Need Help Approving A Modernization Project? Try A Business-Led Approach
October 14, 2019 Ajay Gomez
Getting momentum and buy-in for a modernization project can be tough. I’ve lived through this and fought the battle many times. What makes it difficult is that the problem is not obvious and needs to be explained to people outside of IT. For example, it’s not obvious to a business leader that RPG II code should be modernized to RPG ILE. In fact, if we were to modernize the underlying code without telling them, they wouldn’t notice a difference. The business doesn’t see the effects of modernization unless it’s UI modernization, which is why it’s tough to get buy-in.
Interestingly enough, though, there is a wave sweeping through organizations looking to implement new technology, and it’s called Business-Led IT. A business-led approach, as the name implies, puts the needs of the business – not IT – first. And beyond that, it means that IT and business are tightly coordinated, and working together to create solutions for their organization – including modernized applications, implementing digital transformation technologies, and cloud readiness.
But where to get started? First, IT needs to answer the following questions before embarking on a business-led approach to modernization:
- How do we get buy-in for a modernization project?
- How do we get momentum within the organization for the modernization project?
- How do we go about engaging the business to win support for the modernization project?
In my experience, I have found that the best approach to obtaining buy-in from the business is to shift modernization from a bottom-up strategy to a top-down strategy – that is, “business-led.” This can be accomplished by getting the business leaders involved at an early stage and leveraging their engagement to generate momentum throughout the organization.
Engage The Business Leaders
You can kick off a business-led approach to modernization by setting up meetings with each of the leaders and bringing them up to speed on the modernization project. Explain to them what you’re looking to do and why. Point out that you want to add value to the business as part of the modernization project and would like some input from the business team. Here’s an example of talking points to use when speaking to your leaders:
- What are your current challenges?
- What are your pain points with the system?
- What are your wish list items?
- Are you doing any workarounds outside of the system?
What are your current challenges? With a business-led approach to modernization, it’s important to get an answer for this question from a business perspective. Often when leaders are speaking with IT they assume we are looking for technical challenges. Make sure they take you out of the technical “box” and get some insight into business challenges as well as technical challenges. This is where true business-led IT takes place. Technology is at a place that can help solve business challenges and often the leaders are not aware that these capabilities exist. It’s up to the IT teams to offer solutions and propose them as part of the modernization efforts.
What are your pain points with the system? Pain points are something that should be evaluated as part of the modernization project. Not all pain points will be feasible to address, but there will be a fair number that can be focused on as part of the project. For instance, business leaders might be struggling with how to get the most value out of a department like sales, but they don’t have remote access to the dashboards and customer data they need while in the field. Or they may feel the pain that paper processes are causing with lack of productivity, manual efforts, and human error in certain parts of the business.
Addressing and attending to these issues will help the business see that you want to address more than the IT issues – you want the business as a whole to succeed.
What are your “wish list“ items? Good leaders typically have visions on where they would like their business units to be in 3-5 years and are actively working towards that vision. It’s important to discover what those goals are so that you can demonstrate how business-led technology can get them there. Use the information you get out of this conversation to help build a business case for modernization and win the backing of business leaders for the project.
Are you currently doing any workarounds outside the system? This is a critical question to ask and can help determine how well the application is aligned with the business process. Some of the common things I have run into are users maintaining separate spreadsheets of data or users writing paper notes and passing them along to the next step of the workflow. You’ll want to evaluate the misalignments and determine if modernization is the best approach for the application. If you find that users have too many workarounds it may be best to trash the application and rewrite it to fit the current business needs.
Example of Tying Business Goals to Modernization
Here’s an example of business-led modernization tying business goals to improvements made to current systems. Let’s say you come out of the conversation with leaders with the following business problems:
- We have an opportunity to develop new product lines and we need to improve our time to market.
- We have users maintaining spreadsheets outside of the system because they don’t trust the data.
- We have grown tremendously over the past 5 years and it takes too long to train new users. We need to shorten our onboarding process.
In this case, you can leverage business-led modernization to suggest the following courses of action:
- IT has uncovered the use of monolithic code that is holding the business and developers back. Modernizing the code base and moving to a modular structure will remove complexities, reduce time to roll out new products to market, and make developers more productive.
- The business can address data integrity issues by having IT modernize databases, changing tables from DDS to DDL, and adding business rules to table constraints to your database.
- Training new users and supporting business growth is key. Often, what holds end users back is outdated interfaces and processes. Replacing green screens with modern interfaces and paper processes with digital applications is a good place to start. Additions to applications like drop down menus, calendar pickers, and visual aids are all table stakes for the incoming workforce. A UI/UX modernization project would help with this business goal of reducing the amount of time required to train new users.
Another way to build momentum with business leaders is to shadow power users. Spend some time with various users in different departments and just watch them work for a few hours. You would be surprised at what you may find.
- I’ve experienced users getting frustrated because they have to enter in data like order numbers multiple times in the same workflow.
- I’ve seen users have to open up two or more green screen sessions because they need to see information that is displayed on different pages at the same time.
- I’ve seen users write information down on notepads from a screen and enter that information in another screen because it doesn’t carry over.
A business-led modernization approach should have buy-in from end users as well as business leaders, and by pointing out improvements have been welcomed and embraced by users, momentum for the project will increase.
Bring In Experts
Another way to generate momentum for business-led modernization is to bring in outside modernization experts. I was once told by a user that they were very excited to have me onsite and they knew the company was serious about modernization because they invested money on the project. I’ve found that users are typically more honest to outsiders about their systems which allows us to uncover modernization opportunities that may not have come up. Another benefit to bringing in an expert is that it gives the key stakeholders an outside perspective from people that do modernization on a day-to-day basis.
Take Your First Steps For A Business-Led Modernization Approach
If you need help getting started or want to discuss the unique modernization needs of your business and get guidance on how to approach business leaders, Profound Logic has a team of experts ready to help you. Not only are we experts in IBM i, application modernization, and web and mobile development – we also speak “business” and can make the business case for modernization and digital transformation in your organization. Reach out to us today: https://www.profoundlogic.com/services/#request.
This content is sponsored by Profound Logic.