The 3 principles of modernization success

How GE Healthcare is dealing with modernization will be instructive as you chart your own modernization path forward.

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Enterprises are seemingly stuck.

They have a bunch of legacy applications hanging like albatrosses around their necks, inhibiting their ability to compete and deliver new experiences to their customers, employees, and partners.

As a result, there is tremendous pressure to refresh interfaces and update these legacy applications to make them fit into our expectation of how a modern application should function.

For some applications, the decision is easy. Whether because of their simplicity or criticality, enterprise organizations just suck it up and build a new, modern application from scratch. But with many other applications — most, in fact — it's a much more difficult situation.

Either because of their complexity or because they are essential to the organization, but not necessarily delivering competitive value, it does not make sense for the organization to spend precious resources and capital immediately rebuilding these applications in a cloud-native fashion.

At the same time, however, enterprise leaders know that they still need the ability to manage these legacy applications in a modern, dynamic, cloud-like environment as they undergo their transformation.

We refer to this entire process as modernization, and while it's a nice catchphrase, executing it leaves many enterprise leaders stuck in a conundrum, unsure of how to implement it and even unsure of what it means in a practical sense.

The good news for enterprise CIOs is that you’re not alone. Well established vendors that produce commercial software are in much the same situation. How one of these organizations, GE Healthcare, is dealing with modernization and the three principles that it is intrinsically applying will be instructive as you chart your modernization path forward.

1. Modernization is about the customer

The first challenge that many enterprise leaders face is understanding the real purpose of modernization.

Don't get confused. Modernization is not about having a prettier or even easier-to-use application. While that is almost always part of the outcome, just making it more aesthetically pleasing will not modernize it.

Modernization, as an integral element of digital transformation, is first and foremost about improving the customer or employee experience, improving productivity and delivering competitive value.

“Our customer base is going through the process of looking at their roadmap and asking what is the next generation of software they need to be effective — and how is GE Healthcare helping them to evolve without causing massive disruption?” explained Jay Burrell, Senior Vice President and General Manager of Digital Technology for GE Healthcare.

 “We’re looking at modernization in two ways,” he continues. “First, we’re trying to understand what the next generation of applications must look like and how we can evolve our current solutions. Second, we need to decide when it makes sense to evolve and when it makes sense to build a new born-in-the-cloud application.”

This focus on the customer journey as the anchor point for defining the modernization roadmap is its first critical principle.

2. Modernization is a journey

Understanding the purpose of modernization and anchoring it to the customer, employee or partner journey is the foundation, but execution is where things often get sticky.

Many of these legacy applications have been in production for a very long time — often measured in decades. They may feel antiquated, but they have a whole bunch of infrastructure built around them.

Just ripping them out and replacing them with a ‘modern application’ often does more harm than good as it may have massive repercussions across well-established business processes and the customer experience.

In some cases, of course, an enterprise should be disrupting these well-established ways of doing business, but it must be done mindfully and gracefully.

"We have an enormous customer base, and they've told us that we can't just cut them over to a new platform," shared Burrell. "They've told us that we still need to give them good support and functionality as they make the transition to the modern enterprise. It's a journey we're on together."

GE Healthcare has, therefore, adopted a number of strategies and approaches to help manage this transition, both as they modernize their application suite and as they help their customers go through the same process. One of those strategies is using a platform called Skytap that allows them to move their legacy applications to the cloud without replatforming or rewriting them.

“Skytap helps us continue to support our core products while we are modernizing,” explained Burrell.

By doing so, and employing other techniques such as modernizing their development processes, GE Healthcare can reset its legacy applications into a modern development environment and seize the advantages of the cloud while providing a graceful path for its customers as they proceed on their modernization journey.

3. Modernization is about agility

When the public cloud first entered the business lexicon, its purveyors positioned its primary business value as cost savings. Positioning cost as the primary driver of cloud adoption was expedient, but was proven false. The real business value of the cloud is the organizational agility that it provides enterprises as they must compete in a rapidly shifting marketplace.

In much the same way, modernization is not what it may at first seem. While most organizations talk about it in the context of rewriting applications, rebuilding infrastructures and building shiny new interfaces, that is not the underlying point of modernization.

Just as the focus of modernization is the customer, its underlying essence is not the technology, but the creation of organizational agility. Under the covers, modernizing is about creating an integrated application, infrastructure and business process stack that is no longer bolted to the proverbial data center floor.

The modernized business technology stack must, instead, be at once stable and flexible, agile but secure.

Modernization as a pathway to digital transformation

The gravest mistake an enterprise leader can make when it comes to modernization is to see it as an independent, discrete project. Instead, organizations must view it as a practical step in their digital transformation journey — a journey which the customer is driving.

That journey will involve rewriting some applications, creating brand new ones from scratch, sunsetting others and, in some cases, leaving legacy applications precisely the way they are, but in a more agile operating environment.

Modernization does not mean you should make all applications look shiny and new. Rather, as an integral part of your digital transformation effort, you should seek to re-envision your entire technology stack from the customer’s point-of-view and use these three principles to create your path forward.

[Disclosure: As of the time of writing, Skytap is an Intellyx customer.]

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