out feedback during the planning stages from the business. Find out what works, what doesn’t, what is redundant, and what is missing. They will not be shy to tell you—especially if they know that it might make their jobs easier when the new system is implemented. Those workarounds that they created for the legacy system might be a net-new capability core to the new application.
User feedback does not need to be confined to your employees, either. Talk to your clients and customers to assess what you can offer them to keep them satisfied with your product. Find out what they like and dislike about your current system through experience. Take all of the feedback from the human users to create a new application that will (hopefully) please everyone.
Really Know Your Current State
Evaluating the KTLO (keep the lights on) costs of the legacy application is a key step in developing the business case for the modernization initiative. One pitfall you obviously want to avoid is building the new system to essentially be a clone of the legacy application. Given the technological advances over the past 5–10 years, it is unlikely that your old system was efficient enough to just be duplicated.
A key word at this point is “streamline.” That is not to say that you should make operations smooth and quick at the expense of a complete process with a new application portfolio and software modernization. Instead, take the feedback you received from the business users and evaluate what worked well. Then establish that process in the new system. In the same manner, take a close look at what did not work and decide if it is a redundant area that can be left out of the new application.
There are definitely going to be processes that will need updating. There will also be capabilities of the application that didn’t even exist when your legacy system was originally established. For instance, increased regulations in data protection and privacy have become hugely relevant, and have major implications on how applications store, protect, and publish data. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) of the European Union and the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) in Canada are examples of these regulations. The United States has not recognized a federal regulation, but each of the 50 states (plus the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and U.S. Virgin Islands) have established their individual data privacy regulations that create what is essentially country-wide standards.
It is easy to see how the technology landscape has been—and will continue to be—affected by laws and regulations passed around the world. It is vital that your new application meet and excel in an increasingly regulated climate. When it is time to develop the new application, you will also want to make sure that there is room for growth and adaptation. Do not limit yourself, especially in this area, given the rapid pace of technology advancement. Capabilities can become obsolete in just a few months and having a way to provide new features and functionality without heavily impacting the core application will be key.
Establish a Thorough Project Plan
You already know that you need to plan that the decommissioning of the legacy application and the implementation of the new system creates the smoothest possible transition for both your enterprise and your customers and clients.
However, if you want everyone involved to adopt and embrace the new system with relative ease, it is vital to plan holistically, that is, taking stock of a number of granular factors. From the exact timing of announcing the update of the legacy system to your employees and clients to having contingencies in place to handle any issues that arise post-rollout and everything else in-between, it all has to be mapped out seamlessly.
One thing you will also want to consider is data migration. When will it occur? Where will the data be stored? How will you guarantee accurate transfer? A successful cut-over requires thinking about, and having answers for, a number of these difficult questions.
When it comes to an enormous transition like a legacy application modernization, the more you can anticipate and plan for, the more successful the update will be in the long run.