Let IT Flow: The Benefits Of Endless Modernization
January 4, 2021 Alex Woodie
The “big bang” approach has been falling out of favor for some time in the world of IT project management. Now, according to new research from Micro Focus, organizations that embrace the concepts of continual improvement, or “endless modernization,” of legacy applications achieve better results than those that attempt a wholesale replacement or a full rewrite of them.
The research was conducted by Standish Group, which Micro Focus contracted to write Endless Modernization: How Infinite Flow Keeps Software Fresh, which was released in early December. The study builds on Standish’s longstanding Chaos Report series, which seeks to document the conditions and patterns behind the success and failure of IT projects.
As more organizations look to modernize their critical business applications to meet emerging demands, they are looking to adopt best practices that will give them the highest odds of success. One of the emerging best practices they should consider is continuous improvement, or infinite flow, says Micro Focus product marketing director Ed Airey.
“What’s happened over the last several years with traditional project management is that these types of initiatives are command and control types structures. There’s a start and finish, and then the project concludes,” Airey says. “But software, particularly in this digital age, is ubiquitous. It sort of continues on. It doesn’t necessarily have an end date. And that’s why Standish in this particular report is advocating for a continuous or ongoing approach to modernization.”
When infinite flow is applied to application modernization, the projects start small, but build into something bigger along the way. “In many ways, it’s the anti-project delivery method,” Airey tells IT Jungle. “It takes from the agile and DevOps playbook in many ways, breaking down bigger projects into its smallest components and being able to delivery tangible value back to business faster.”
At the code level, infinite flow-based modernization projects are characterized by developers selecting portions of monolithic applications to upgrade. The business logic contained in these application components is then re-factored into multiple microservices. These independent microservices are re-assembled and deployed in a rapid fashion, enabling business and IT teams to test and verify functionality more quickly, providing an feedback loop that leads to more targeted functionality and overall greater agility.
The Standish Group’s report considered the comparative levels of success achieved by organizations adopting the infinite flow technique versus more traditional waterfall-style techniques for application modernization projects. The data for the report came from its CHAOS 2020 database, which reflects more than 50,000 projects that Standish has tracked over 25 years.
The study concluded that organizations replacing a software application and starting from scratch had a 26 percent success rate versus a 20 percent failure rate. By comparison, organizations adopting “flow like modernization” enjoyed a 71 percent success rate and failed only 1 percent of the time.
By comparison, organizations opting for a wholesale replacement of legacy applications with commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) business applications achieved success 44 percent of the time, but also failed 20 percent of the time.
The fact that one in five modernization projects that involve wholesale application re-writes or COTS replacement is a failure can be traced in large part to the lack of understanding of what the legacy application actually does, Airey says.
“If you think about it, a lot of that is led by not having a sound understanding, or in some cases documentation of what existed previously,” he says. “Not being able to fully understand how that application works, and embarking upon a project to rewrite it – most would argue that’s pretty risky.”
“The demand is for more value, higher customer satisfaction, and lower costs,” said Jim Johnson, founder of the Standish Group. “It is our opinion – based on our extensive research and observation of role models – that the move to infinite flow satisfies all three of these demands.”
The Standish report comes on the heel of a similar report released by its competitor Rocket Software earlier in 2020. That report, which was conducted by IDC and released in September, found that modernizing legacy applications was not only less risky for organizations that embarked upon them, but proved less costly in the long run.
While Micro Focus’ report ostensibly was focused on the benefits of flow-based modernization versus traditional waterfall methods, it came to similar conclusions as the Rocket study in regards to the risks and rewards of wholesale rewriting and re-platforming exercises. That doesn’t surprise Airey.
“The chances of success aren’t particularly high if you’re trying to rewrite applications,” he says. “We have clients who have attempted that and have not been successful, only to come back and realize, well we can be just as successful, perhaps even more successful, by building on the success they’ve had over time.”
Micro Focus is one of the world’s largest providers of COBOL tools, and its primary focus arguably is the System z mainframe. But it sells modernization solutions for IBM i systems and RPG applications too. Both of the legendary IBM systems are misunderstood, Airey says.
“The perception that old is bad and new is good is incorrect,” he says. “Just because something is older doesn’t necessarily mean it doesn’t have value, and that’s often times what gets misplaced in that discussion.”
These proprietary IBM systems often get overlooked in the rush to digital transformation. Organizations are understandably impatient to adapt their core applications to new demands and ways of doing business. In many cases, the continued existence of a company is at stake. But that old saying “haste makes waste” is applicable here.
“I think that feeds into this narrative and thinking,” Airey says. “If you’re going to look at transforming your business, well we should just start over by rewriting that COBOL application in C# or start over by rewriting that application using AWS services under Amazon.
“There are different ways of thinking, for sure,” he continues. “And I think part of that influences the strategy an organization would have. But we would argue, and many of our customers who have followed us along the journey would argue, that you can get there much faster, you can have a much greater probability of success at lower cost, without jeopardizing business operations by leveraging what you have, modernizing what you have in an incremental fashion. The numbers are in your favor.”
You can request a copy of the report here.