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SOA World - Legacy Systems, The Risks & Misconceptions

The risks & misconceptions

One of a CIO's top priorities is to leverage information to enable better business decisions and outcomes. Many CIOs trace constraints on their business back to the limitations of older legacy information systems - specifically, outdated applications.

A legacy-based environment can make it difficult to attain the level of agility, flexibility, and responsiveness that growing enterprises need from their applications. For many organizations, the application has become the business - powered by technology. Modernizing applications is a key step to providing agility and lower cost of ownership, as well as creating a Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) and ultimately, accelerating business outcomes. However, modernizing also presents risks - both in the process and the final result.

To manage the transition safely from costly and inflexible application architectures to increased application agility - which is aligned to and able to respond to business demands flexibly - there are critical steps that enterprises must take. Through a modernization process, enterprises can build a flexible and manageable application environment that can take advantage of an SOA and shared IT infrastructure, to make the best use of their company's most valuable resources: people and information. Application modernization uses services and technologies to reduce computing costs and improve IT service delivery, while enhancing customer service and knowledge-sharing capabilities.

This article will describe drivers for modernizing applications, the common misconceptions, and critical steps businesses should take to safely modernize applications to create a path to SOA.

Why Modernize Applications?

  • Business Technology: The new era of business technology represents a shift from information technology as a separate department to a model where technology powers the business. With it, the CIO is now also accountable for overall business outcomes such as managing risk, accelerating growth, or lowering costs. IT risks are now business risks, and IT opportunities are now business opportunities. By modernizing applications, the CIO can keep IT running smoothly, create new areas of innovation, and be an asset to the company.
  • Innovation and Cost Savings: Today companies spend the majority of IT resources on application maintenance and support, leaving a much smaller portion for business innovation via IT. By modernizing applications, IT departments can achieve significant cost savings and devote that resource to innovation.
  • Desire for IT agility: This desire is also driving organizations to modernize applications. An agile software infrastructure directly serves the needs of the business as well as the IT function, but it's proven that the business can have the most to gain. By reducing the lead time for application changes and by creating flexible, agile systems, the business can get the response from their IT systems that they've always demanded. Added to this is the cost savings that can be redirected from maintenance functions - up to 70% of IT costs in many organizations - to that of business innovation.
  • SOA is inevitable and will be a key architectural approach in the future: Modernizing applications is a key step to creating an SOA. Companies today continue to invest in SOA to respond quickly to regulatory and competitive pressures. They also continue to adapt business processes to keep pace with market change. It's important to approach SOA with a combined software and services effort that provides a comprehensive foundation for successful adoption of SOA.

    To achieve these outcomes effectively, CIOs need greater visibility into their application environment.

    Modernization Fears
    While most IT organizations are painfully aware that they have applications and systems that are underperforming, most aren't eager to undertake a modernization effort. There are several misconceptions surrounding modernization:
    1.  "This could compromise the service levels I'm accustomed to." Many times a senior IT executive will wonder, "If I move this piece of software from my legacy environment to a new system, will I get the same service levels?" Companies are hesitant to make the move and modernize their applications because they're unsure if the new system will garner them the same benefits.

    The key here is to understand which attributes of the legacy system are critical to the business need and ensure that the functionality and underpinning infrastructure deliver and exceed the quality of service that the business demands. The secret is not to 'blindly' move all of the legacy software to a new platform, but to assess what software is required and what can be replaced or discarded. It's worth pointing out that when the original legacy system was built, much of the functionality had to be written in code by hand. Whether it's using packaged software or operating system functionality, we can reduce the amount of handwritten code, thus providing a much lower risk to modernization.

    2.  "Modernizing applications is costly." Some CIOs aren't aware of the return on investment (ROI) that modernization can produce. Many IT leaders erroneously assume modernization requires a complete rebuild to achieve strong ROI, and very often that isn't the case.

    3.  "This will cause operational disruption and my business cannot afford that risk." CIOs fear that the shaky application "house of cards" they've built might crumble if it's revamped. They worry about potential security flaws, system downtime, and exposure to technical failure.

    Part of any modernization effort is the transitional planning, which has to be based on a thorough assessment of the current state. The better we know the current environment and its linkages to other application components, the lower the risk in the transition. Once again, going in blindly is exactly the wrong strategy.

    Steps to a Smooth Modernization
    With the software environments customers have today, modernizing isn't a one-size-fits-all proposition. Unless the organization knows what must be done, and does it consciously, the change will have no meaningful effect. There are several key steps to consider when modernizing a company's legacy systems:

    1.  Take inventory: You've recognized that to achieve business goals, you need greater visibility into your application environment. The first step is to take an inventory of your applications - identify, analyze, and report on the status of the portfolio of applications in your environment.

    2.  Prioritize: To prioritize the application modernization project, CIOs should evaluate the existing architecture and constituent applications, review applications that may have differing characteristics, and examine historical and anecdotal information to determine the level of business value and technical quality of each application. Next, it's important to examine the potential costs and revenue impact of modernization for each application, and then rank and categorize each application as you discuss the best approach to take. Finally, identify those applications best poised for modernization and establish a target architecture.

    3.  Create a detailed action plan: Do a detailed analysis of the applications you've decided to modernize. This process focuses on specific applications and their underlying architecture - with a thorough examination of all the issues that affect three major tasks: 1.) existing application decomposability and cost impact on mining existing code; 2.) targeted application options including hardware, software, operating system, monitoring, management, and development; and 3.) incremental modernization strategy to move from the existing architecture to your target architecture, while allowing both to coexist during the transition.

    4.  Transition your apps: Once the roadmap is in place, the next step is to bring legacy applications up to today's performance standards while having a minimal impact on day-to-day business operations. These steps include re-engineering, re-hosting, replacing, retaining and retiring, as well as building, testing, and maintaining the new application environment.

    5.  Finally, it's important to implement management and support best practices to transition smoothly to the new operational environment.

    Application Modernization Is a Must
    Legacy systems stall innovation and are costly to maintain, but as any business professional knows, they run today's business. Modernizing applications isn't impossible if you plan properly. As a prerequisite for staying competitive in this global economy, IT modernization is a must-do for enterprises.

    Companies are understandably concerned about the cost of modernizing its applications, the level of service during and after the move, and the possible exposure to technical failure. However, with proper planning and experience, it's possible to transition smoothly from legacy systems to an architecture that's more agile and responsive.

    Enterprises should take an inventory of their application environment, and prioritize the most important and cost-effective applications. They can then analyze and determine the best course of action. Once a plan is in place, companies can begin the actual modernizing process through re-engineering, re-hosting, replacing, retaining, and retiring. Finally, a strong management and support system is key to a smooth transition.

  • More Stories By Mark LaJeunesse

    Mark LaJeunesse is the service-Oriented architecture (SOA) program manager for Hewlett-Packard Services' Consulting and Integration business. He is responsible for the development of SOA Services, Sales and Delivery Training, driving HP's EAS SOA visibility and differentiation in the market. Mark has 20 years of experience in the high-tech industry.

    More Stories By Paul Evans

    Paul Evans runs the Worldwide Practice for Application Modernization for HP Services. He has worked within the IT industry for many years, starting his career as a software developer before moving to positions with Digital, Compaq and now HP. He has a 'passionate' interest in the future applications and their inherent architectures focusing on the business benefits that this technology can bring. This started with his work on the adoption of Ethernet-based networks through client server to his current responsibility. Paul lives in the north of England.

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