Your business systems are a lot like a city’s infrastructure. Your customers expect certain services (perhaps a mobile app, one-click online purchasing functionality, live customer service on your website and communication via social media) in the same way that a city’s residents expect to have access to hot and cold running water, well-maintained roads and modern power and phone service. Cities often have a tough time keeping up with filling proliferating potholes resulting from increased vehicular traffic or replacing pre-computer era telephone lines strung on power poles with underground T1 lines that accommodate high-speed data. Similarly, your growing business is bound to experience challenges in updating legacy data systems and providing services that, although demanded by your current customers, may not have even existed just a few years ago.
And then there is the matter of planning for the future. Not only may legacy apps be holding you back, but you may also not know what newfangled app or service your customers will be clamoring for next year (or maybe even next month)? Will your 1970s and 1980s era software and hardware, which may no longer be supported, be able to keep up with the times?
The phrase “modernization” is bandied about at the highest levels in every company, but resistance to change is likely to cause headaches and griping among everyone from IT to accounting to HR. So what exactly are we talking about? What are your modernization options?
The right answers will depend on your business needs and long-term goals.
To give you an idea of what may be involved, here’s a brief summary of the most popular approaches to technology modernization.
Web enablement harnesses the power of the internet as a middleman between your legacy apps and modern software. Much as parents and teenagers often feel as if they need a translator to have a basic conversation, cross-generational communication between software requires a dictionary of words that have the same meaning to everyone involved. Application program interfaces (APIs) establish a set of ground rules that provides the common language to allow a Babel of programs from different decades to understand each other. The Rosetta Stone is typically hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP), the language of the Web. Popular web enablement acronyms include SOAP (simple object access protocol) and REST (representational state transfer), both of which refer to methods of establishing pathways for a variety of software to perform tasks such as retrieving web pages or sending data to remote servers.
Another approach involves the soul searching of stepping back and examining the big picture of the services that you provide to your customers and the specific functions that must be accomplished to fulfill their expectations. You can think of this as drawing a map or diagram of how data comes in and what must happen to that data before services are output. Common methods of tackling this challenge include business process management and service oriented architecture.
Business process management (BPM) is a move toward disentanglement that requires breaking down the functions performed by your business into chunks or building blocks. The goal is achieving process improvement that goes beyond dealing with old technology to encompass such processes as lean management and CRM. The idea is to modernize by eliminating duplicative and obsolete processes, by combining and streamlining operations, and by developing algorithms to automate repetitive functions.
Service oriented architecture (SOA) makes use of applications that work over a network to allow integration of the various components of your business operations. To do this, you might identify business functions currently employing the resources of multiple programs that could be performed by a single software package. Or you might examine how and under what conditions data transfers from one program to another to reduce unnecessary friction points and optimize throughput. The idea is to create less portage and more paddle, less of the clunky and more of the smooth. The right applications can leverage network capabilities to serve as a conductor that bring the strings, brass and woodwinds of your business processes into a unified symphony orchestra.
Finally, some businesses may benefit from a traditional migration or port/rewrite operation, sometimes referred to as “lift and shift.” While this may not require as much technology as other approaches, it does mean that your programmers must have coding expertise in both your legacy software and in the more modern programs on which your processes have come to depend. And it may cause you to lose the potential benefits of moving legacy software apps to the cloud.
What is clear is that the same solution will not work for every business. Like any grand plan for the future, technology modernization depends a great deal on where you’ve been and where you are today.