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The Ultimate App Modernization Strategy Guide for Businesses

The Ultimate App Modernization Strategy Guide for Businesses

Application modernization usually refers to transitioning outdated, monolithic software to the cloud. Unlike routine maintenance or updates, application modernization refers to a full-scale transition involving changes to the software architecture, platform, hosting environment, underlying code, or some combination. 

In today’s technology landscape, updating legacy applications isn’t a luxury; it’s a strategic imperative. Security, performance, and growth opportunities can all become hindrances to success for a business that fails to modernize its applications. Businesses that embrace app modernization stand to benefit from improved efficiency, stronger competitive standing, and long-term cost savings. 

In this guide, we’ll delve into the nuances of a strong app modernization strategy, offering best practices, insights, and real-world case studies. By understanding the importance of app modernization, businesses can position themselves for success in an ever-changing digital environment. 

What is App Modernization? 

Application modernization is the process of updating existing apps and technology to align with current business and technology best practices. Today, this typically involves moving large, on-premises software to a cloud-first software architecture model. 

Best practices for software development have changed over the years from large, monolithic software programs maintained with waterfall software methods to loosely coupled microservices maintained with a DevOps software methodology. The former approach can be cumbersome to manage, repair, and update. The application modernization process seeks to bridge the gap. 

The goal of application modernization is to accelerate efficiency, boost performance, and improve customer experience. These benefits can strengthen a company’s competitive position in the market. 

Some businesses avoid application modernization because of cost and complexity. However, outdated systems can have serious implications for performance, security, and reputation. Often, the benefits of embracing app modernization far outweigh the costs. 

Key Components of a Modernization Strategy

Any successful application modernization effort includes several essential factors. Remember these elements as you plan to upgrade your existing systems to meet current digital technology standards. 

Assessing Current Technology 

Before you decide exactly what and how to modernize, you must take stock of the status quo.  Application modernization can feel like a game of Jenga where finding the right block to tackle first is key. Consider your existing application landscape, noting both your current technology stack and how each tool interacts with the others. Be sure to note any dependencies between systems.

You’ll also want to clarify specific functionalities your existing technology serves and whether that role will be necessary later. For example, it’s possible that some applications in your technology stack don’t match future business needs. In that case, replacing them with a modern equivalent might not be necessary. In the same vein, think critically about existing pain points and areas for improvement. Data silos, process bottlenecks, and extended downtime are all symptoms of outdated technology that can be solved with enterprise app modernization. 

Reviewing Modernization Approaches

There are several primary methods for application modernization, with varying degrees of complexity and cost. On one end of the spectrum, there’s the “Lift-and-Shift” method, while on the other, there’s fully replacing the existing technology. Landing on the right approach matters for a strong app modernization strategy. Let’s take a look at the most common approaches. 

  • Lift-and-shift: With practically no code changes, this method takes software as-is from one hosting environment to another. A rehost approach might be suitable when time or budget is limited or if the existing technology doesn’t require significant change. 
  • Replatforming: This method requires more code changes than “lift-and-shift” but fewer than refactoring to make a technology compatible with cloud applications. This approach might be suitable for lower-priority applications with a limited need to interface with more modern technologies. 
  • Refactoring: To prioritize efficiency, this approach repackages the existing code so that the technology can benefit even more from a cloud-first environment and other cloud applications. This middle-of-the-road approach offers the benefits of app modernization without undertaking a significant software development project. 
  • Rearchitecting: This method retools existing code so that the application can benefit from the scalability of the cloud. Enterprises looking to maximize the growth potential of the cloud should consider this approach. 
  • Rebuilding: Used particularly if an existing application has a limited lifespan, this fairly hands-on approach involves rewriting the existing code entirely for cloud solutions. Often, this approach makes sense for businesses with significantly outdated technology or for high-priority or specialized systems where security and usability are essential. 
  • Replacing: As the name suggests, this approach leaves existing technology behind completely and opts for an off-the-shelf solution instead. When a business doesn’t have the luxury of time, swapping out an older system with something ready-to-use can be a helpful way forward. Note, however, that replacing a legacy application can present integration, performance, and adoption challenges.

Learn more: Build vs. Buy: Which Option is Best for Your Business?

Choosing the Right Approach

There’s a time and place for each modernization approach. The right one for your business will depend on a variety of different factors, such as the complexity of your legacy application, budget, business goals, and the level of transformation you’re looking to achieve. For instance, when a quick and more affordable option makes sense, a lift-and-shift approach might be suitable. Whereas, if you’re hoping to reposition yourself for longer-term success and budget isn’t an issue, rearchitecting or rebuilding makes more sense. 

Learn more: Is Custom Software Development Right For Your Business?

Building a Roadmap

After assessing their existing technology, many businesses discover the need to address more than one technology in their app modernization efforts. Due to resource constraints and dependencies, an all-at-once approach usually isn’t an option. Instead, create a phased plan with key milestones and timelines. 

If you’re unsure where to start, prioritize applications for modernization based on their business impact. In other words, consider which updates can propel your business forward or prevent harm most. Similarly, consider how you might structure your roadmap to minimize disruption to your operations. 

Learn more: How Long Does It Take to Build an App?

Technical Considerations for Enterprise App Modernization 

Bringing your outdated technology to par with current digital solutions will likely mean a few technical considerations. Review these hallmarks of modern software methodology before you start so you know what to expect and why the shift could be so beneficial for your business. 

Cloud Migration

Today’s standard for enterprise technology means cloud-based solutions. Modern applications are usually hosted either in a private, public, or hybrid cloud. Cloud hosting has several benefits over on-premises technology, including increased scalability and cost optimization. The cloud lets businesses pay only for the server space they need while giving them practically infinite opportunities to grow their users. These flexible and cost-effective benefits make migrating legacy systems to the cloud a strong strategic decision for many businesses. 

Microservices Architecture

Microservices architecture has replaced outdated monolithic technologies as the technology standard. This loosely coupled approach to building software breaks down large applications into smaller services, promoting flexibility and agility. Microservices architecture is faster and easier to repair, update, or change since functions are delineated. Rearchitecting legacy applications usually means adopting the modern, microservices approach to building software. 

Containerization and DevOps

Modern software development practices include containerization and DevOps deployment methodologies. As it relates to software development, containers are bundles of software package code together so that they deploy quickly and easily across an application. Likewise, the DevOps approach streamlines software deployment by bringing together development and IT teams, two groups that have historically stayed separate. By involving key stakeholders throughout the software development lifecycle, DevOps makes smaller, more frequent software updates common practice. 

Overcoming Challenges

Enterprise app modernization requires a commitment of your time, your budget, and your team. So, it’s worth understanding the possible challenges you might face if you choose to embark on the effort. By being prepared, you can anticipate and overcome possible hurdles to your app modernization strategy's success. 

Cost & Budget 

Budgets can be a limiting factor for companies wishing to update legacy applications. Cost, however, is usually only an initial challenge. In the long term, many modernization efforts offer a significant return on investment. Remember, choosing the app modernization solution with the cheapest upfront cost isn’t necessarily the most cost-effective choice. Modernizing outdated systems can save on costs related to downtime, loss of customers, security breaches, and more possible downfalls of keeping legacy technologies.

Learn more: How to Calculate the ROI for Custom Software

Skills & Expertise

Application modernization requires specific know-how. To transition your outdated systems to something more modern that suits your business goals, you’ll need help. In some cases, that might mean calling on in-house talent to devote some time and attention to the project. Other times, you’ll need to find and hire an outside modernization partner

Change Management 

Changing the status quo can always ruffle a feather or two. For smooth adoption of the modernized technology, company-wide buy-in is essential. Involve key stakeholders in the process from the beginning to ensure the project benefits from complete information and champions who can oversee and advocate for the effort across the business. 

Success Stories & Case Studies

National Trench Safety 

The team at National Trench Safety recognized that their legacy software systems were no longer meeting their needs. The existing customer portal was slow to load, lacked data visualization options, and left a lot to be desired when it came to reporting capabilities. So, it was no surprise that very few customers were actually using the app, meaning lots of manual logistics management fell on the team.

The team underwent a comprehensive process with Designli to identify opportunities to iterate on the existing application and drastically improve it. Designli worked with NTS to rearchitect the entire system, modernizing the elements that needed improvement and adding in new ones. The portal application called WorkZone has transformed how NTS handles trench and traffic safety equipment rentals, increasing customer satisfaction thanks to its transparency and simplicity. And, because the customer portal finished earlier than expected, the project opened the doors to additional innovation, sparking two software projects that have further increased NTS’ capabilities. 


For Founder Eric Kunisawa, a frustration over finding a particular $12 bottle of wine turned into Grappos, a software powerhouse serving some of the biggest labels in the wine industry. Launched in 2008, the code base had begun to age. So, Kunisawa looked to Designli to help him modernize the Grappos software and find even stronger technical footing for the future. 

By breaking down the software relaunch into digestible milestones, the Designli team was able to manage a smooth rollout with minimal disruption to existing customers. Careful planning, from detailed mapping of existing code and a clear vision for the modernization effort, paid off. The resulting mobile-responsive web app brings Grappos up to current software best practices and positions it well for ongoing iteration. 

Final Thoughts on Enterprise App Modernization 

App modernization isn’t a luxury; it’s a necessity to remain competitive in today’s ever-evolving digital landscape. As with any software development undertaking, detailed planning is paramount to successful and cost-effective modernization. A strong strategic plan and commitment to the app modernization process can be the difference between companies that sink and those that swim.

Not sure if you’re positioned for success? Perhaps, it’s time to assess your own systems. Designli is skilled at helping businesses determine if now is the right time for app modernization within your business. From mapping out your existing systems and identifying areas of weakness to crafting a thoughtful plan forward, we can support you. Schedule a free consultation to get started.

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