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Application modernization: A key element of successful digital transformation

Dan Glessner

Former Digital Leader



Digital transformation is no small feat. It's a long-term, continuous journey to increased business agility. Though knowing where to start can be difficult, application modernization is often a great place to begin.

Examining your application ecosystem

Many businesses run on an array of applications. This could include custom-coded programs on old mainframes, core ERP systems and other systems of record like SAP and Oracle, and modern cloud-native applications.

The problem is that traditional business applications were built for stability, rather than speed and agility, which are now required to delight customers.

Organizations striving to be customer-centric must undergo digital transformation. They must become digital-led businesses that combine people, processes, and technology to deliver superior customer experiences powered by agile end-to-end operations. Application modernization is often the enabler of these experiences and a key element of every successful digital transformation.

Becoming an application modernization leader

Application modernization leaders enjoy more flexible business operations and greater ROI for their digital transformation efforts. They can act with agility, increase employee productivity, manage costs effectively and, perhaps most importantly, improve customer experiences.

But what makes an application modernization leader? Here are some key characteristics:

  • They modernize systems of record using agile principles to make essential changes to legacy systems
  • They deliver seamless and relevant customer experiences by connecting information across enterprise systems. They understand that front-office applications cannot provide full context without connecting to back-office systems of record
  • They create systems of engagement, which act as a translation layer between legacy systems and business applications. This leads to end-to-end optimization to create seamless process experiences for employees
  • They use agile DevOps methodology, application programming interfaces (API), and microservice architecture to speed up the development of new functionality. Because monolithic applications are a thing of the past, they develop smaller applications that interact through APIs
  • They manage the technical debt from legacy systems. They recognize that legacy systems hinder connectivity and limit access to data and insights but still modernize systems of record because the broader digital transformation will be difficult to achieve without doing so
  • They leverage the cloud by refactoring and developing cloud-native applications to support business agility. Although it's easier to lift and shift legacy applications to the cloud, this approach does not reap all the benefits that the cloud has to offer

Taking the first steps

Now that you know the benefits of application modernization and what separates leaders from laggards, here are some first steps to take on your digital transformation journey:

  • Invest in modern DevSecOps approaches, which means thinking about application and infrastructure security from the start. This will enable flexible and fast application development. In addition, work with partners who follow a microservices architecture approach
  • Modernize legacy systems of record to ensure that older systems in your back office can keep up with the speed of today's front-office systems. Also, develop systems of engagement to improve productivity and the overall employee experience
  • Make the cloud core to your strategy to enable operational improvements, innovation, and development of new functionality at speed and scale. Establish roadmaps for taking your core business applications to the cloud
  • Recognize that software is getting democratized, which increases the importance of developing expertise – or selecting a partner that already has it – to effectively integrate applications within your existing enterprise landscape
  • Find a trusted digital transformation advisor with deep industry, process, and digital expertise. It's never just about technology. It's about how best to apply it within the context of your business. Rely on partners that will own outcomes and may be willing to adopt a commercial model linked to business value.

Application modernization is a continuous journey, not a finite, tactical project. Enterprises must develop a strategy built on systems, processes, and investments that increase business agility. With customer expectations changing quickly, your business applications must keep pace not only to respond but also to delight customers.

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