In the modern age, staying competitive means staying up to date. As a result, application modernization emerges as a crucial strategy for businesses aiming to meet modern demands and stand out in the market. This transition addresses technical debt and aligns older applications with current and future business needs. 

In this article, GEM Corporation’s experts disclosed insights into how application modernization is currently defined, its importance, and what makes a successful modernization project – all of which has been drawn from the team’s year-long partnership with a renowned global client. 

application modernization is a pivotal initiative to help businesses stay competitive and relevant

Defining application modernization 

IBM defines it as the process of updating the platform infrastructure, internal architecture, and features of existing legacy applications. The current discourse on application modernization concentrates on monolithic, on-premises applications—often developed and managed through traditional waterfall methodologies—and explores how these can be transitioned into cloud-based architectures and release frameworks, specifically microservices and DevOps. 

Challenges of legacy systems – and why they need modernizing 

Legacy systems are fundamental to the operations of many organizations. They are especially important for:

  • Maintaining historical business operations 
  • Safeguarding important data 
  • Ensuring continuous business activities 
  • Offering customers a familiar experience. 

However, despite their benefits, these systems also have significant drawbacks that hinder the organization’s ability to adapt to new standards and preferences – which necessitate application modernization.

Outdated and inflexible architecture 

Many older systems were often designed without consideration for future scalability or integration. Meanwhile, these two features are crucial in today’s rapidly evolving technological landscape.  

This architectural rigidity makes it challenging for legacy apps and systems to adapt to new workflows, integrate with modern software, or expand capacities in response to growing organizational demands. Therefore, business agility and growth are adversely affected. 

Security and reliability issues 

Outdated applications tend to have significant vulnerabilities in terms of security and operational reliability. As technologies age, they often miss crucial updates that address security flaws and enhance system stability. Therefore, they become susceptible to more and more cyber threats and security risks.  

In addition, legacy systems lack necessary updates and patches, which leads to instability and compatibility issues with newer technologies. 

Outmoded user interface and experience 

Legacy systems commonly provide a user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) that do not align with contemporary user expectations and modern standards. This inadequacy results from outdated design principles and significantly impacts user satisfaction and efficiency. Without proper application modernization, this issue may drive away users.  

Potentially high maintenance costs 

Maintaining older technology is a costly burden because these systems break down more often. Additionally, they become less efficient over time, which necessitates increased maintenance and support. This constant drain on resources diverts funds away from innovation and cost-effective modern solutions. Without timely and effective application modernization, organizations may miss out on the efficiency and potential savings that newer technologies could provide. 

The benefits of a modernization initiative 

Application modernization offers the following compelling benefits:

Enhanced agility 

By updating outdated systems, organizations can respond more rapidly to market changes and customer demands. This is because the integration of agile methodologies and contemporary IT frameworks supports faster development cycles and quicker deployment of new features. 

Increased scalability 

By leveraging cloud technologies, adopting microservices architectures, and utilizing containerization like Docker and Kubernetes, application modernization allows for dynamic scaling of resources. This scalability is crucial for handling growth and fluctuations in user activity without the need for significant additional investments, as each component of an application can be scaled independently. 

Reduced operating costs 

Application modernization minimizes the need for physical hardware maintenance and reduces the reliance on manual processes. Therefore, it enables more efficient resource use and reduces human errors and friction, thus resulting in significant cost savings. 

application modernization can lead to many positive impacts both technical and business-wise

Evaluating the existing system – How to do that? 

To determine the best approach to modernization, organizations must first thoroughly assess their existing applications. This phase, however, may not be a piece of cake for those with minimal tech savviness, and this is where the expert insights of a professional IT service provider may be helpful. 

These are the steps they will follow when analyzing a legacy system that needs modernizing. 

Market research and analysis 

First, we need to take a deep dive into the factor that drives your modernization project by answering the question: Why do you need to modernize your system NOW? 

In most cases, this change is driven by the need to adapt to new market trends and changing customer demands. You may be preparing to catch up with competitors who are moving fast and seizing opportunities. In addition, it can be a part of your strategy to strengthen technology advantages to create new business models and gain profits from new market niches.  

Therefore, to kickstart your application modernization project, you need to conduct in-depth market research to understand current and upcoming trends in the field and identify new business opportunities. These insights help you better understand the inadequacies of your current system and the suitable path of modernization.  

Defining problems and scope 

The team begins by defining the specific issues with the current system, such as performance bottlenecks, security vulnerabilities, or user dissatisfaction. In addition, we identify other factors including its functions, modules, or its integration with third-party systems.  

From these insights, we define the points for improvement and arrange them based on the level of priority to align with the project’s goals.

Analyzing key aspects 

  • Business logic: Understand the processes the application supports and consider how these might be streamlined or enhanced. 
  • Data access: Evaluate how data is stored, accessed, and utilized within the application. 
  • UI/UX: Assess the user interface and experience to identify areas for improvement. 
  • Security: Review current security measures and identify vulnerabilities. 
  • Deployment: Consider the infrastructure and platforms used for deploying and hosting the application. 

Four common application modernization strategies 

Once the assessment is complete, businesses can choose from several modernization strategies, each suitable for different needs and outcomes. 

Here are the four common strategies for application modernization

  • Rehosting: Often referred to as “lift-and-shift”, this strategy involves moving applications to new environments without altering the code. 
  • Refactoring: This method involves making minor code modifications to adapt to new frameworks or technologies. 
  • Rearchitecting: This is a more comprehensive approach, as it changes the application’s architecture fundamentally to add features, improve performance, or scale more effectively. 
  • Rebuilding: It means redesigning and rewriting the application from scratch using modern technologies. 

A case study of GEM’s application modernization framework

In this section, we analyze a year-long application modernization project, in which GEM partnered with a global business service provider to enhance the functionality of their current solution.  

Background 

The solution is an ecosystem of different applications that perform non-physical asset management, which can be customized to match the unique needs of businesses and organizations.  

Problems 

It is an on-premises monolith application built on Angular 2, .NET 4, and Oracle Database.

Apart from the non-intuitive UI, there are several shortcomings that implied an urgent need for extensive application modernization.

  • It has old tech stacks, some of which may no longer be supported. 
  • The database does not support JSON as expected. This is a major limitation in today’s data-driven environment where JSON is widely used for web APIs and storing data in a flexible and schema-less format. 
  • The current app has low availability and low performance, which means frequent downtime and disruptions. 
  • The system lacks scalability, which is essential for meeting current user demands. 
  • It has a basic deployment process with heavy reliance on manual, error-prone procedures without modern automation. Therefore, it may take a long time to release a new version.  
  • The application has a basic form of authentication that relies solely on a username and a simple password to grant user access. Therefore, there was an apparent risk of phishing attacks,  

After careful consideration, GEM and the client agreed on choosing the “Rebuilding” approach. We believe this approach would address immediate technical and functional deficiencies and position the application for future growth and adaptability.  

Since the project started, GEM’s team has been working as an ODC for the client, who wanted to have a long-term partnership that provides continuous and timely IT support over different phases of development.  

The new tech stacks 

Here are the changes that we made:

  • Leveraging the latest version of .NET, since it offers enhanced performance, security, and support for modern software development practices 
  • Updating to the newest version of Angular so that the application benefits from a robust platform for building more responsive user interface 
  • Switching to PostgreSQL for its advanced JSON support and, thus, allowing the application to handle JSON data natively. This is essential for dealing with large volumes of unstructured data 
  • Adopting a microservices architecture to enhance scalability, since individual components of the app can be scaled on demand without affecting the entire system.  
  • Implementing Entra ID, a sophisticated identity and access management solution, to unlock robust security features such as multi-factor authentication and conditional access. In terms of security, GEM’s team also added whitelisting IP addresses and enhancing network security enhancements. 
  • Utilizing Azure DevOps for the deployment process to foster a streamlined CI/CD pipeline, to automate the building, testing, and deployment phases. 

The positive impacts 

We helped the client create a high-performing, one-stop solution that caters to almost all HR needs. It is a helpful tool for various stakeholders, including system administrators, consultants, HR managers, HR teams, and employees. 

In addition, it offers services in different languages. This feature further expands its potential to thrive in different markets globally.  

Expert tips: How to ace an application modernization project? 

After the project, we concluded that the best practices to unlock a successful application modernization project are as follows.  

Budget preparation and team formation 

It is highly important to estimate the financial resources required for the modernization project accurately. Businesses should include costs related to new technology procurement, training, potential downtime, and additional personnel. 

As the IT vendor in this project, we recognized the importance of assembling a team with diverse skills, including software developers, project managers, security experts, and quality assurance professionals. This dynamic team ensures we have the necessary expertise to handle various aspects of a modernization project.  

In addition, the team needs to be led by a project leader with a proven track record in managing similar technology upgrades. They should possess strong technical knowledge, excellent communication skills, and the ability to resolve conflicts and motivate the team. 

Strategic planning and scope definition 

A detailed project roadmap outlining major milestones, timelines, and dependencies is essential for guiding the project’s progression and managing stakeholders’ expectations. 

Businesses and organizations should, moreover, work with their ODC / IT vendor to define the scope of the project meticulously to avoid scope creep. 

Incorporation of user feedback 

Wherever possible, involve end-users or customers in the testing phase of the project. Their feedback is invaluable as they are the primary users of the application. This approach helps identify usability issues that may not be apparent to developers and testers. 

Closing remark 

Application modernization is a strategic decision that is both necessary and transformative because it gives businesses the opportunity to align their legacy systems with modern demands and foster a significant competitive advantage. As illustrated by GEM Corporation’s modernization project, by rebuilding their client’s application, GEM gave the solution a comprehensive enhancement in many different aspects, thus making it ready for future-proof growth