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Modernize your tech estate: the technical aspects | ThoughtWorks

This is the second part of a two-part series exploring the imperative for application modernization. Read Part One here.

Digital transformation has entered a new era where IT evolves from being process-driven to data-driven. How to use data, experimentation, and telemetry to build strategies and drive innovation has become a concern for all companies.

Application modernization is often seen as a critical enabler of becoming a digital business. But getting it right isn’t easy. Mature organizations must consider a large ‘estate’ of interconnected systems, featuring a wide array from old to new, from custom code to shrink-wrapped packages, created in-house or outsourced or acquired from a vendor.

From an IT perspective, legacy burden exerts itself across five horizontal forces:

  • Data. Siloed infrastructure hinders your efforts to view data holistically. Legacy systems will prevent you from becoming a data-driven business and stymie your attempts to get closer to your customers.
  • Architecture and Infrastructure. The world today demands constant availability, turnkey scalability, and quick responsiveness to customer needs. But legacy systems are often the antithesis of these characteristics, compromising customer experience. Legacy systems are often afflicted by escalating costs and long lead times—even for menial tasks—causing business frustration.
  • Legacy Processes and Governance. The organization of tomorrow understands that rapid feedback cycles and the breaking down of siloes are critical to delivering a holistic customer experience at speed. Legacy organizational structures and procedures often work on slow annual cycles and are reactive instead of proactive, forcing a business to guess where the market will be months or even years ahead.
  • Cloud. It’s been clear for a long time that cloud—whether public, private, or hybrid—is the best modern hosting platform. Legacy applications are rarely cloud-ready, and a simplistic “lift and shift” approach can create headaches because cloud typically trades high reliability of individual servers for high reliability of the platform as a whole. To work, legacy applications must be updated using “12-factor” techniques that account for this tradeoff.
  • Security. Every week we read a new story about a breach or data loss, and consumers are ever more heavily attuned to the security stance of companies they buy from. While legacy systems are not inherently less secure, applications that are difficult or costly to administer may fall behind in security fixes and patches and present a large attack surface to the outside world.

But upgrading and replacing systems is not new—why is there such a hyper-focus on application modernization today? We think there are two key reasons:

  • Tech-driven capabilities—especially those driven by Cloud, automation, and -as-a-Service—allow businesses to respond faster to market changes, experiment rapidly and course-correct, and to sense and respond to demand signals faster. Legacy systems often lack these capabilities and cause an organization to lag behind the state of the art.
  • Competition is fierce, and now not just for customers: the technology talent market is white hot, and the best technologists have their pick of where to work. Organizations realize that by modernizing their systems, they can attract top-tier talent as well as realize competitive benefits.

Technology, people and business aren’t separate. Improving a legacy technology situation forces you to re-examine business processes and organizational structures as well as technical systems.

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