Legacy Application Modernization Strategy – Approaches, Challenges, Benefits & Process

Quick Summary:

Is your legacy system on the verge of being outdated? Have you been advised to modernize legacy systems but need to know how to do so or why you need to? We are here to help you understand the importance of legacy app modernization and help you pick the right legacy application modernization strategy for your project.

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No matter how you put it, legacy apps require upgrading to be viable, profitable, and efficient in today’s time. And you would have to repeat the process continuously if you want to be part of the new technological era.

Technological advancements and the pace companies adopt digital transformation or evolution have significantly sped up in the last few years. There are newer versions, frameworks, security standards, and compliances now and then.

In such situations, it has become absolutely important to have a proper application modernization strategy that can help you ensure your systems stay up-to-date and follow the latest security standards and compliances as per your industry needs. The biggest hurdle in choosing the best method to modernize legacy apps is assessing the cost-to-reward ratio and identifying the modernization effort’s purpose.

Signs that your legacy application needs modernizing

Not knowing when to modernize your legacy application is a common issue most clients face when deciding on their IT modernization strategy. To thoroughly assess whether your project needs modernizing, you can look at certain patterns or issues in your existing software that indicate a need to upgrade or rebuild your IT infrastructure. In a general sense, these are the scenarios when modernizing legacy software is an absolute requirement:

  • When your system throws frequent errors
  • When there is no scope for improvement or scalability
  • System maintenance seems impossible
  • Outdated technologies hinder integration & compatibility with modern solutions
  • Security vulnerabilities & non-compliance with industry standards have started impacting your user retention
  • Legacy app’s capabilities need to catch up to handling incoming user expectations

Legacy Modernization Challenges that hinder your Application Modernization Strategy

We have identified the ‘when to modernize legacy applications. However, you should also be aware of the many difficulties and hardships you may face during this process. Having a base understanding of these challenges can help you better prepare for the hindrances that may come your way and help you be better prepared to tackle them head-on. Here are the various challenges you might face when modernizing legacy applications:

Challenges You Might Face When Modernizing Legacy Applications

  • Lack of documentation
  • Dependency on outdated technology
  • Resistance to change
  • Data Migration and Integrity
  • Legacy Code Complexity
  • Testing and Quality Assurance

Lack of Documentation

If the documentation needs to be properly formatted or includes some important architectural explanations, it can be easier to understand the app’s dependencies and system functionality.

Dependency on Outdated Technology

If your project has an outdated module, it could be a quick fix by simply upgrading it and hoping it sits well with the other components of your project. Still, when most of the base technologies used in your software are outdated, you would need to opt for platform modernization which can be more complicated.

Resistance to Change

One of the biggest hurdles, be it the first industrial revolution or any such major technological revolution, has always been met with resistance. The same is the case when you try to modernize legacy systems.

Most employees feat the learning curve to recalibrate their skills to match modern coding standards. Alternatively, the finance team might suggest otherwise, as some modernization efforts can be costlier than building a new project from scratch. Hence, you must confidently take everyone before making such a massive decision.

Data Migration and Integrity

One of the biggest concerns that make enterprises second-think the risk-to-reward ratio of modernizing legacy apps is what if my sensitive data gets corrupted or compromised in the migration progress. Hence, you should only rush this process once if you have access to a reliable and dedicated development team that provides secure legacy application modernization services.

Legacy Code Complexity

If your enterprise app dates back more than 4-5 years, you may have a monolithic giant enterprise app with a highly complex architecture. This also means that to change one aspect of one module in your app, you would need to reload the entire codebase for it to show its effect. Such projects are generally difficult to modernize as there are a lot of code interdependencies, and code isn’t organized systematically as well.

One probable solution for modernizing monolithic software is to make use of microservices. Check out our guide on securing microservices architecture for a better understanding.

Testing and Quality Assurance

Undertaking such a huge redesign project and rigorously testing the legacy app to see if the modernization efforts are working as intended without disrupting the system’s ongoing performance can be daunting without a proper application modernization strategy.

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Roadmap to Implementing Successful App Modernization Strategy

Modernizing legacy apps can be daunting without a proper action plan or roadmap. We recommend taking the legacy system modernization approach through purpose. Find out the purpose of each module or the overall app and use the right modernization strategy for that particular aspect of your overall legacy app modernization.

Here is a simple step-by-step app modernization strategy roadmap that you can refer to when modernizing your legacy app:

Roadmap to Implementing Successful App Modernization Strategy

Analyse Legacy App Performance Challenges

  • What are the specific pain points and limitations of your legacy application?
  • How are these issues impacting the overall business operations and user experience?
  • Are there any security vulnerabilities or major performance bottlenecks that require immediate attention?

You can’t cure a disease without knowing the diagnosis. The same is the case with modernizing legacy apps. For there to be an effective app modernization solution, there needs to be a properly outlined and identified list of legacy app challenges.

Being aware of your challenges helps you deliver the message more efficiently to the offshore development center that you outsource your project or to your extended team of specialized talents if you have an existing team working with remote developers.

Prioritize Problems Systematically

  • Which problems are impacting your business the most?
  • Can you categorize the identified problems based on their urgency or severity?
  • What could be the repercussions of these problems not being addressed swiftly?

After you have stacked up a list of problems with your legacy app, you need to prioritize and filter them based on urgency and impact on your overall operations and performance efficiency. An iterative approach to legacy app modernization helps ensure your current operations are more manageable.

Create a Plan of Action with attention to Risk to Reward Ratio

  • What steps and tasks need to be undertaken to solve the identified problems?
  • What are the potential benefits of modernizing legacy apps, and what are the risks?
  • What is the overall budget needed for modernizing the legacy app?

Now that your requirements are clear create a job plan for achieving your desired results. This plan should include the specific tasks that need to be undertaken, resources you might need regarding technological expertise, experience level, and other factors, and a detailed outline of your estimated costs. Also, conduct a proper risk-to-reward study to make data-driven decisions and set up a safety margin budget for how much you will spend on the overall legacy app modernization process.

Choose the most appropriate App Modernization Approach

  • What are the current strength and weaknesses of your legacy apps?
  • How well does the chosen app modernization approach align with your business goals?
  • What can be the challenges in applying the selected app modernization strategy?

Identify and figure out which modernization approach is most ideal for your particular requirements. Choose the approach that aligns with your project goals and challenges. Generally, legacy app modernization has two broad categories – iterative and incremental updates or a complete legacy app transformation.

If your existing legacy solution has workable modules that can still be relevant or upgraded, you should go for an iterative modernization approach; if your system requires a massive overhaul and is mostly outdated, you can take the transformative approach. We will cover the different kinds of app modernization approaches and strategies later in this blog; if you want to go through them before moving forward, click here.

Set a Proper Timeline and follow Sprint-Based Modernization

  • What is your desired timeline for this project?
  • Are you aware of external factors affecting this timeline, such as regulation changes or deadlines?
  • How to break down the modernization process into manageable phases?

The legacy application modernization service provider you choose must know how to follow the agile legacy modernization process and work in scrum and sprints. These industry-approved best practices to set a timeline and deliver the project in calculated and manageable sprints allows you to get a better overview of the app modernization process with complete transparency.

Come up with a Risk Mitigation Plan

  • What are the challenges of modernization?
  • How to mitigate modernization risks or address them proactively?
  • Do you need any contingency plans to handle such unexpected outcomes?

Identify potential obstacles and uncertainties that may arise during the app modernization process. Create proper IT modernization strategies to counter such problems and ensure the project stays on track.

Establish Clearly Defined KPIs

  • What specific metrics and indicators would determine the success of modernization efforts?
  • How would you track improvement in user experience, performance, and other app modernization metrics?
  • What benchmarks can you set for seeing progress in the right direction?

KPIs, also known as Key Performance Indicators, are legacy modernization tools that help quantify the success of your modernization efforts providing a clearer framework to track all improvements and achievements. You should establish proper KPIs to easily gauge the legacy modernization performance and efficiency.

Choose the Best Modernization Expert

  • What technical skills and platform proficiency do you require to modernize your legacy app?
  • Do they have proven experience migrating legacy projects to modern technologies for a similar project?
  • What will be the roles and responsibilities of the chosen experts in your overall modernization effort?

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Last, it all comes down to choosing the right partner to modernize legacy applications per your requirements and desire. They should be able to understand your project requirements accurately, conduct an in-depth analysis of how it functions, choose the appropriate app modernization approach, and show you the possible risk-to-reward ratio of undertaking a particular approach to modernizing your legacy app. Ensure they have a team of dedicated talents with platform diversity, varied skills, and years of experience.

Comparing the Legacy System Modernization Approaches – How do you choose the best project modernization strategy?

Now let’s talk about the different approaches to modernizing legacy systems. An article by Gartner has ranked the seven different modernization approaches based on factors like ease of implementation and the impact it would have on the system and the business processes. This list ascends from the least risk to the most risk.

Legacy System Modernization Approaches

App Modernization Approaches Level of Risk Level of Impact
Encapsulate Low Low
Rehost Low Low
Replatform Low Moderate
Refactoring Moderate Moderate
Rearchitect High High
Replace Low-Moderate High

Encapsulate (low risk, low impact)

Modernization Purposes: Integration

You can encapsulate a pre-existing application via API within a new application/service. Through this, you can reuse software legacy project components and connect them to newer presentation and access layers. So, you can encapsulate legacy code in modern frameworks that help isolate the code from the overall app infrastructure. This helps improve the overall app efficiency. Also, the sensitive data points can be encapsulated in secure containers preventing unauthorized access or cyber leaks.

This method is particularly useful for businesses running on legacy software with high business value, and the codebase is in good condition. Since the changes made to the code are kept at a bare minimum, the risks associated with the modernization efforts reduce significantly too.

Rehost (low risk, low impact)

Modernization Purposes: Migration

Rehost is another legacy modernization approach that focuses on shifting the legacy app into a new environment without touching or modifying its architecture of functionalities majorly. Generally, a rehosting modernization effort means rehosting legacy apps on the cloud.

You can move to a private server, shared server, or public cloud if budget considerations don’t fit cloud migration. However, we won’t recommend shared or public cloud servers due to the security vulnerabilities it comes with.

This can also be called the mainframe modernization strategy since the software is being lifted from the mainframe and shifted to the newer platform – the cloud or hardware.

Most preferred cloud platforms for rehosting your legacy project:

Cloud Platform When to use
Amazon AWS ✦ If your hired AWS Cloud enablers properly understand its tool and services
✦ If you require a wide range of services and scalability options
✦ When you want flexibility in mixing and matching different services per your project needs
Google Cloud Platform ✦ When you want to leverage the capability of Google Analytics, Machine Learning, and AI
✦ When you want better capabilities in big data analytics, data processing, and more
✦ If you trust Google on its innovation-driven focus to always stay ahead of the curve
Microsoft Azure ✦ When your organization is heavily dependent on Microsoft Ecosystem
✦ When you need seamless integration with current and future Microsoft systems
✦ If your app is Windows-based and requires a hybrid cloud strategy

Replatform (low risk, moderate impact)

Modernization Purposes: Optimization

Replatforming is moving your application to a newer platform instead of a newer hosting service. This generally requires up-versioning the part of the codebase that needs to be shifted to the newer platform while retaining the existing app’s functionality.

Depending on your requirements, you can either re-platform certain aspects of the codebase or the entire codebase. The overall code structure remains intact, and the features and functions aren’t manipulated much.

Refactoring (moderate risk, moderate impact)

Modernization Purposes: Performance

Code refactoring is different from the other methods we have discussed so far. All we have done in the previous methods is to shift the app to a newer platform or hosting service or encapsulate it for integrating modern software with the project.

Code refactoring is focused on making changes to the app’s configuration. You can make incremental changes to the codebase to improve its quality without affecting its external behavior.

Rearchitect (moderate to high risk, high impact)

Modernization Purposes: Scalability

Now the complexity of modernizing legacy applications has increased significantly. This is important when the current architecture your project is running upon feels outdated, obsolete, or can’t keep up with the scaling requirements of your growing customer base and their expectations regarding features and functionalities. Re-architecting allows developers to adopt newer technologies and improve internal transformation.

One of the most popular rearchitecting trends these days is breaking down monoliths into microservices and micro frontends, which helps teams break down a complex project structure into workable modules and sprints.

Also Read: – Scaling Frontend Architecture – Everything to know in 2023

Replace (low to moderate risk, high impact)

Modernization Purposes: Transition

This IT modernization strategy focuses on redesigning the legacy monolithic program to ensure it follows a microservice architecture. Hence, you would replace all obsolete legacy tools, proprietary plugins with open-source solutions.

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Digital Transformation vs Digital Evolution – which is right for you?

Digital transformation is a legacy app modernization strategy where you completely reimagine, rebrand, and realign the business processes, operations, and models by utilizing modern digital technologies to enable disruptive changes in how your legacy app performs, behaves, and scales.

Digital Transformation vs Digital Evolution

Digital Evolution is when you take an incremental approach to adopting newer technologies and focus on making incremental improvements and optimizing the existing processes without making fundamental changes in the existing mainframe architecture of legacy applications.

Choosing from these application modernization strategies can be confusing; here is a quick guideline for you to make a clearer and more informed choice:

You should choose digital transformation when:

  • Your business is having difficulty keeping up with the competition due to major industrial change, which needs a complete overhaul of your legacy processes
  • You want to introduce new revenue streams, drive innovation and establish a strong competitive advantage
  • You have the needed resources, budget, and expertise for a complete overhaul

You should choose digital evolution when:

  • Your legacy app is still fairly relevant but needs minor fine-tuning for incremental improvements
  • You have limited resources/budget/time
  • Your organization is not ready to manage a complete overhaul through digital transformation

Wrapping up!

You need to know everything about modernizing legacy applications and the possible benefits and risks associated with different modernization approaches. Identify the right modernization technique for your project and leverage legacy modernization services from a trusted IT modernization agency.

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    Ronak Patel

    Ronak Patel, the CEO of Aglowid IT Solutions, is a NASSCOM member and a published writer in top tech publications like DZone and Hacker Noon. With a background as a full-stack developer, he brings a wealth of technical expertise. Ronak's marketing acumen complements his technical skills, ensuring the delivery of innovative IT solutions that excel in the market.

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