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Application modernization – why it’s the foundation for your digital transformation journey

App Modernization

The preferences and behaviors of customers are evolving, and the pressure to compete for their business is at an all-time high. The pandemic had a lot to do with these developments, and along with it came the realization that increased agility and innovation are needed — not only to proactively fight any future disruptions, but also to better serve customers. 2020 therefore saw many organizations accelerate down the road on their digital transformation journeys, and there are no signs of this trend slowing down in 2021.

But there’s a crucial first stop during your digital transformation journey:

Application modernization.

Before I go any further, let’s define what application modernization is. It’s the process of updating outdated systems and software to take advantage of modern technology and trends, such as the cloud.

You may be asking, “So what?” And I agree.

Because application modernizing isn’t just about modernizing your technology. It’s about giving you the tools you need to modernize your business.

The methods of doing this can vary widely depending on who you ask, however, so it’s often unclear how to begin your modernization journey. This is one of the reasons why most organizations struggle to achieve successful outcomes from their application modernization initiatives. I’ll go more in depth about that and give my recommendations on the right modernization approach later in this blog.

When application modernization is done right, though, there are many benefits.

The Benefits of Application Modernization

Based on my experience and interactions with industry professionals about their wants and needs for their business, below is a list I created of the top business and technology benefits seen from application modernization:

  • Improved customer experience and retention – Technologies like cloud and mobile enable you to become more customer centric by making user-friendly applications and seamless multi-channel experiences a reality
  • Real-time insights – Make better business decisions and gain a better understanding of your customers with the real-time insights that modernization enables
  • Rapid innovation – Shift the focus away from maintenance and support of your legacy systems and on to building new products and services for your customers
  • Increased business agility – React to changing business conditions with the speed and agility needed in today’s world, and roll out new features, updates, and products to your customers faster than ever before
  • Improved security and compliance – In addition to moving away from outdated systems that are highly vulnerable to security threats, modern infrastructure and applications give you the agility you need to keep up with regulatory changes as you grow
  • Lower TCO – Spend less money on maintenance and support, and minimize technical debt now and in the future

Next Stop: Digital Transformation

As I touched on before, a successful application modernization initiative also lays the foundation for a successful digital transformation. That’s in addition to the benefits I just mentioned. Because when you take the right strategic approach to modernization, you’ll have the infrastructure and applications in place that will give you the capabilities to accomplish your business objectives in order to compete in today’s digital marketplace.

But Many Application Modernization Initiatives Fail

Modernization initiatives often fail, putting the brakes on many a digital transformation journey. This can be for any number of reasons. Prioritizing the wrong aspects of the initiative, a lack of budget, not having the talent needed, even pushback from middle management. The list goes on. The consulting firm McKinsey actually found that “around 80% of CIOs report that they have not attained the level of agility and business benefits that they sought through modernization.”

This only highlights the need for a strategic, multifaceted approach to application modernization.

How to Make the Most of Your Application Modernization Efforts

To have the best chance of your modernization initiative succeeding — resulting in the benefits I mentioned earlier as well as laying the foundation for your digital transformation journey — I’ve listed below what I think to be the most important parts of an effective modernization strategy:

1. Have a business-centric mindset

Many technology and service providers tend to take a siloed, inside-out approach to modernization, focusing on refactoring or rewriting the legacy applications on a modern technology stack. While technology initiatives are an essential part of application modernization, I believe the primary focus of modernization should be the expansion of business value.

To begin such an initiative with business value at the front of your mind, you start with what outcomes you’d like to see from the modernization project. Next, perform a targeted assessment of the applications and services that make up the business capabilities you want. Don’t focus on the oldest technology. Instead, focus on which applications or systems are getting in the way of achieving your business goals.

In other words, what technology isn’t capable of supporting your digital business initiatives?

2. Take a continuous approach

Modernization projects are best when continuous and ongoing. As your current technology stands, 80% of it is probably perfectly capable of supporting your current digital initiatives. It’s the remaining 20% that’s holding you back. So why replace all of it at once?

A total rip and replace is too costly, risky, and time consuming. To compete, you need the support now, not a year from now. It’s difficult to predict what your business will need in the future. And by then, a component, application, or service might not be capable of supporting those needs.

3. Bring in the right partner

The plethora of cloud platforms and modernization strategies makes it difficult to know where to even begin the process of modernizing. That’s why partnering with the right service provider to guide you along your journey is invaluable. Find an experienced implementation partner that will take the time to understand your business and listen to your unique wants and needs. After hearing your business objectives, they will be able to chart out the correct path and help you along the way.

4. Recruit and retain the right talent

Along with needing the right implementation partner to help you through your journey, you also need to recruit and retain the right staff. In addition to hiring those knowledgeable in emerging technologies, you should also retain those who work with legacy technologies, such as those versed in mainframe languages.

We all know that there’s a shrinking talent pool of COBOL programmers, for instance, but that doesn’t have to mean a “rip and replace” of those workers. Consider training them in modern programming languages instead. There are even contemporary tools that can speed up the learning process. One such tool, Github Copilot, gives code suggestions by employing artificial intelligence.

A workforce skilled in legacy as well as modern programming languages will lead to a much smoother transition. That is, workers will be able to contribute their knowledge of a legacy system’s functionality as well as embrace the modernization project, having been equipped with the new skills they need to stay relevant.

5. Invest in communication and cultural alignment

As you undertake your digital transformation journey, you must begin with an investment in culture and communication from the very beginning. That means you must start the investment as soon as you begin your application modernization initiative. Having a clear communication strategy as well as modern organizational practices can do wonders in getting everyone within the organization on board your business’s digital transformation journey.

While digital transformation requires cross-cultural change, organizations are often resistant to change. Anticipating this, you can take steps to address it head-on. Your modernization initiative must have strong support from the executive team, and that must be communicated throughout the enterprise. Miscommunications can delay or completely derail application modernization journeys.


As you embark on your digital transformation journey, I hope you’ll find these strategies just as beneficial to you as they have been in my experience. Because as I talked on before, the foundation of a successful digital transformation is a successful application modernization initiative.

If done right, not only will your enterprise systems have the necessary ability, scalability, and agility to compete — you’ll have the right talent and organizational support to help propel your business forward and ultimately reach your digital transformation destination.

Here are some points to take with you as you set forth on your journey:

  • Align your modernization priorities with your digital business initiatives
  • These initiatives are best when continuous and ongoing, and they require a deep understanding of the business as well as a targeted assessment of all the applications and services an enterprise offers
  • Recruit a trusted partner to help you along the way. Their experience and expertise will be instrumental
  • Recruit, retain, and invest in the right resources
  • Because digital transformation is an enterprise-wide initiative, it therefore needs to be communicated and supported enterprise wide

When you do complete your digital transformation journey, your business will have the competitive edge needed to compete in the digital marketplace. You’ll enjoy:

  • New revenue streams
  • Better customer experience
  • Improved employee productivity
  • Increased business agility
  • Unprecedented data insights

What Relevantz Can Do for You

Relevantz can be the partner you need to help you along your application modernization and digital transformation journeys. With our business-first, outside-in modernization approach, Relevantz can help you re-engineer your current enterprise systems, separate the applications from legacy infrastructure, modularize intermingled business processes, liberate data from legacy systems, and innovate new digital systems.

And because our approach is iterative, your enterprise will be able to enjoy all the benefits of new information technologies, such as having the agility to adapt quickly to the demands of the marketplace, while keeping your legacy systems humming behind the scenes.

Do you want to discuss your application modernization challenges?