Back to the future

Over two thirds of the IT budget, it has frequently been noted, is absorbed by the maintenance and support of existing applications. Surely, then, today’s senior IT managers must be well equipped with an understanding of how those applications continue to contribute to the critical functions of the business.

But an understanding is rarely there, said David Stevenson, UK general manager at application moderisation company Micro Focus, speaking at the most recent Information Age webinar.  In fact, IT managers are sorely lacking in such information, and that leaves them ill-equipped to assess the impact of infrastructure and architectural changes upon legacy code.

As businesses move towards more modern, business-responsive architectures such as service-oriented architecture, and rationalise their hardware estates, they are forced to make tough decisions about the future of legacy applications. The applications themselves may be sturdy and reliable, but the platforms on which they are based may restrict business agility. Nevertheless, the application functionality supported by those platforms is often of great value to the business.

“We find that people want to extract the value from legacy applications, which they might have been investing in for twenty years,” said Simon Broome, UK development and testing manager for business services provider T-Systems.

So when should legacy applications be migrated to new platforms, and when should they be replaced? Stevenson believes that at root principle, this is a simple question. “‘If a legacy application has value, it should be preserved,” he said. “If not, it should be replaced.”

But the lack of insight that IT managers have into the legacy stack, said Stevenson, means that even making such straight-forward value judgements can be impossible. “How can you make decisions on such limited information?”

This is where tools and processes can come in handy, Stevenson explained. By undertaking a systematic assessment of the legacy stack, organisations can build an understanding of which application functionality should be preserved, and which jettisoned.

“In a typical assessment, we would use a software tool to understand applications and their business value,” he said, giving the example of Micro Focus customer HSBC, which employed such a technique in rationalising over 250 applications at its European division.

Peter Schofield, EMEA leader of application modernisation at systems integrator EDS, added that best practices are now available which complement the latest assessment tools, making the decision of whether to replace or update an easier one to take.

“We’ve been looking at application modernisation for some time,” he recalled. “The real change has been bringing in best practices.”

And that’s a good thing too, because as Schofield explained, “the business context and requirements to win have never been more challenging.” As the business demands faster service delivery and greater agility of the IT department, the pressure to stay up to date is at an all time high.

But there is a bright side: Schofield reported that by rationalising the application portfolio, between 30% and 60% cost savings can be achieved, and that is before the potential business benefits of the agile architecture that rationalisation permits have been factored in.

Pete Swabey

Pete Swabey

Pete was Editor of Information Age and head of technology research for Vitesse Media plc from 2005 to 2013, before moving on to be Senior Editor and then Editorial Director at The Economist Intelligence...

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