Legacy systems are a thorn in the side of every business' IT department, whether due to an increased vulnerability to malware attacks or the fact that three-quarters of a typical IT department's budget is spent maintaining those old systems. Although modernization is an important step in overcoming those challenges, even carefully planned and well-financed modernization projects can and do fail.
A successful modernization effort requires all stakeholders -- the client, senior leaders, the project manager, subject-matter experts and technical staff -- to work together to ensure that the end result fulfills the project objectives.
1. Client. The client represents the obvious starting point of any project because he or she determines the budget, time frame and resources available to the modernization team. However, often overlooked is the client's role in providing a clear, well-defined goal for the modernization effort. At the same time, the client must hold the modernization team accountable to both time and budget constraints, usually by creating a review team and insisting on a fixed cost for the effort expended.
2. Senior leaders. Nontechnical decision-makers within the client business are another often overlooked but crucial element of a successful modernization effort. Although not necessarily technical experts, senior leaders -- such as the chief financial officer, CEO or even line-of-business managers -- are integral to holding the modernization team accountable and serve as authorities in providing resources and making the final call on a project's fate. Their expertise is also essential to ensuring that modernization efforts adhere to the client's needs and overall project goal.
3. Project manager. Bridging the gap between the decision-makers and the modernization team is the project manager. As with the senior leaders, the project manager's technical expertise is of secondary concern because his or her true value is the ability to guide the modernization process through its phases and keep the effort on schedule. In practice, that means helping the team see the big picture and understand when a project component must be delayed to avoid derailing the entire effort.
4. Subject-matter experts. Of course, a modernization effort would not be possible without the expertise of subject-matter experts. Technical staff work in close collaboration with those experts to ensure that the modernization team understands the processes performed by the legacy application and can identify the purpose of accumulated business rules whose meaning is often lost through years of revisions. Subject-matter experts also ensure that the team is adhering to the project vision as defined by the client and senior leaders.
5. Technical staff. The technical staff fulfills the final role in a modernization program. As the bulk of the modernization team, such professionals must analyze and update the code within the parameters defined by the subject-matter experts, the project manager and senior leaders. At the same time, the technical manager must be aware of each team member's strengths and expertise to ensure that tasks are delegated in the most efficient and effective way possible.
One more element of a successful modernization effort is a customizable tool that automates the extraction of embedded information from legacy applications, allows subject-matter experts to clean and optimize the extracted details, and generates modern code that meets the client's requirements.
With the right team, the process of documenting legacy code, extracting and optimizing business rules, and transitioning to a new platform are easily surmountable challenges. The best starting point is identifying an expert bench of project managers, subject-matter experts and technical gurus and choosing an automation tool.