Technology moves fast. Apps that seemed state-of-the-art only a few years ago can quickly become outdated. Maintaining and upgrading legacy applications takes time and money. At some point, companies need to make the call: Modernize or replace them?
What are Legacy Applications?
Legacy applications are software programs that are outdated in terms of technology but are still in use within an organization. These applications were typically developed using older programming languages or technologies and are often critical to business operations. The term “legacy” implies that the software may not have the latest features, is not as efficient as modern software, or may not be compatible with current technologies. Yet, it still fulfills an essential function or holds significant business value.
Over time, several problems can crop up with legacy apps:
- They lack features that users and customers expect in newer apps. This limits usability and satisfaction.
- Outdated code makes modifying or adding new capabilities more difficult.
- Integration with newer technologies gets challenging. This limits how apps can work together.
- Vendor support may be limited or disappear altogether.
- Potential security risks exist, making data vulnerable.
Do You Need to Modernize?
Before rushing into upgrades, review why your aging app needs refreshing in the first place. A few key reasons companies modernize legacy apps include:
- The app’s tech stack no longer meets business needs.
- It’s too rigid to adapt to changing user expectations or market dynamics.
- Security flaws or integration hurdles create operational risks.
- Challenges scaling up performance lead to lag and latency issues.
If your legacy app still reliably does what it should, and timelines work for a future rewrite, maybe it’s okay. But often, today’s competitive pace demands modernization.
Where Should You Start? 4 Key Steps
Don’t let the scope scare you off. Modernizing enterprise apps is very doable with careful planning and some expert help. Follow these steps to move in the right direction:
1. Evaluate Your App’s Current State
First, audit the legacy app to map its full footprint. Document what core functions it handles, the data it stores, and the systems it touches. Note pain points for users and IT teams supporting it.
Chart out the legacy tech stack behind the app. Detail its server infrastructure, coding languages, frameworks, and databases powering it.
Quantify any lag in response times. Check for potential security vulnerabilities. Estimate long-term maintenance costs in its current state.
This full picture shows what to improve and guides the business case for modernizing.
2. Define Your Ideal Future State
With your current app state crystalized, describe your goals around modernizing it. What issues will upgrading resolve for both users and your teams? How should performance and security improve?
Detail any new capabilities or integrations you want built in, like mobile optimization. Specify which emerging technologies you hope to leverage, such as cloud infrastructure or microservices architectures.
This envisioning keeps modernization efforts anchored around tangible targets as complexity grows.
3. Plot Your Application Modernization Journey
With your current and future states bookending the effort ahead, map out how to get from point A to point B. Plot a phased roadmap balancing business benefits, resources, and costs.
Depending on an app’s starting point and end goals, certain modernization paths make sense. Four common strategies include:
- Replatforming: Migrate the app and database to a new, more agile infrastructure without changing core code.
- Re-architecting: Evolve aging monolithic app architectures into decoupled microservices structures.
- Rebuild/Recode: Completely redevelop front-end and back-end code using newer languages and frameworks.
- Refactor: Streamline existing code incrementally to eliminate inefficiencies without rewriting entire app logic flows.
Most legacy modernization initiatives blend 2+ of these strategies across sequential roadmap phases tailored to budgets and timelines.
4. Execute and Optimize
With upgrades planned out, it’s gone time. Development teams migrate codebases, stand up new infrastructure, overhaul data flows, and enhance features users see. Change management ensures adaptations mesh with related downstream systems.
Once live for real-world usage, monitoring provides quantitative data revealing hiccups. Iteratively optimize legacy app performance, infrastructure load balancing, data caching, autoscaling capabilities, and more.
The cycle never stops. Even newly modernized apps will need freshening up in another 3 to 5 years. Doing the legwork now to build in agility and automation pays off big time down the road.
Key Benefits of Modernizing Legacy Applications
Beyond averting disaster by prolonging the life of essential legacy apps, modernizing drives real payoffs:
Updating aged code and back-end infrastructure better shields apps from malicious attacks threatening sensitive corporate data or customer info.
Improved Stability & Uptime
Transitioning from rigid legacy systems to agile architectures better handles traffic spikes plus isolates performance issues. Less downtime and lag result in happier end users.
Modern componentization and distributed cloud hosting structures allow smooth scaling of app capacity up and down to handle varying usage loads.
User Experience Lifts
Overhauling front-end designs, UIs, and mobile readiness boosts satisfaction and makes workflows more intuitive for employees and customers alike.
Migrating aging apps from legacy data centers to cloud platforms reduces operating and maintenance expenses over the long haul.
Legacy App Modernization Approaches
Of the options for upgrading legacy apps, re-platforming ranks among the most popular due to its practicality. It entails restoring core back-end code but migrating the entire app environment to modern infrastructure. This lifts and shifts to simulate aging app logic, data flows, and behaviors on a refreshed technology stack.
Replatforming quickly boosts reliability and performance thanks to new-generation servers, storage, and networking. And refactoring front-end access layers later allows for UI facelifts down the line. Typical steps in re-platforming legacy applications include:
1. Inventory Applications & Interdependencies
Catalog all pieces comprising legacy application ecosystems, detailing complex interconnections.
2. Split Front & Back Ends
Decouple presentation layers from business logic flow before migration begins.
3. Build Data Migration Scripts
To smoothly transition databases, craft automated tooling to prevent data loss.
4. Replicate App Logic
Mimic workflows, integrations, data structures, etc., from old to new platforms.
5. Test & Optimize
Validate accuracy plus performance at scale during pre-launch trials.
6. Shift Users to the Replatformed App
Redirect traffic away from the legacy platform onto refreshed environments.
7. Iterate Enhancements
With an upgraded foundation solidified, rewrite UI code and enhance features.
Does a Replatform Work for You?
Replatforming knocks out the low-hanging fruit – infrastructure upgrades, security patches, scaling capacity – to stabilize aging apps at relatively low risk. Coding remains constant, so existing app logic stays reliable.
This approach works best for apps with straightforward codebases tightly bonded to legacy platforms. And it can serve as an intermediary step before larger-scale re-writes down the line.
Finding help specialists for custom re-platforming projects is easier nowadays, too. Leveraging third-party maintenance and services partners jumpstart big modernization wins even on modest budgets.
Ready for Renewal? Prioritize Legacy App Modernization
Legacy applications form an important foundation for operations. But over time, cracks appear as user expectations and technical landscapes advance.
Rather than allowing aging apps to hold the business back, today’s tools make modernizing more accessible than ever. With careful planning and phased execution, re-platforming and rebuilding core apps can happen without major disruptions.
The journey requires effort but pays dividends in the long run. Modernized apps drive productivity, cut IT expenses, open innovation potential, and form reliable bridges into the future.