Enable javascript in your browser for better experience. Need to know to enable it? Go here.

Application Modernization: How targeted change can kickstart transformation

By Vanessa Towers and Cecil Dearborne


As a business or technology leader, modernization is a topic that's always on your mind. You know the stronger your digital capabilities are, the better. For your organization to quickly adapt to change, accelerate time to market for new services and make the most of fresh, cost-effective cloud-based capabilities, modernization is the key to success.


The problem? Modernization can be an extremely daunting and often confusing task. Has your team explored options for modernization and come up with exciting ideas, only to see their plans grind to a halt due to complex legacy monoliths?


The good news is you're not alone. In fact, modernization is one of the biggest hurdles standing between a vast number of organizations and a better digital future. But you can overcome it by starting small with highly targeted transformation projects designed to prove the value of broader enterprise modernization.


An MVP to Enterprise Modernization


If your organization doesn’t have the resources or buy-in to dive into an enterprise-wide modernization, Application Modernization, an essential building block to larger modernization strategies, enables you to start small and improve workflow around a single app to deliver measurable value to the business.


This starting point can support your more comprehensive modernization journey by:


  • Enabling experimentation without committing a massive volume of resources, offering an iterative path forward.
  • Proving the value of modernization and giving you vital evidence of its positive impacts for building engaging business cases for future transformation.
  • Delivering fast results for the applications you depend on most while helping you improve responsiveness, agility and delivery speeds where needed.


What is Application Modernization?


If you asked ten people what Application Modernization is, you'd likely get ten different answers. Many organizations claim to be doing Application Modernization, but each approach can vary widely. 


We define Application Modernization as the process of reimagining an existing application to achieve a cloud native architecture that’s better aligned with current business needs.


Often in legacy migration, we see a common default to maintain feature parity with the old that can occur when modernization is framed as a technical undertaking only, without involving product or the business. This is a missed opportunity for organizations to rid themselves of the unused features that have bloated systems of the past. 


While potentially easier said than done, we help organizations evaluate and determine the capabilities no longer needed while realigning or adding new capabilities through reimagining applications. This means taking a step back to understand what users currently need, prioritizing those needs against business outcomes and metrics, and applying modern product development practices.


Application Modernization focuses on a single application or a tightly defined set of applications by either:


  • Replatforming to the cloud to make the minimal set of changes needed to run in the cloud. For example, if there's operational benefit from a standardized cloud-based deployment model, such as containerization, but no supporting business case for further application changes and the resulting architectural characteristics are acceptable, replatforming may be a suitable strategy for applications in the portfolio.
  • Refactoring the application can be considered when there's a business need for product evolution, but the legacy application requires restructuring to accommodate. An example would be adding an API layer to a legacy application to expose the core assets. 
  • Rearchitecting the application and embarking on a cloud-native rewrite is a suitable option for high-value legacy applications that often change, unlocking the friction for product evolution and new feature development. Alternatively, a driving factor for this approach may be decoupling core business capabilities to increase application stability or transition to a more coherent and extensible application architecture. 
  • Retiring applications or feature sets should be considered to reduce application complexity, address technical debt and remove any capabilities no longer providing business value.

The result is a much more flexible and valuable version of an app you already depend on with the core functionality you need — delivered flexibly in the cloud where developers can quickly improve and extend its capabilities. Most importantly, this transformation allows businesses to drive change proactively before they have to.

What can Application Modernization do for you?

Unlike many so-called “litmus tests” for broader projects, Application Modernization offers a considerable amount of business value in its own right — even if that’s where your modernization plans end. Businesses can realize many of the same benefits as they would from enterprise modernization for a specific app or subset of apps. 

Here are examples of what you stand to gain:

1. Improved developer effectiveness and speed to market

First, freeing applications from legacy monoliths and then either moving or rearchitecting them to a new cloud platform makes them easier to work with and develop further.

Once your chosen apps are removed from legacy interdependencies and delivered to a flexible cloud platform, your team can start following modern software delivery practices for all workflows around those apps, which reduces load and maximizes developer effectiveness

 Your team can also experiment more efficiently, build new integrations faster, take apps up and down as required without disruption and bring new capabilities to market much quicker.

A recent Forrester study shows that 76 percent of organizations that were successful in their modernization efforts realized improved IT agility. On the business side, transformation has enabled a 10.3 percent average decrease in time-to-market.

2. Greater business agility and freedom to innovate

An accelerated time to market means greater business agility. The decoupled nature of modernized applications makes it easier for development teams to make changes.

Therefore, when market forces or customer demands shift, you can quickly deliver what people want today — not weeks or months later. 

Agile development processes can be utilized for modernized apps, helping you see the power of concepts like continuous delivery and Platform Thinking in action. Then, armed with that evidence, you can make a strong business case for why those practices should be enabled and adopted across your organization.

3. Processes that help attract and retain top engineering talent

Skilled engineers don’t want to spend their lives fighting an uphill battle, especially against complex legacy monoliths. Today’s leading engineering and development talent expect to work with modern cloud tools and follow cloud-native practices.

Application Modernization helps shape a better future for your tech community. Not only does it help break down the complex legacy monoliths that only your long-standing experts understand, but it also makes working with your team a much more attractive prospect for new talent.

Differentiators for Thoughtworks approach to Application Modernization 

There’s much more to Application Modernization than simply lifting and shifting apps to the cloud. Each modernized app represents a significant cultural and operational shift for your developers, engineers and organization.

We’ve spent many years supporting and shaping those changes — defining many of the agile processes, ways of working and thinking that have become cloud-native recommended practices.

When you work with us on an Application Modernization project, you benefit from:

  • A “thin slice” approach: With Application Modernization, we aim to help you deliver value as quickly as possible. It starts with discovery exercises designed to identify which of your apps will most likely drive fast, meaningful ROI when modernized. In this process, we dive into your core domain to find high-value, foundational business capabilities, in addition to evaluating technical criteria such as legacy application code complexity, code hygiene, coupling and opportunities for cost optimization. In determining where to start, we combine these multi-dimensional inputs to inform a modernization business case driven by your product roadmap and business strategy. 
  • Strategic, business-focused thinking: We understand the business imperative for modernization. So, we don’t just replatform, refactor and rearchitect apps — we realign them with your current and future business needs, ensuring modernization delivers the proper outcomes for your organization.
  • A springboard for further modernization: When we modernize applications, we don’t just change them today. We make it easier to keep changing them as your needs evolve. Evolutionary architecture approaches, Platform Thinking, deep continuous delivery expertise and more help us set the stage for ongoing product evolution.
  • Expert cultural and process guidance: Modernizing apps alone doesn't ensure substantial value and results. We help reset engineering teams to adapt to the changes modernization presents so everyone can make the most of new cloud-native opportunities.
  • Proven modernization patterns and points of view: Thoughtworkers continuously pioneer and develop new approaches to modernization. See Martin Fowler's now-famous Strangler Fig Application Pattern and Kief Morris' defining workaround Infrastructure as Code.

Kickstart modernization with a fast, ROI-driven starting point

If you're one of the thousands of organizations eager to explore modernization but stuck wondering where to begin, Application Modernization may be the starting point for you. Our approach resets your engineering teams with modern engineering disciplines, helps you realize the total value from cloud migration, delivers meaningful ROI quickly and enables you to compete with a new generation of cloud-native organizations.

Are you interested in learning more about Application Modernization? We're happy to help you evaluate this strategy for your organization to see if it's the right fit.

Is Application Modernization right for you?