Posted on: 30 04 2024.

How To Create An Application Modernization Roadmap


Software applications are known to age fast—it is common for an organization to use one for a year and then replace it with another. However, a paradoxical observation is that many successful applications tend to be in use much longer. A mission-critical, successful application can be in use even for a decade or two.

Aging applications are often challenged by shrinking usage or are becoming technologically outdated. Application modernization is an investment in improving software applications and systems that can address either or both pain points: improving user appeal and security, supportability, and scalability concerns.

As with any investment, it is very important to have a well-defined and understood vision of the intended result. It is also essential to create a common understanding among all participants on how the end vision is to be reached. Creating an application modernization roadmap is one of the most common tools for communicating steps toward the goal of application modernization.

What is a Roadmap?

In software development, a roadmap is a high-level plan that outlines the vision and goals for a software project over time. It is a shared document that captures:

  • Project scope defines what the desired outcome of software development activity is.
  • Project milestones are specific intermediate goals that contribute to the overall vision of the project’s desired outcome.
  • Sequencing and prioritization of work and goals visualizes the importance and dependencies of specific stages or tasks.
  • Identified project risks and mitigations are listed as known challenges and resolutions that the project might face.
  • Project timeline is defining time expectations of a project, which usually is a consequence of addressing financial, legal, and opportunity constraints on the project and should also attempt to account for the time needed to mitigate known and unknown challenges that will manifest during project execution.

What is the Importance of Creating a Roadmap?

Every project aims for a specific outcome, but software development goals can be hard to reach and far in the future. While planning a path to a distant goal will require adjustments during execution due to unforeseen issues or opportunities, a roadmap is one of the most valuable tools used in project management.

A roadmap provides a structure for the step-by-step evolution of the project’s progress, highlighting main goals, related progress markers, and execution strategies. By conducting thorough assessments and strategic planning, companies can maneuver through the intricacies of modernization by utilizing innovative technologies and methods to improve efficiency, strengthen security measures, and achieve sustainable growth.

While it is tempting to spend a lot of time upfront trying to identify and mitigate as many risks for the project as possible, our experience shows that prolonged planning investment has diminishing returns. After a while, delaying the start of an application modernization initiative has a bigger impact on the organization’s money flow than discovering and mitigating additional risks in the plan.

Communication of the Project’s Vision

A roadmap is a document to inform every participant sufficiently to understand the project vision, the project’s goals, and the path to reaching those goals. A roadmap needs to communicate milestones to reach and provide visualization of dependencies for the upcoming project stages.

It is one of the best tools for gathering early feedback and calculating initial cost estimations, which is crucial for gaining the organization’s buy-in.

Measuring the Project’s Progress

Project stages form a transformational path that needs to cover all aspects of the change. The most common project stages are onboarding contributors, defining target architecture, hardware or cloud provisioning, application transformation, data synchronization or data migrations, staged releases or general releases, consumer onboarding, and more.

In accordance with continuous delivery best practices, we highly recommend addressing quality and security requirements at every stage of the project rather than having separate stages defined for security and quality compliance.

Project milestones are built-in checks to see if the project is on track. Each milestone should define a set of criteria (or tests) that prove that the stage has been successfully completed. In many cases, those tests should be automated and reused to continuously monitor and ensure previous achievements are still available.

Recommended Steps For Creating A Software Project Roadmap

When one is creating a roadmap, the following steps are recommended:

1. Start With Why

We recommend identifying the most relevant pain points and opportunities the organization faces and assessing the business impact of each identified challenge. The result is a prioritized list of challenges the organization should resolve to improve its business effectiveness.

  • Increased security risks and changed security requirements
  • Increased data and processing load from increased systems integration
  • Higher maintenance cost of diverse and legacy systems
  • Higher user experience expectations and higher competition pressures
  • Insufficient ability to integrate with newer technology

2. Define The Project Scope And End Vision

From the prioritized list of challenges impacting an organization, we recommend selecting only a few that will bring the biggest benefit. We recommend focusing on challenges that will improve competitive advantage and reduce the complexity of an organization’s daily operations.

While it is tempting to create one initiative to address as many challenges as the finances and available time allow, we highly recommend keeping any software development project small and focused on speed of completion instead. The benefits of reduced work-in-progress (WIP) are:

  • Having a low number of initiatives active at once reduces negative interference in the workflow. It reduces the need for elaborate scheduling, sequencing, and prioritization discussions. It also reduces the number of conflicts with other initiatives, the amount of queued work, and the ease of plan adjustments.
  • Another critical aspect of limiting WIP is that every challenge tackled is a learning endeavor—during project execution, the organization acquires new knowledge that will enable us to create better initiatives in the future.
  • It is easier to gather feedback and measure the impact of an initiative with reduced interference from other changes.

3. Align on the Outcomes

Once the project’s goals, scope, and priorities are known, the next step is to build the same understanding of the initiative’s vision, urgency, and priority.

Communicating the vision is also a great opportunity to gather early feedback. All questions and challenges to presented content are very welcome as they signal one of the following:

  • The audience knows something that the leadership needs to address before moving forward.
  • Or the audience is not empowered enough to understand the presented content.

Early communication and alignment reduce re-work needed later and give time to the audience to accept the coming change, reducing resistance to change.

4. Define Intermediate Goals and Assign Responsibility

Milestones are intermediate goals for a software project that help reduce the management complexity of the whole initiative. Setting time boundaries should be postponed for a later stage once responsibilities are assigned and the availability of resources is negotiated.

Next, we recommend defining the dependencies, sequences, and priorities of intermediate goals. The project must then adapt to the financial, legal, security, market, cultural, and other limitations.

And third, we negotiate resource availability and assign responsibilities.

5. Establish the Timeline and Risk Management Procedures

Once our initiative has a clear vision, goals, limitations, responsibilities, resources available, and a transformational approach is known, we can define an initial timeline.

Since every project contains a lot of uncertainty, we recommend creating a list of risks (with known and unknown causes) and preparing impact mitigation measures in case the risks are triggered. The most common measures are allocating additional time for reaching milestones with the highest risk, allocating additional resources, and creating a strategy that helps us re-negotiate priorities and the project scope.

Another of our recommendations is to create a project rollout plan that allows for incremental validation of work done and fast learning feedback loops that have minimal impact on business reputation and operations. The most popular techniques that can be used are quick prototyping, dark launches, A/B testing, and canary releases.

6. Execute, Monitor, and Adapt

After completing the roadmap and the project plan, it is essential to establish ways to monitor the project’s progress continuously and adjust the plan as needed. This will require tracking project execution to ensure issues are discovered and addressed quickly and effectively. Regular interactions with application consumers can offer useful feedback about any challenge or opportunity that needs to be addressed by adjusting the plan.

Monitoring applications during the transformation for unusual behavior or performance deficiency is needed so issues can be addressed quickly before users or operations are impacted. In addition, it is essential to have plans in place to predict and handle any deviation from the project timeline to make necessary modifications and secure project advancement. By forming protective measures, we are ensuring that any challenges or opportunities raised from implementing adjustments can be managed appropriately.

How to Make an Application Modernization Roadmap

An application modernization roadmap is very similar to a generic software development roadmap described above. However, additional circumstances need to be considered:

  • To define a modernization path, we need to understand the transformation’s end goal and the functionality already in use. A lengthy analysis of existing applications and systems might be needed to assess the system’s current capabilities and decide on the actions to take.
  • All capabilities of existing applications and systems are usually unknown when application modernization is implemented despite investment in system analysis.
  • For modernization efforts to succeed, a combination of source technology stack and target technology stack expertise is required.
  • Source and target technology stacks or architectures often do not have matching functionalities and capabilities.
  • Potential data inconsistency or quality issues present a significant risk to implementing practical data sync mechanics and executing successful migrations.
  • Changing application architecture and technology stack requires us to address new security concerns irrelevant to the legacy system.
  • Resistance to change is stronger for well-established systems. (see Lindy effect)
  • Many requirements and constraints that the project should address will be revealed only after the changes are exposed to consumers.

Technical Decisions That Influence Application Modernization Roadmap

The amount of work required to complete application modernization is highly context-dependent. Thus, choosing an application modernization approach, technology stack, and other decisions will significantly affect project costs and timelines.

Using The 5R’s of Application Modernization in Your Roadmap

Pain points or opportunities to be addressed as described in the section “Start with Why” above will determine which application modernization approach to select from:

  • Retain and optimize: Some applications’ behavior can be modified by changing how they are run, and that might be sufficient to address the organization’s needs. Examples include adding a caching service in front of an application that takes advantage of consumers performing many reads of a limited set of responses or deploying multiple instances of the same application instead of rearchitecting it.
  • Replace and retire: Switching to a solution that has already proven its value and retiring a previously used application is a very efficient transformation from an effort and time perspective. It is recommended approach when an abstraction layer in the system is available that takes care of incompatibilities or when open standards are used. Examples of a replace and retire approach are replacing one brand of HTTP server for serving static content with a new one or changing database technology behind an ORM layer. This approach is suitable when multiple market choices are competitive and standardized to address operational cost issues or adapt to end-of-support notification.
  • Rehost: This model is known as ‘lift and shift’ and involves moving applications from one environment to another with minimal or no code changes to the legacy application. The source and target application environments can be any server at a specific datacenter, a virtual machine hosted on a hypervisor cluster, a server hosted by an external provider, a private cloud instance, or a public cloud. Rehosting can address issues related to aging and unreliable hardware, insufficient computing power, insufficient memory capacity, excessive hosting costs by a specific provider, and the end of support for a legacy functionality or provider. Rehosting applications packaged as a virtual machine image or inside a docker container is considered a low-risk engagement. However, rehosting “bare” applications might be impossible, and a refactoring or rearchitecting approach is needed.
  • Refactor: Refactoring refers to improving application structure, performance, and maintainability without changes in the external environment. Refactoring can address hardware or software incompatibilities, stability, security, maintainability, end of support by third-party providers when a viable alternative is available, and limited scalability issues.
  • Rearchitect: Rearchitecting an application is needed once external factors have changed so much that partial rehost or refactor changes are insufficient to meet business or running environment requirements. Typical re-architecting activities include changing applications from synchronous to asynchronous processing, changing the monolith structure to a microservice-oriented architecture, or switching to serverless technologies. Most often, rearchitecting is needed to address the following:
    • rehosting an application is not possible due to significant incompatibilities between source and target environments
    • end of support of a fundamental technology that has no viable alternative available, scalability limitations of old technologies
    • the target environment for the application is not compatible with the application architecture
    • it is too expensive to maintain old applications and systems

Deciding On The Target Technology Stack

When assembling an IT solution for an organization, there are many options to evaluate and choose from. The flood of available frameworks, platforms, and technologies is already challenging. Still, once we also consider the volatility of the markets and the unpredictable lifetime of each component available, it becomes clear that every organization should optimize its operations for existential flexibility. One of the cornerstones of flexibility is an as-a-service mindset with a focus on value and monetary flow. At the same time, large investments and long-term commitments are considered a source of business risks.

We recommend public cloud platform usage. Even though many of the flexibility challenges can be addressed in multiple ways – we recommend choosing modern cloud platform technology as it is proving to be the most effective way of satisfying organizations’ IT needs. Most public clouds offer the following advantages:

  • Great flexibility as customers can create or close cloud accounts without limitations.
  • On-demand scaling of memory and compute capacity up or down with minimal effort and wait times.
  • Fine-grained and transparent cost management based on resource consumption.
  • Significant savings when leveraging managed services from the provider:
    • Auto-scaling avoids overprovisioning infrastructure and improves utilization.
    • The platform is maintained and supported by the cloud provider.
    • Managed services are already well integrated into the platform and are often implemented in compliance with open standards – so integration work should require less effort compared to other platforms.
    • Due to all the above, time to market and opportunity costs are reduced for organizations that deploy their applications to the cloud.
  • Many security mechanics are built into the platform and its processes.
  • Resilience is enabled in a cloud platform by utilizing workload balancing and disaster recovery mechanics.
  • As a lot of infrastructure and platform responsibilities are delegated to cloud providers, organizations are enabled to focus on innovation and value add for their offerings.
  • Reduced environmental footprint as cloud providers typically operate large-scale data centers that are more resource-efficient than traditional on-premises infrastructure.

Public cloud platform considerations:

  • Legal restrictions might prohibit using public infrastructure to store or process sensitive information.
  • Due to the cloud platform’s distributed architecture, some use cases might suffer from slower response times or network connectivity issues.
  • Vendor lock-in is often cited as an argument against using the public cloud. However, in our experience, this concern is a minor factor in deciding whether to use a public cloud platform.
  • All auto-scaling of public cloud services consumption needs to be aligned with the organization’s money flow to prevent runaway costs exceeding the benefits of the service provided. To prevent runaway costs, organizations often separate their limited development cloud accounts from less limited production cloud accounts.

Looking to the Future of Application Modernization

Because of constant advances in technology, organizations must stay up to date with changes in technology and tools. Selecting the right approach and choosing a good strategy can avoid many challenges. Trends like cloud, microservices architecture, containerization, DevOps approach, and IoT empower organizations to adjust their operations quickly, which provides leverage to stay competitive against other solutions that do not have such scalability, flexibility, and cost efficiency.

An essential influence on the future of application modernization is the ever-increasing involvement of process automation and artificial intelligence. Powerful tools can assist in application modernization by improving the speed and quality of decision-making, ensuring security compliance, and even helping transform legacy application code.

In summary, the evolution of modernization applications is marked by a blend of cloud-based tools, automated processes, artificial intelligence, DevOps methods, connecting with devices, and implementing security protocols. Embracing these advancements allows companies to remain creative and provide top-notch digital interactions for their clients while adapting to a constantly changing tech environment. Explore our application modernization solutions to see how you can transform your business for the digital age.