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15 great resources for modernizing your applications

David Weldon Freelance Writer and Research Analyst

It is said that every journey begins with the first step, and in the case of application modernization, the all-important first step is knowing just where an organization wants to go on that arduous journey.

Indeed, the greatest challenge for most organizations is creating a compelling business case before any actual transformation work begins. That means answering several important questions, said David Bartoletti, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research, such as: Why modernize those applications now? Who benefits? What new opportunities does it open up?

Equally important, the organization needs to assess whether it has the skills needed, or can acquire them, to undertake a major refactoring or migration effort, Bartoletti said. It needs to weigh the benefits of possibly moving such a huge effort to the cloud. It should determine what metrics to use to best measure success. And it must conduct a full risk assessment of the migration, since those core applications are often central to the organization's most important business processes.

Here are key resources about application modernization that will help explain the process, the options available, and best practices for success.


Why enterprises are adapting their COBOL apps vs. ditching them

Modernization doesn't necessarily require throwing out what you have and starting from scratch. COBOL and the many business applications written in the language are continuing to evolve and adapt to the modern enterprise as part of modernization efforts. Here's why many shops are moving their COBOL-based systems forward, and how they're doing it.


5 ways to modernize your applications

In this TechBeacon article, Rahul Ravulur says that $1.3 trillion of the $3.5 trillion that global businesses will spend on information technology this year will go toward enterprise software and IT services. Unfortunately, much of that is just for maintaining existing enterprise applications that run the business. A smart alternative is to move applications onto a modern infrastructure, such as the cloud and containers, both of which hold promise for businesses that want to reduce IT spending and convert the savings into a competitive advantage.

From containers to microservices: Modernizing  applications

Another helpful resource from TechBeacon is advice from David Linthicum, chief cloud strategy officer at Deloitte Consulting. Linthicum explains that the path to modernizing applications is paved with containers and microservices, as well as new tooling and development processes.

The challenge for many organizations is to make the right choices about how to refactor their applications to take advantage of the best approaches and technologies. But he says this is still the best way forward, so applications can provide the best functionality possible on today's newer cloud platforms, ensure an easily distributed architecture and cloud-to-cloud portability.


Legacy Application Modernization A Complete Guide—2020 Edition 

The most important step in undertaking an application modernization effort is to ask the right questions about what an organization hopes to accomplish, says author Gerardus Blokdyk in his book Legacy Application Modernization A Complete Guide—2020 Edition. 

Some of the questions Blokdyk poses:

  • What happens if an application modernization project's scope changes?
  • What are the concrete application modernization results?
  • How do you gather application modernization requirements?
  • Is maximizing application modernization protection the same as minimizing application modernization loss? 
  • How do you verify the  application modernization requirements' quality?

The book features an in-depth application modernization self-assessment, including 938 new and updated case-based questions, organized into seven core areas of process design.

Fee: Paperback (used) $94.45, at Amazon; $76.99 for the Kindle version

Monolithic Transformation—Using DevOps, Agile, and Cloud Platforms to Execute a Digital Transformation Strategy

The title of this ebook would make you think it is strictly about digital transformation, but there is plenty of good advice here for IT professionals trying to help their organization move away from huge, clunky systems. In Monolithic Transformation—Using DevOps, Agile, and Cloud Platforms to Execute a Digital Transformation Strategy, author Michael Coté from Pivotal explores how organizations can improve business processes through cloud-native technologies and product-centric software techniques, enabling them to react to market changes much faster.

He says that putting the technology in place is the easy part. The real challenge is changing your organization's culture to take advantage of the new technology. He provides case studies from Duke Energy, Dick's Sporting Goods, the Internal Revenue Service, and Rabobank that illustrate the challenges and victories each experienced on their journey to modernization, and he examines the best and worst practices for making the change.

Fee: Free (registration required)


Surviving Digital Transformation: From Legacy Applications to New IT 

This is another book that interweaves the topic of application modernization with digital transformation strategies. In Surviving Digital Transformation: From Legacy Applications to New IT Kindle Edition, author Ernest Stambouly offers advice to decision makers in medium-size and large companies on how to evaluate their existing computing capabilities as they confront the inevitable threats and opportunities of digital transformation. Stambouly is a longtime expert, educator, and advisor about the enterprise computing evolution, migration, and, most recently, digital transformation. This book is intended to help IT managers and business executives simplify and reduce the risks of digital transformation.

Fee: Kindle version $9.99


7 Options to Modernize Legacy Systems

IT leaders love case study examples that illustrate a problem that another organization had, how they attempted to use technology to resolve it, and what the (hopefully successful) results were. That is what readers will find in "7 Options to Modernize Legacy Systems."

Contributor Susan Moore writes on the Gartner research site that the best approach to modernizing applications depends on the problem you're trying to solve. Moore gives the example of a bank with some of its mainframe applications built in a COBOL/CICS environment and facing a skills shortage for applications.

The bank's management team decided to move off the mainframe to an environment with more people available to support it. The bank then faced a range of different modernization options—rehost, replatform, or rebuild.

All have different purposes, effects, values, costs, risks and impacts. But which one is right? Moore proceeds to describe the process the bank went through to evaluate all modernization options and weigh the benefits of each against the risks.

Fee: Free

Applying agile to the modernizing of federal systems

An excellent resource for government technology teams pondering or beginning an application modernization effort is Agile Government Leadership, an organization that produced a guide called "Applying agile to the modernizing of legacy federal systems.

While the discussion here focuses on federal government computer systems, of which many are inarguably in need of modernization, much of the advice is transferable to almost any industry. The authors advise that the best way to tackle an application modernization effort is to break the work into chunks and then finance the effort using an agile share-in-savings model.

Fee: None for article; $120/year association fee

A Legacy Application Meta-Model for Modernization

To help its members with application modernization efforts, the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) has published "A Legacy Application Meta-Model for Modernization," by Khadija Sabiri and Faouzia Benabbou. This article looks at the advantages that cloud computing can bring to a modernization effort.

The authors say that a cloud environment can provide rapid elasticity, reduced operational costs, no up-front investment, and resource pooling, to name a few advantages. But there are several steps that must be taken at the outset.

The first one involves "a full understanding of the legacy application architectural model." The second requires choosing, in an efficient way, the most suitable cloud services responding to users' needs. Finally, each cloud service adopted must support a transformation of the legacy application to a cloud environment. These concerns motivate the need for legacy application meta-model, and the authors describe the elements and the process for creating such a model.

Fee: ACM members can access articles for free, depending on their membership level; non-members can request access at dl-team@hq.acm.org. ACM membership costs $100/year and up.

Digital States at Risk? Modernizing Legacy Systems

Anyone who has worked in state government IT is no doubt familiar with the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO), the association composed of CIOs from state government. NASCIO offers a number of resources targeted to its members, but many are equally valuable to IT leaders in the private sector.

One example is the association's Survey of States, "Digital States at Risk? Modernizing Legacy Systems." This 40-page report looks at the efforts of, and needs of, state governments to get their systems house in order and modernize hardware and core software.

The study first defines what is meant by a "legacy system" and then looks at trends in state IT core system modernization. Topics covered include general questions about what a modernization effort should look like, how a state should fund the effort, CIO perspectives from those in the trenches of modernization, staffing for such an effort, and security and enterprise risk issues that may arise.

Fee: Report is free; the NASCIO mailing list sign-up requires registration.

Research reports

Legacy modernization: A digital transformation

There is no one-size-fits-all strategy for successful application modernization, according to research firm Deloitte. The right choice depends on an organization's strategic priorities. While some opt for a "rip and replace" methodology, others may choose to customize a commercial off-the-shelf tool.

But in Deloitte's report "Legacy modernization: A digital transformation," the research firm recommends a fully automated migration. A more efficient option for achieving modernization is fully automated migration, which uses refactoring technology to convert legacy code and data to modern platforms. It also allows organizations to incrementally tackle digital modernization without interrupting business operations, the firm says.

In addition, Deloitte says, fully automated digital migration allows organizations to pursue modernization at their own pace. Refactoring an application can deliver "quick wins" by reducing potential risks and improving IT efficiencies.

Fee: Free (downloadable PDF)

Modernize Core Applications with Cloud—How to Clear Three Big Hurdles Blocking Your Most Important Work Over the Next Decade

Most core software systems are too inflexible, outdated, and chaotic to give businesses the flexibility they need to win, serve, and retain customers, according to Forrester Research authors John R. Rymer and Dave Bartoletti (along with Christopher Mines, Jenny Thai, and Abigail Livingston). Their report, "Modernize Core Applications with Cloud—How to Clear Three Big Hurdles Blocking Your Most Important Work Over the Next Decade," advises organizations how to plan and launch core app-modernization via cloud services.

Application development and delivery leaders want to modernize these apps using cloud technologies and practices, but they're often stymied by the difficulty of the task and unable to even start the journey, the report says. This should get you started.

Fee: Free to Forrester clients, otherwise, $745 


Four Ways to Modernize Your Core Business Applications

If your core on-premises applications prevent you from delivering excellent, innovative digital operations, then you probably need to replace them with modern, smart, adaptive software such as the new breed of applications that Forrester Research calls the digital operations platform (DOP).

However, ERP replacement, for one, can be long, expensive, risky, and distracting, and many CIOs have more urgent priorities right now. "Four Ways to Modernize Your Core Business Applications" cuts through the hype about digital transformation and explains why evolution may be a more practical path.

It also suggests four practical ways to improve your core business applications in the short term while you map out your longer-term road map to a modern DOP.

How to Modernize Legacy Applications

Many webinars have a vendor sponsor behind them, and that is the case with "How to Modernize Legacy Applications." But there is still plenty of good general information here. The webinar is hosted by James Falkner, technical marketing manager at Red Hat. He discusses development and maintenance using microservices architecture, containerized infrastructure, and DevOps principles.

After-the-fact attendees can learn how to modernize an existing core application to a modern platform like WildFly Swarm on Red Hat OpenShift Container Platform, using up-to-date development processes.

The Next 'Big Thing' in Application Modernization—Understanding Container Platforms and the Puzzle of Application Modernization

This webinar, presented by ActualTech Media, features Bob Laliberte from the Enterprise Strategy Group; Tom Phelan from the Office of the CTO, Hybrid IT, at Hewlett Packard Enterprise; and host David Davis, partner and expert at ActualTech Media.

In "The Next 'Big Thing' in Application Modernization—Understanding Container Platforms and the Puzzle of Application Modernization," Laliberte and Phelan explain why many organizations are switching to container platforms to manage and run their applications, both modern and established, both on premises and in the cloud.

They offer advice on how to select a container platform and accelerate the journey to application modernization. They also provide insights on the difference between cloud-native and non-cloud-native architected applications, and why it matters, and discuss the features and functions that are essential to any container platform used for the successful deployment of applications.

Modernize Your Legacy Applications to Accelerate Your Digital Transformation

It is often hard to discuss application modernization without discussing digital transformation in the same sentence, as was done in this webinar—"Modernize Your Legacy Applications to Accelerate Your Digital Transformation"—sponsored by ISG and AveriSource.

Among the questions that the webinar explores:

  •  Do you have digital transformation plans that will impact your core applications?
  • Are your goals challenged by application complexity?
  • Is your staff aware of how existing apps are aligned with your current and future business needs?

Attendees after that the fact can learn why application modernization is a critical part of digital transformation, about the importance of business rules extraction for application modernization, about the role of service providers, and how application migration aligned with business priorities can help reduce risk.

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