Today, over 80% of enterprise applications are not cloud native, meaning that many companies with a surplus of legacy applications are not benefitting from the business agility and the engineering velocity they once had. Approaching an ambitious and long overdue modernization project can be overwhelming, especially without the right tools and expertise. As a start, it can be tempting to “lift and shift” workloads to the cloud without truly modernizing the application estate in the name of saving time.
However, this approach may result in rising costs and limited benefits, while postponing the actual modernization of the application. This current investment, to generate the most return from the cloud, emphasizes the need for having a continuous modernization approach that accounts for short- and long-term plans. By having a vision and plan to future-proof and prevent the next monolith, companies will be able to prevent critical business issues like slowed innovation, stifled engineering velocity, ceded competitive positioning and lost dollars to technical debt.
Modernization Is a Continuum
The idea of continuous modernization is about managing the health of a company’s technology over time. Software “rusts” over time, much like leaving a car unattended in the front yard and expecting it to remain shiny and new. Viewing modernization efforts as a continuous process is important for several reasons. Right now, startups have the ability to innovate more rapidly than legacy companies, leaving enterprise companies susceptible to lost market traction if they are mired in technical debt. Second, modernization is unavoidable as the pace of innovation continues to accelerate. It’s important to save the heartburn and address the need early before modernizing the application estate becomes too unwieldy and costly to the organization.
Strategy for Continuous Modernization
Because technical debt functions like financial debt — in that it can’t be ignored or it will continue to compound over time — failing to address it through a continuous modernization strategy will negatively impact both business and technology leaders alike. Without modernizing, the company will face challenges meeting business objectives and improving software quality. The opposite of debt is innovation, and being “debt-free” allows companies to redeploy resources for R&D.
Developing a process and approach to continuous modernization is the first step to evaluating and managing technical debt over time. As companies evaluate and undergo modernization efforts, there are a few considerations for both short- and long-term planning.
By evaluating the state of technical debt and understanding the total cost of ownership, companies will be able to get to the root cause and understand why innovation cycles are slower and competitive advantage is waning. After estimating technical debt, determining the TCO multiplier for each and every application and conveying this to the business leaders is key.
It’s critical that a link be made between technical debt in an application, quality of the software and the impact on the business. With unwieldy technical debt, the company will be unable to meet business objectives. After working through these preliminary steps and finding a successful formula, it’s important to build a process around continuous modernization. In this process, testing and monitoring technical debt are continuously evaluated.
While feature enhancements are considered in the short term, it is important to treat decisions about the underlying architecture as longer-term because a lot of software lives longer than companies often expect.
In many ways, technical debt is a generational problem akin to how crushing student debt weighs down buying power after college. On a positive note, there are tools available to measure, manage and “refinance” technical debt through continuous modernization. In modernizing on a continuous basis, companies can easily restore engineering and business velocity, drive cost and risk down, and enable the greatest yield from cloud investments.
vFunction is a sponsor of The New Stack.
Feature image via Pixabay.