In digital times, platform re-architecture is a big and bold move
New-age platforms are the building blocks of digital transformation for any organization. Organizations are bringing seamless touchpoints for customers to create uniform brand experience across multiple channels of communication. For that, organizations are building new platforms and rearchitecting legacy platforms to support their scaling needs in digital times and make existing systems robust enough to create a sustainable differentiation with new-age platforms to roll-out digital products and services.
The quality, agility, scalability, and longevity of these platforms are largely determined by their architecture, and so as the business profitability.
What does it take to initiate Platform Rearchitecture Program?
Initiating a legacy rearchitecture program requires change at an enterprise level. It requires bold and specific plan to go with a high-speed improvement approach, break down functional silos, adopt technologies, build partners and networks to disrupt the legacy platforms. Right strategy is to revitalize legacy platforms is to adopt faster incrementalism with a step-by-step approach to support scaling needs of digital business processes.
Legacy modernization – A phased approach
Understanding legacy systems
Although a legacy platforms work, they bring instability and incompatibility issues with advancements in operating systems, devices and infrastructures. Most enterprises use legacy platforms as they continue to serve critical business needs.
Across organizations, achieving legacy systems rearchitecture is a tall-order transformation. Many businesses have evolved over the years, instead of rearchitecting their legacy systems they did immediate patch work to keep them up and running, resulting in poorly integrated platforms and systems, posing modernization challenges. Legacy systems are not just the ones written in old programming languages or hosted in-premises or bulky IT systems, but any systems that prevent organizations from adopting new technologies or processes for better customer experience and innovation are legacy systems.
Here is a categorization of legacy systems based on their characteristics under three categories–
Systems that are outdated and expensive to maintain– Outdated systems used by large and long-established businesses require a lot of maintenance and support costs are legacy systems. Usage of mainframes in Banking and Financial institutions is a perfect example. Mainframes win over any other platform because of their feature richness, dependability, availability and robust security required by banking and financial institutions. Trying to migrate workloads from mainframes proved successful, but an expensive and time-taking endeavour and highly prone to a failed outcome.
Built fast and failed to integrate – In supply chain heavy industries, organization build systems quickly to satiate immediate requirements. These systems have limited integration and scalable flexibility, ultimately holding businesses to compete in a digital era. They are the second category of legacy systems. Old POS systems designed and used by retailers are examples of such legacy platforms. Custom-made POS systems built to accommodate key business needs cannot adapt to modern age customer experience, IoT, Virtual and augmented reality technologies making them a challenge.
Limited scope of design enhancements– Systems with limited scope of new features introduction are legacy systems. Legacy systems with complex code and monolithic architecture are hard to change when business needs new features. There are high chances of developers who coded it have left the company. For the new developers it is cumbersome to understand cause and effect of code-changes and add new features to the existing platform. This increases the risk of integrating new requirements in the existing systems. A small update in such systems result in conflicts across the whole and other dependent systems.
Why the need of Modernization?
Consumerism, Hyper-personalization, Digitization, Social-Mobile-Analytics-Cloud (AKA the SMAC stack) demand changes in organizations across all processes. Legacy systems cannot support the accelerating pace of business world change. As we talk about changing business nature, we see three strong reasons for organizations to drive their modernization initiatives–
The SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) direction– Industries in Media, Transport, Travel have witnessed successful transition to “As-a-service” models while others are fighting legacy battle.
As a reaction to subscription economy, organizations implemented a set of prosaic activities–employing cloud technologies, investing in customer service, and introducing digital products and services without assessing underlying legacy baggage and their modernization approach. These prosaic sets of activities present a portend to replace or re-architect legacy platform making new business processes more productive, smarter, and faster.
Constant erosion in Platform Performance– Globally distributed organizations end up working on a single platform without consistent oversight across all teams and operations. It is not possible for legacy systems to keep up to the performance required for such large teams and organizations. Legacy systems require modernization or new engineering approach to improve performance and efficiency for globally distributed teams.
Integration-First Mode is the Matter of fact– Organizations are required to develop a platform with high-end integration possibilities. With the rise of Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Smart Machines, and the Internet of Things (IoT), legacy tech stack is required to exchange data with these systems. With APIs legacy platforms can integrate seamlessly across modern technologies with limited or no-changes.
‘All-in’ to kickstart and re-architect legacy portfolio
Organizations want to re-architect their legacy systems to support their new digital business models. Most of them stumble at the how part of re-architecting legacy systems. Why? Because, the process is more involved than just replacing entire technology stack go. It’s not just selecting new technology or selecting new cloud partner; organizations need to think about application maturity, integration, scaling, and testing, deployments, rollbacks and onboarding new customers on their new platform.
There are several paths to achieve this with different and varied starting points.
· Retrofitting solutions–Migrating existing legacy platforms or re-architecting them is not an instantaneous process, as it depends various organizational factors. Retrofitting legacy platforms with new technologies is an alternative to re-architecting new platforms with low cost and medium agility.
· Co-existence of modern and legacy systems–Organizations with large footprints of legacy systems cannot modernize whole systems at one-go. The phased approach of modernization works for them. As they are building agility into the system, there will be a need for modern and existing systems to coexist temporarily with a flawless handshake.
· Re-architecting the platform ground-up–As the legacy and modern platforms coexist, organizations build communication with the legacy platforms using APIs. A legacy platform can continue to exist with functionality enhancements while new platform is built. Organizations maintain legacy systems with limited enhancements as they cannot be improved further, slowly retiring and succeeded by a new and modern platform.
The evolving notion of modernizing legacy platforms has given rise to different approaches like Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA), Microlithic architectures evolving into basic and advanced levels. Understanding the modern challenges of moving from aging, legacy platforms to avant-garde, new age platforms. While these different approaches moved the ball forward for organizations, they presented questionable challenges in migration and modernizations scenarios. In my next article, I’ll talk about stages of maturity in a technical system and planning the maturity journey.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.