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How to plan a road map for application modernization

By Charles Dickerson, Relativity Technologies
October 22, 2003 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - After a quick read of today's information technology press you'd think the world's information systems are based on nothing more than Java and Web Services.

But in reality the bread-and-butter applications of most large organizations still run in legacy environments. In fact, more than $1.5 trillion has been invested in Cobol applications, and more than 30 billion Cobol transactions occur daily -- that's more than the total number of Web page hits on any given day.

Gartner Group recently estimated that between 60% and 80% of an average company's IT budget is spent simply on maintaining existing mainframe systems and applications. Besides being expensive, it's time consuming.

As a business develops, it integrates accumulated experiences and strategies into its existing legacy applications. To simply abandon these applications is to lose a significant competitive advantage.

The most effective solution is to preserve and renovate the critical business processes by developing an incremental modernization road map. Such modernization efforts reduce operational and maintenance costs associated with the management of existing technology, as well they open up applications to more progressive capabilities such as integration and Web services.

What are the key steps for the development of a modernization road map?

The sheer importance of legacy applications to the success of your business requires that any modernization effort follow a well thought out plan. By planning your road map, you can greatly increase the likelihood of a successful project. And because your business depends on the stability and power of your legacy applications downtime cannot be tolerated.

As a result, your modernization road map must take on an incremental approach to avoid the risks of a "lift and shift" strategy.

The process consists of four distinct steps leading to a decision point. With the information collected with the road map process you can more accurately determine how to best modernize your applications.

The four steps are:

  1. Application Assessment: to analyze your existing applications, preferably in an automated fashion, to determine their complexity and structure. This assessment can help to set the groundwork for identifying and isolating your business rules.

  2. Business and Technical Understanding: to better understand the nature and intended usage of the applications from a user perspective.

  3. Target Definition: to define what structure the application portfolio should take following the modernization effort. An attentive eye should be directed toward resource constraint issues by tracking the effort required to complete each portion of your modernization project.

  4. Recommendations and Road Map: a synthesis of the insight gained during the earlier steps, combined with detailed metrics on the applications can provide a clearer picture of how to proceed with your effort.

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