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App modernization FAQ: Keeping your app portfolio competitive

Keeping your app portfolio up to date is a continuous process. Here are some FAQs on modernization to help you along the way.

Application modernization is not just a matter of saving money by updating or retiring legacy apps that sap resources. It is an ongoing business initiative that demands organization-wide participation. When approached strategically, the investment will result in a leaner, healthier app portfolio that enhances the business rather than weighing it down.

Be sure to approach your project with a strategy -- not to mention tools and services -- that fits your organization. To help you along the way, here are some answers to frequently asked questions about application modernization.

App portfolio assessments must be ongoing in order to be effective.

What's driving application modernization?

The original catalyst for modernization was resource-draining legacy applications. While cost concerns are still a powerful motivator, businesses are also turning to modernization in order to stay competitive. Newer technologies -- cloud, mobile, social -- offer an advantage for companies that can integrate them into their business strategies.

What should I consider before launching an app modernization project?

One of the first steps before app modernization is collecting user feedback. Users offer unique insight into the operational quality of a system. In fact, loyal users are likely to know more than IT staff, which inevitably turns over.

Project managers should also ask probing questions about which apps to modernize and why. How will the value of the app increase? Will it be worth the investment? What are the risks? Are there certain apps that will be more valuable than others if modernized? It is also important, when making cost assessments, to consider the total cost of ownership, or TCO, model. In other words, determine both the direct and indirect costs and profits throughout an application's lifecycle. After all, an app is not a onetime investment. It requires constant upkeep.

Developers are also encouraged to assess the quality of the code. Parts of the code may not be used. Other parts might be redundant. It could even be beneficial to turn to an outside provider to help streamline this process.

What can I expect from my app portfolio assessment?

App portfolio assessments must be ongoing in order to be effective. This project can be separated into two different types: internal IT department assessments, which involve retiring redundant software tools, and business-facing applications, which assess the applications within a group. There is also a newer type of assessment called capability based assessment. This simply means that architects organize applications by purpose instead of business unit. In so doing, they know which types to prioritize when it comes to boosting business operations.

No matter the type, the assessment has the same basic phases: inventory, evaluation and transformation. The first involves data collection and analysis. The result of this phase is a central repository for the data. During the evaluation phase, the current app portfolio is scrutinized for apps that can be retired and those that can be modernized. The objective of the final phase is to predict the impact of any subsequent changes made to the portfolio.

If I need outside help, how do I go about selecting a vendor?

When it comes to picking a vendor, an enterprise should think about who might best fit their own needs. This is particularly important if an application modernization project is part of a greater business initiative. For example, if a business wants to adapt to an evolving industry, it would make sense to choose a vendor that has experience with the industry in question.

Are there certain tools I should use to boost efficiency?

The first consideration should be which tool best fits your current company's situation, as well as the direction it would like to move in. A common mistake is to pounce on the latest trendy product without considering its compatibility with the greater business initiative. That said, there are many tools out there that could help boost efficiency along the way. Migration tools can be useful. There is also screen scraper technology, which probably won't evolve any further but is still widely used. Holistic business analysis and transformation tool suites offer a holistic perspective on an entire system and can then parse and load the system.

Is migration to the cloud the best way to modernize applications?

While the hype would have you believe otherwise, the cloud is not always the best course of action for every application. Not only do you need to assess what apps can and cannot be moved to the cloud, but you also need to take into account the interdependency of certain applications. Migrating one app that has business or IT logic tied to another that stayed behind could lead to complications.

The main concern, when it comes to cloud migration, is in making sure that the modernization project is backed by a business strategy. Ask what the architectural issues are -- where there's redundancy, inconsistency, not enough automation -- and if the solution to these issues would be enhanced by the cloud, then you have a reliable indicator.

This was last published in December 2013

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