Legacy Application Development: The Challenge of Modernizing Outdated Apps

Legacy Application Development: The Challenge of Modernizing Outdated Apps
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Most people generally consider leaving a lasting legacy a positive thing. However, when it comes to application development, this isn’t exactly the case. Legacy applications refer to outdated sets of code that modern online infrastructure no longer supports — and they present a significant problem for companies striving to adapt to the ongoing digital transformation.

In response, modernization — which, at this point, is mainly driven by cloud migration — has been the focus across sectors for years now. However, the process of shifting from a legacy system to a new application isn’t always linear. New app development can be a challenging process.

The software engineers who coded the current digital programs your legacy infrastructure likely runs on are retired. In their absence, they’ve left a black box of working, yet mystifying code — code that forms the basis of key applications.

These legacy systems are also likely fairly unintelligible to current personnel. Their function is limited when compared to apps hosted in modern systems.

As a result, they hinder the potential growth and innovation of an organization.

Impact of Legacy Applications on Business Operations and Bottom Line

Legacy systems are constrained by the technology available at their inception. So, enterprise organizations operating outdated applications are essentially trying to compete in the modern market with decades-old functionality.

These legacy software and hardware systems simply don’t have the agility to match trends, demands and market forces that modernized competitors can adapt to. As a result, companies that fail to move forward with more new application development rapidly fall behind their counterparts, especially in terms of productivity and operational efficiency.

Also, legacy systems typically don’t have the capacity to integrate with modern solutions — so outdated infrastructure can cut organizations off from future innovation. As a result, current applications isolate older technology, leaving organizations with data silos that decrease overall system usability. Plus, a lack of cohesive data sets creates a host of potentially costly errors when it comes to analytics or privacy and compliance measures.

Challenges in Modernizing Outdated Apps

Considering the drawbacks of legacy systems, it’s clear app modernization is necessary for the long-term viability of enterprise organizations. However, the process of actually managing the transition isn’t necessarily straightforward.

Companies often worry about the potential costs, risks or timelines associated with large-scale data migration. After all, overhauling critical digital functions requires careful planning and execution. So, before diving into the process of retiring legacy systems and applications, it’s important for organizations have a comprehensive understanding of the challenges they’ll face along the way.

With this in mind, let’s explore some of the common challenges development teams encounter during the modernization process:

Compatibility Issues

Newer application development commonly encounters incompatibility with outdated technology stacks. This means development teams will need to interrupt existing systems to shift them to contemporary solutions, as legacy systems operate on programming languages that are now obsolete.

These outdated languages are incompatible with modern infrastructure (and therefore in need of a potential update); they’re also frequently lacking in proper documentation. This makes it incredibly time-consuming for modern developers to gain a detailed understanding of legacy applications’ inner workings.

And while developer teams sift through these thousands of lines of outdated code, legacy systems continue to power the underlying functionality of the organization. So it’s hard to convince stakeholders to invest in the modernization process while the older system is still working.

Data Migration

Over their lifetime, legacy systems collect a vast amount of data — much of which is likely essential to operations. Unfortunately, the outdated data storage format isn’t conducive to modern analytics and database storage requirements.

Thus, the process of data migration is essential to modernization.

However, moving a massive amount of siloed data is a monumentally complicated task — not in the least because the typical EBCDIC encoding of legacy systems differs from ASCII-based encodings employed by modern systems. This data migration snag often requires the use of Extract, Transform and Load (ETL) plug-ins to resolve.

Also, issues importing data during the transition to a cloud solution might necessitate manual data input, which could result in significant errors or losses. This can corrupt data sets and subsequently cause missteps in organizational planning when using this information in analytical processes. So, upholding the highest level of data integrity during migration is critically important.

Security Risks

Cybersecurity threats are one of the main concerns enterprise organizations hold regarding the transition to cloud-based data warehousing. The complex, interconnected and distributed nature of the cloud provides a natural opening to bad actors.

In particular, APIs — which integrate communications between distinct applications — prove a key point for hackers to test the strength of security measures. Integrating proper encryption protocols during the application development process is key; in doing so, companies can prevent leaks or breaches down the line.

It’s also important for organizations to leverage the advanced automated monitoring technology available for cloud applications in order to catch and flag suspicious activity. These tools can help mitigate any potential threats modernization might bring.

Business Logic and Workflow Adaptation

One of the leading reasons for modernization is the lack of functional capabilities in outdated systems. This lack is largely due to limited technical capacity.

However, the fact remains applications built on legacy systems are also designed to support decades-old workflows. They’re not crafted for the needs of organizations and users operating in modern markets.

Updating functional workflows to align with current business logic thus stands as one of the most significant challenges associated with new application development. This requires carefully analyzing the needs, goals and priorities of an organization, both in general and on a granular level for individual processes.

When an individual application is being modernized, efficacy often briefly slows as bugs are fixed and users are retrained on the updated interface. Organizations must count the potential costs of retraining, and short-lived productivity decreases as a part of their initial modernization investment.

Strategies for Successful Modernization in Application Development

Many of the challenges that come with application development are a direct result of errors in executing modernization. Therefore, enterprise organizations can avoid some of the most costly or inefficient issues that commonly occur during the shift by implementing a few transitional best practices.

By approaching the development process in a strategic and thoroughly-planned manner, companies can avoid much of the inherent friction that comes with operational adaption. So, in order to minimize the difficulty of application modernization, here are some fundamental strategic steps you can take to smooth the process.

1. Assess Legacy Applications Thoroughly

It’s important to first verify a need for modernized application development before embarking on the process of decommissioning legacy systems. But once you’ve solidified a need for new application development, the next step is narrowing down the details of exactly which specific functionalities need adding, and how best to do so.

After all, an organization that doesn’t need application modernization may save otherwise wasted time and resources. On the other hand, a company that could greatly benefit from an upgrade can discover through assessment where the gaps in the current system are.

One of the most ubiquitous frameworks for this assessment considers six main drivers. Each of these six points of consideration aims to highlight operational issues or missing functionalities within legacy systems.

The first three drivers measure concerns from the business perspective, analyzing the system’s agility, fit and value to the organization’s administration. This, in practice, means assessing the potential value adds, agility increases or competitive advantages a customized (or better fitting) application might bring.

The last three drivers measure issues regarding the technical function of the system: the risk, complexity and cost from an IT perspective. For example, IT personnel may find the existing application too complex to create a cohesive system, too costly to maintain or too risky in terms of security.

2. Set Clear Objectives and Goals for Application Development

Once you’ve established a necessity for new application development, the next step is to refine the details of the specific functionalities that need incorporating — and determining the optimal approach to achieve this. This means identifying the necessary steps for achieving optimal outcomes for each individual organization.

There are many frameworks an organization can use to go about this process. However, because the process of upgrading has multiple operational ramifications, it’s best to initiate it with a diverse team. A wide-reaching set of perspectives allows members to iterate on each others’ ideas and develop an all-encompassing approach.

Then, map out the necessary path to enact these developments — and assess whether the organization is ready to embrace and adjust to these changes.

Part of determining if a business has the capacity to modernize is forecasting the need for upskilling or talent acquisition to maintain the new system. Naturally, conducting this evaluation involves not only tallying the short-term expenses, but also comparing this investment with anticipated long-term advantages.

3. Select the Right Application Development Approach

Modernization isn’t a one-size-fits-all process. In fact, there are several different frameworks organizations can use to pursue application development in a tailored way. Organizations can proceed with the framework that best meets their specific goals and resources.

  • Refactoring is the process of optimizing current code to remove some of the legacy technical debt. This framework reduces complexity without completely overhauling the existing application.
  • Rehosting doesn’t modify existing features, functions or code structures — but moves the application component to an alternative infrastructure.
  • Replatforming encapsulates moving current code, functions and features to a new platform.
  • Rearchitecting is when developers adjust code to upgrade capabilities and move the application to new architecture.
  • Replacing the entire former application with a new version that integrates more tailored functionality always remains an option when necessary.

4. Modernize Incrementally

Dividing large tasks into increments is the best approach, particularly when dealing with the complex process of application development. The more agile framework leverages constant and iterative cycles of team planning, feedback and adaptation to optimize the development of applications through each step of the process.

This facilitates swift, controlled modifications targeting precise necessities — while maintaining a constant loop of user input and adaptability. Such an approach expedites issue detection and solution, speeds up the launch process and adeptly incorporates evolving business demands.

5. Involve Stakeholders

Finally, always remember to present any modernization efforts to stakeholders. For the specific planned application development processes to proceed, they need to come on board. Otherwise, the project isn’t likely to go through.

Make sure you communicate the goals of the effort clearly, as well as the potential consequences of failing to modernize. Also, try to get stakeholders invested in the process at the ground floor. Organizations can do this by beginning to communicate the plan for change early on.

Finally, make sure to provide employees with the time, training and resources they need to adapt to changes without feeling overwhelmed.

Partnering With Experts in Modernizing Application Development

Data migration, program incompatibilities, workflow adaptation and potential security risks can all pose major challenges in the application development process. But you can mitigate these challenges with some simple strategic planning early in the transition phase.

By clearly assessing the need for change, clarifying the objectives of the transition process, choosing the right approach, implementing an agile framework and keeping stakeholders invested in the outcome, companies can maximize the benefits of the modernization process.

However, many organizations don’t have the highly specific expertise necessary to effectively conduct this modernization effort internally. So, organizations that need to augment their knowledge and skills with highly sought-after talent should consider working with experts like those at Growth Acceleration Partners.

GAP can optimize the application modernization process from start to finish with teams of highly experienced software engineers. Reach out today to set up a free consultation with GAP.