Here we have published a section of a white paper focusing on Application Modernisation, written by KFA Connect’s Technology Manager – Stuart Bramley.
We have broken the white paper down into three sections… subsequent posts on Modernisation Patterns and Characteristics of Modern IBM i Applications will follow.
The modernisation of applications has been an important topic for many years. The technology which our industry is founded on moves quickly – but the applications that are developed to make use of that technology rarely, if ever, keep pace. Out of date applications can be inflexible, difficult to change and costly to maintain – but are often critical to business.
Risks and Benefits
Any change to systems brings with it a risk – if the new code malfunctions or introduces errors the business can suffer both financial losses and reputational damage. Mitigating that risk requires diligent testing which itself comes at a financial cost. Errors may not solely be system errors – changes to systems can indirectly cause human error as users get to grips with new interfaces or ways of working.
Equally, inaction and stagnation can pose just as severe a risk to businesses. If your competitor is selling their product through mobile devices and you are not – your business is likely to lose market share rapidly. If you have systems that are not adequately maintained they become difficult to support, costly to enhance and reduce the ability of the business to adapt to changing market conditions, to do business through new channels or to release new products. Knowledge of the business through its systems is lost – either through staff attrition and turnover or simply forgotten through lack of use.
An application that has been modernised is more flexible, easier to enhance and responsive to business demands. With mobile device support, staff no longer need to be at their desk to access applications or data – they can be wherever they need to be with access to the information and functions, whether that’s checking stock in the warehouse or placing orders when visiting a customer’s site.
Staff satisfaction is increased if the interfaces are modern, powerful and assist them in completing their work – and with more and more members of staff in the workforce accustomed to modern digital devices that means that the expectations of those staff are higher than ever before.
Steps towards modernisation
Analyse the existing estate
Countless modernisation projects have failed because of a failure to understand the existing application’s functionality or assumptions that have been made about it. Bespoke applications that have been built over time to meet the changing needs of the business can often perform functions far removed from the perceived role of the system. The first step in any modernisation project needs to be to develop a clear and comprehensive understanding of the existing estate and the role of the application(s) within it.
Respect your investment
Too many organisations view IT as an expense and not the investment that it is. Bespoke software is much more expensive than off the shelf packages – but the targeted deployment of such applications creates competitive advantage and a knowledge model held in the business logic of the code. A software product is the embodiment of the intellectual property of the company that created it. It is the bathing baby that should not be discarded when the water drains away.
Identify the problem
All too often modernisation projects are a solution looking for a problem. Before deciding that the modernisation of your application is the solution, first document the problems that you perceive that the existing system is causing the business – or is unable to solve. Only then can it reasonably be determined that the system is in need of modernisation – and more importantly what kind of modernisation is required.
Set clearly defined, tangible, measurable goals
The adage that “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it” has some merit in the context of modernisation projects. Whilst there may be intangible benefits resulting from the modernisation of an application if you cannot set goals that are clearly defined with tangible results that can be measured then the project is at huge risk. Such projects have a tendency towards mission creep, overspending and running out of time. Where a project is instigated as the solution to a clearly identified problem, rather than putting the cart before the horse, this should be straightforward.
Select a modernisation strategy
Once you know what the problem you wish to solve is, that the existing application is all or part of that problem and that the modernisation of all or part of that application is the solution – then you are in a position to design a modernisation strategy which is appropriate for your needs.
There are many different approaches that can be taken to the modernisation of all or part of an application and some of the most common are listed in our next blog post as modernisation patterns. The strategy you choose will likely comprise one or more of these patterns and will depend on a number of factors individual to your own circumstances: the specific needs of your project; the problems you are trying to solve; the technologies involved; the budget available; the risk your business is willing to bear…
In our experience, regular, incremental change is the least disruptive way to modernize systems, it’s the most manageable way to undertake the task, it reduces risk and should always be preferred if possible.
Download the full white paper here KFA Connect White paper – Application Modernisation