Organizations in almost every industry are upgrading their technology to harness innovation, stay relevant, and navigate rapidly changing market demands. In this race, one of the biggest challenges facing IT leaders is to discover the confidence to make decisions about the best strategic moves. Because new tech involves not only new opportunities but also new risks.  

In digital transformation, modernizing legacy applications or migrating the mainframe is often a one-time change for organizations. Second chances are costly and there is very little room to live and learn.

Preparation is crucial and, at Astadia, we use a proven methodology to help organizations assess their options, develop a plan, and successfully break free of their mainframes. We have put together a list of common mistakes and challenges you may encounter during your digital transformation journey, so that you are fully prepared for what’s to come.

1. Limiting your modernization options to the most popular solutions

We could very easily narrow this article down to just one tactic that is vital for any legacy project: choosing the right strategy. If not implemented carefully and considerately this could lead to other strategic errors. There are ample ways to approach a migration and not all of them will be the right fit. Moreover, finding the right method from the get-go is not always as straight forward as it seems.

How to approach this challenge

Go over all the different modernization options and carefully weigh their implications and pros and cons. Here is an overview of the main group of solutions according to Gartner. At the end, “choosing is winning, but only if you choose wisely.”

2. Failing to choose a solution that matches both your IT system’s specific architecture

First and foremost, be aware of your legacy and its characteristics. In some cases, these systems have been in production for decades and have seen multiple changes and upgrades in the underlying infrastructure. This combination results in an environment that is, by now, quite unique. The same goes for the chosen target technology stack, where the combination of infrastructure and product versions creates a one-of-a-kind system.

Apart of the degree of complexity, size is also an essential factor. If you have a small application, you might be able to make use of the Business Rules Extraction solution. But if the transformation involves huge systems, like most of our clients have, you will probably need other methods.

Companies have tried rewriting these types of applications from scratch over and over, frequently having to deal with huge delays or even abandoning projects and losing millions of dollars in the process. In theory, this looks like the best solution, but is it really when you consider the risk?

How to resolve this issue

Look at your legacy and think about what you need. Does the application itself work from a business perspective? Do you even need to rewrite it? Can migration and testing be automated? Do you want this application running in the cloud? What about modernizing programming languages? Make sure that you analyze all options out there, even if you think you already found the right one.

Here's an overview of the main modernization solutions >  

3. Failing to project the (real) ROI

Alignment between business and back-end, or the lack thereof, is another important factor to consider, and we don’t need any drumrolls for the reasoning behind it: the budget.

For business it can sometimes be difficult to see profit in something that is not always visible from the start. We see a considerable number of projects going haywire because of lack of understanding from a business perspective. Why would you invest in a project of that size when there is limited (or even no) change in functionality for the end user?

A recent survey revealed the disconnect between business and technical priorities as a cause for a staggering 74% of uncompleted projects. Failing to match IT priorities with business priorities will likely create or deepen the gap impacting the decision-making process.

How to avoid this issue

Identify the main reasons to modernize. In many cases, the primary reasons can be narrowed down to hardware dependency, high maintenance costs, lack of integration options, and skills issues. Analyze how they impact your organization’s business processes and build a strong case for the need to modernize IT systems and how digital transformation initiatives will improve business operations and overall financial results.

Many organizations put a lot of emphasis on economizing on the current systems. That sure sounds like something the business won’t complain about. But how do you do that while both holding on to your employees and being locked in mainframe maintenance? Most of today’s IT budgets are spent on maintaining legacy applications instead of developing new capabilities.

It all depends on correctly projecting the ROI to please the business. Finding that sweet spot to get them on board. And to do that, you need to find the right approach for your specific case.

US Air Force case study

4. Postponing the digitalization of your organization

Timing is also crucial. Postponing modernization projects just because legacy applications don’t seem like an imminent threat to the business environment is another mistake that will influence future development; being aware that modernizing could (and will) take time is not. Tech companies will come with new technologies of their own and cease support or updates for old ones. And you don’t want to be on the wrong side of the river when that dam breaks.

According to Gartner, 87% of senior business leaders say digitalization is a company priority, yet only 40% of organizations have brought digital initiatives to scale. Moreover, the gap between aspiration and achievement is widening for enterprises attempting digital business transformation.

How to capitalize on game-changing market disruption instead of being left behind:

Start planning. Today, digital transformation is not a nice addition to enterprises’ overall strategies but a business imperative. Acting now is likely the best strategy. In the end, it all depends on the chosen approach and a comprehensive planning. Change is great, but only if you’ve asked all the questions to navigate the risks.

Read more:

Mainframe modernization in times of crisis: survive or thrive? [Part 1]

Mainframe modernization in times of crisis: survive or thrive? [Part 2]

5. Lack of specialized know-how and guidance

Deciding the right modernization approach requires a clear vision and a thorough evaluation of the legacy applications’ capabilities. This requires having the right, digital-savvy leaders in place, and also including migration experts in the early stage of strategic planning. Setting up the right partnerships to support a complex modernization project is crucial in designing the transformation path and choosing the right migration approach and tools.

Not all digital transformation services providers are created equal. Legacy application modernization has long been the exclusive field of highly technical and specialized companies. Still, this is an emerging and changing market, and there are many companies making claims on capabilities they supposedly have. Going for the most popular solution or better advertised vendors doesn’t always guarantee the right approach or a successful project.  

How to find the right advisors and partners

Reach out to mainframe migration experts before choosing the modernization approach. Reputation and references are extremely important. Consider the know-how, the Intellectual Property (IP), and the projects’ success rate of your future partners, and how their expertise can help you determine what the stages and steps are, how the project should be structured, which and how processes should be automated, what typical pitfalls and risks may occur.

At Astadia, we have been supporting organizations for almost 30 years to design their strategy and manage the entire transformation process. Have a look at our case studies, learning resources, partners, and get in touch with our experts for any questions you might have.

Mainframe modernization playbook

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