Finding the right strategy to unlock the power of app modernisation

Posted: 12 Nov 2020

Mehdi Khalili & Dario Mratovich

Head of Development | Principal Consultant

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We can't deny that business has been through a lot in 2020. Enterprise has had to move fast to adapt to change and uncertainty, and some swift changes to IT systems and infrastructure have been made just to survive.

Business does what it needs to do to make it through a crisis. But, despite some claims, rapid changes in recent weeks and months are not the equivalent to years of a well-executed app modernisation or digital transformation.

Some are going to struggle with the next phase of the journey. Modernising apps on an ad-hoc and under-planned basis and hoping for the best will cost money, time and team confidence.

Real digital transformation touches everything. It needs to be an intentional undertaking. Not just apps, but processes, organisational structure and culture. If you transform only in response to a crisis, doing just enough to stay afloat, you might not create enough resilience and buoyancy in your business to stand the next big shock. Now is the time to take a step back and plan for where your transformation process needs to go next. 

Can you answer and agree on the ‘Why?’

Transformation can be thrust upon an enterprise situationally, like it has been during 2020. The ‘Why?’ is clear. Because we had to. But now we must find better answers. Answers that align with the long-term vision for the business.

  • Do you want to increase operational efficiency?
  • Are your apps slowing your team down or stifling your innovation initiatives?
  • Are you seeking to enable technologies such as advanced analytics, IoT or AI features?
  • Is your data centre lease ending and you need to get out of it fast?
  • Do you need to make your data more readily available and accessible?
  • Are you intending to make your apps available outside the corporate network and/or on mobile devices?

These types of questions can serve as the starting points as you begin to move from where you are today toward where you need to be tomorrow.

Migration is not always modernisation

Never forget that migration is not the same as ‘modernisation’. Migration could be an important tactic during a modernisation process. Many times, it is not the end goal as it could bring about other challenges. For example, accessing a legacy app hosted on cloud infrastructure could impact your staff productivity and the cost of hosting and scaling the app could shot through the roof.

One of our education clients had some of the clearest impacts in this regard. Online apps that were not designed to deal with mass scale and legacy apps that were lifted and shifted to the cloud were costing more than ever. For some of these apps, the issues were a nasty surprise that needed to be resolved. For others, the trade-offs were clearly understood and embraced as part of the long-term journey.

App modernisation is about creating new opportunities for your organisation. Giving users improved experience and performance, enabling more rapid delivery of changes and features, connecting disparate systems, services or data to create new intelligence and capabilities for your company. But to decide how to approach modernisation, you really need to get back to the wider perspective of what your company wants to achieve in the coming years.

App modernisation

Six key strategies for modernising apps

So, what are some of the specific paths you should be exploring to find the right app modernisation strategy for your business?

  • Rehost: Also commonly referred to as migration or ‘lift and shift’, this is migrating your servers as-is to a cloud-based environment. This can be a wise short-term tactical move.
  • Replatform: One step further, you are taking the app you have and changing the design and the code to take advantage of cloud-native services. You’re changing ‘just enough’ so the app could run natively on Platform as a Service to improve performance, reduce operating costs and enable faster future iterations.
  • Rearchitect: When the existing architecture of one or more apps just don’t fit your longer-term vision, you might need to change it or consolidate multiple apps into a new one. Be careful not to get sold on the latest and greatest architectures without a clear connection to your higher-level aims.
  • Rebuild: Sometimes your legacy app is simply too costly to maintain or migrate, or the underlying technology is difficult to support. Don’t underestimate the cost to rebuild, but this can open big new opportunities to innovate.
  • Retire: Understanding your long-term vision could highlight some apps that no long suit where your business is going. In these cases, the best approach would be to retire these apps over time.
  • Replace: Instead of building a new bespoke app, replacement via Software as a Service (SaaS) can be the answer. This can save on needing the skills and staff to maintain a custom solution.

Finding the right vision

Devising the right app modernisation roadmap for your business requires a holistic approach. Knowing the vision for what your business will look like in three to five years is important. You need to think about your processes and your culture to know how your apps will support them in future.

Sometimes, though, you need to make tactical plays to deal with problems in the here and now. If business-critical apps aren’t working well, that may be the right place to start. Just remember that you don’t have to modernise every single app in your business immediately. Create a map toward your future and highlight the role that different apps play in the journey.

Organisations must ultimately think bigger picture but start small. One worthy scenario is to pick a high-value app in your business that holds the potential for some quick modernisation success. Demonstrate results through that app and build momentum toward your wider enterprise vision iteratively.

The right vision starts from that wider perspective. ‘Get it working and fix it later’ might be the way to manage a crisis, but it’s not the way to truly modernise your enterprise apps and services. Getting the focus back where it needs to be – on your long-term strategic goals – will put confidence back into your modernisation efforts.

Case study

Ambulance Victoria

Transforming the lives of critically ill patients.

Ambulance Victoria case study

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Essential Guide to App Modernisation

Everything you need to know to get started.

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Choosing the right path to app modernisation

Discover the six most common strategies for app modernisation.

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