RPG Academy - Modernization: Tips to Avoid the Pains of Modernization

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There’s no accurate map for a modernization initiative, so the best you can do is go into the “Here be dragons” part of it a little more prepared.

Modernization is usually a long and hard process, for which there’s no accurate map or magic formula. The best you can do is prepare for it and start the journey. People get excited about the gains of modernization but often ignore the pains.

Modernization Perils and Most-Common Pitfalls

Here are some tips to avoid the most-common IBM i modernization pains, starting with the most obvious:

  • We’re all creatures of habit. Modernizing implies doing new things in a new way. The problem is that we’re used to staying in our comfort zone. A modernization process really takes us out of it; you’ll need to learn how to work with new tools, look at problems in a different perspective, and most importantly, drop those ages-old habits that you’ve picked up over the years.
  • Think big, start small. It’s not a good idea to try to modernize the whole application at once. This is a very common mistake companies make that has led to quite a few near-bankruptcies. The way to go with your modernization process is to think big but start small. Set your general modernization goals for the whole application (more on that in the next TechTip), but don’t even try to plan the modernization of the complete thing—you’ll just get frustrated and regret ever starting the process. Instead, the sensible approach is to select a module or part of the application and analyze it carefully, with the help of its users.
  • PoC it. A proof of concept, or PoC, is a critical part of a modernization process that is often overlooked. By starting small and creating a PoC, you’ll be able to evaluate different options, technologies, and strategies. You’ll be able to realize what you did wrong and correct it without incurring huge costs. You’ll also gain invaluable experience for the “real” process.
  • Modernization is not an IT-only thing. Another pitfall is looking at modernization processes as IT-only things. If you don’t have users and management on board, you won’t get very far. This too is a common mistake for which some companies have paid dearly. You need to sell the idea to users and convince top management to commit to the project, not only because this type of process is usually expensive, but also because it has an impact on day-to-day operations. IT’s usual service will be affected, because a part of the staff will be allocated to the process.
  • Get help, professional help. A modernization process, even a small one, is filled with new things. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the numerous small details you’ll need to pay attention to. There’s no shame in bringing in a modernization consultant to help you understand what your options are and how to plan your project. You’ll also need training in the new tools you’ll be using throughout the process. It’s not enough to go online, read a couple of tutorials, and assume that you’re ready to use the tool. You need to take time to learn and practice before getting your hands dirty in the real thing. Of course, nothing replaces the actual work, but in this case, you’ll have so many different things to worry about that you’ll need to prepare appropriately; it’ll help you avoid those dreaded dragons!
  • Set realistic goals. You’ll need to discuss the modernization process goals with users and top management. Once you show them the brochures of the many modernization tools available, they’ll want everything, or at least more than is reasonable. Naturally, you’ll also have to curb your own enthusiasm for all the cool things you can do with those shiny new toys.
  • Keep in mind that modernization is a process, not a project. A modernization process is not a one-time-only, big-bang project. Instead, you should set small, realistic goals that don’t jeopardize the company’s finances, customer base, or service levels. You can, however, plan the next steps in a way that is compatible with the company’s strategic goals. For instance, a modernization plan can be aligned with an internal marketing initiative, and the application’s new UI can be launched as part of a team-building event. Or you can launch a campaign to strengthen customer loyalty and have a few new services, resulting from a modernization initiative, ready to launch at the same time.
  • Design and implement a communication plan. This process is usually a long one, and it’s not easy to keep everyone motivated and focused on the ultimate goal. Keeping those not directly involved in the process “in the dark” leads to rumors, resentments, and a bad work environment in general. Designing and implementing a communication plan is every bit as important as the actual implementation of the modernization plan. You might want to prepare different announcements for those who are participating in the process, as they’ll need to know more details and they’ll have more questions. This group of people needs special attention because they are the backbone of the modernization process, so it’s critical to keep them informed and motivated.

Each modernization process is unique, so you’ll find your own roadblocks. I’ve described some of the most common, but keep an eye out for others that might arise during your implementation.

Setting Goals

Implementation starts with the setting of goals. I’ve mentioned the modernization goals quite a few times already without explaining what I mean. The next article will discuss what they are and how to set them.