RPG Academy—Modernization: Is Your Application Worth Modernizing?

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This is the big question you should ask yourself before starting a modernization process, because sometimes it’s better (and cheaper) to quit and start over.

You probably never thought of it this way, but before investing a cent in a modernization initiative, you should take a good, hard look at your application and ask this question:

Is my application worth modernizing?

If you are considering any of the three modernization approaches I mentioned in the previous TechTip, you need to know if your application is of real value to the business. Consider whether it provides significant value, considering these elements:

  • The business success globally of companies using the platform
  • The competitive edge encapsulated in the legacy application
  • The total cost of ownership being delivered to clients, suppliers, and partners
  • The cost and risk of the viable alternatives

If not, well…it can be a hard decision, especially because of all the years of hard work you put into your app, but it does not make sense to modernize the application. You now have the simple choice of retire or redevelop.

Asking an Expert for Help

As I wrote in the first TechTip of this subseries, I’m not an expert in modernization, so I went looking for help from the people who do application modernization for a living. Let me add that I’m in no way endorsed by the company mentioned in this article, but I’ve benefited greatly from their experience and insights.

The information I gathered from the experts on database modernization at the Tembo Technology Lab, the makers of the fantastic Adsero Optima Foundation software, shows that many companies that have moved off the IBM i platform name “operational constraints” and “a lack of agility” as the main causes. However, organizations often regret replacing their IBM i applications, due to a critical loss of required functionality. In addition, companies soon realize a dramatic decrease in availability and reliability—not every platform is as stable and resilient as IBM i.

If there is a significant value in your applications that you have determined needs to be retained (more on how to do just that in a moment), you can start by modernizing those applications to a “modern” database environment such as DB2 SQL. This enables you to take advantage of the most recent database features, as I mentioned in the previous article of the series.

Ask Yourself (and Your Company) a Few Questions Before Going Any Further

Before you begin, however, there are a few more questions related to critical operational and strategic constraints that you need to answer:

  • Does the application provide a competitive advantage? For instance, a unique order entry process, special stock allocation, and stock management algorithms that are in total sync with the business and are hard to recode in a different platform make up a constraint of paramount importance.
  • Can your current business processes be improved? Maybe, just maybe, the problem is not in the application but in the business processes themselves.
  • Will the system allow this improvement? It’s simply not possible to get a jet engine under the hood of a Ford Model T and expect it to run. You need the right tools, in this case a reasonably up-to-date system, to support your modernization initiatives.
  • What is inhibiting service-delivery models for clients, suppliers, and partners? Try to identify the part or parts of the application environment as a whole, not just the IBM i application, that is causing the bottleneck in service delivery. You might need to redesign a business process or upgrade some other hardware component instead of changing your application.
  • What is the functional fit of your current application? As a rule of thumb, off-the-shelf applications will deliver between 60 percent and 75 percent of the required functionality. With years of customization and constant maintenance, it’s possible that your application is somewhere around 90 percent or higher. You’ll need the help of the application users to assess the functional fit. Keep in mind that you need to perform this assessment in a period in which the application has been running smoothly for a while. Otherwise, they’ll complain about performance and availability and won’t be able to provide an unbiased assessment.
  • Are the constraints you experience due to a lack of functionality or service delivery? This is also something you can include in the user assessment, but you need to help users distinguish between the two concepts.
  • Can you document the cost structure to deliver the applications? This is a big deal because managers are fond of cost savings. If you can convince them that an investment in a modernization initiative can save the company a considerable amount in the coming years, it might soften the blow they’ll feel when you show them the initial cost estimates for the modernization initiative.

If you can get answers to all of these questions, and they all point in the “it’s not worth it” direction, then you know what you should do. However, in most cases, you’ll see that it’s worthwhile modernizing your applications. Don’t modernize for the sake of modernizing, however! Get users and, most importantly, management on board with you, and chart your course carefully before setting sail on your modernization adventure.

To help you sway users and managers to your side, the next TechTip will discuss some of the possible benefits of modernizing an application.