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Application Modernization Challenges Aren't Just Technical

There are four crucial components of application modernization: business aspects, organizational opportunities, personnel needs and skills.

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This is the last post in this series on application modernization. The focus here is on four crucial components of application modernization: business aspects, organizational opportunities, personnel needs and skills.
What Business Aspects?
According to a Forrester Consulting thought leadership paper, “transformative digital investments deliver customer value, improve productivity, and drive revenues. These investments also afford businesses a high degree of flexibility, scalability and reliability.” When you parse these two sentences, you recognize the characteristics of modernization that appeal to the CIO like productivity and revenue. Other business language is used with application modernization that’s focused on doing it fast with lower risks and costs. 
Organizations, with full knowledge of the challenges of opening up the source code of major applications, are looking for a cheaper, safer and quicker way of getting some modernization results achieved. These are some of the business aspects of nontraditional approaches involving APIs based on Representational State Transfer (REST) and Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) and microservices as a way to organize the upgrades. These terms perhaps appeal to the development shop more than the CIO. 
In all cases, I am not cynical about the claims like improved productivity or lower costs because I know the work that’s done by suppliers to convince buyers that their product or solution has those characteristics. Buyers need to be convinced to spend money and suppliers do their best to deliver on their promises. I have been a participant in this dance, on and off, for more that 40 years.
Organizational Opportunities 
Embracing application modernization opens the door to updating application support and enhancement teams. You can use modernization to update the way you organize your teams. What’s the motivation? 
Many companies are changing their methods of maintaining applications and developing new ones due to various business challenges like the need for greater speed and improved quality. Some have started to use DevOps and other similar methods. You may be familiar with DevOps as it’s named for development and operations, two stages associated with application creation and support. 
What’s the goal of DevOps? DevOps seeks to improve business agility and better align IT with the company. Business agility is supported by DevOps through techniques that make more frequent software changes possible, whereas IT alignment is supported because members of both development and operations groups are supporting the same goals using the same approaches and a common toolset. In traditional modernization, I have written about DevOps and other traditional modernization tactics and strategies.
Personnel Needs
The intersect of IT personnel and application modernization is one of the most interesting aspects of the discussion. Long serving programmers are hard to categorize. Just because they make their living writing and supporting COBOL doesn’t mean that they don’t want to add some other skill to their toolkit. Some COBOL programmers embrace Java and any of the other languages that have burst on the scene over the decades. I was a bit shocked last year when I discovered this massive list of programming languages on Wikipedia. 
Many IT personnel are eager to learn new interfaces like REST and SOAP and XML and many other useful techniques. So the challenge of finding skills is more than generational. However, overall shortages of skilled programmers of any age are real. The talent shortage of software developers is well documented. 
Skills are Varied and Deep
I have spent a lot of time over the last five years looking at job openings to try to understand the skills required, both general (communication and organization skills) and specific to the task (for example, mainframe application developer or technical support specialist). Is there such a thing as application modernization specialist? 
Yes, has 235 jobs listed that focus on this specific area. Here is an example of the required skills for an application modernization specialist/developer. This IT person provides analytical ability and creativity for digital transformation solutions and the roles and responsibilities include:
  • Contribute to design, develop and potentially lead other specialists/developers on digital transformation engagements modernizing existing legacy platform (IBM mainframe–COBOL, CICS, Db2, etc.) to a modernized (SOA, microservices and/or API-enabled) enterprise architecture
  • Utilize provided information and appropriate frameworks to develop assessment materials to understand client needs and drive technical activities to completion
  • Conduct legacy asset analysis, code restructuring and refactoring, code conversion. Perform business logic extraction and build executable business rules.
  • Implement service-enabled, rules-based solutions on either mainframe or distributed platforms as well as other modernization offerings
  • Drive adoption of agile and iterative project approaches
  • Drive adoption of flexible and extensible web UI solutions using design thinking to arrive at effective user experiences
  • Develop medium to high complexity benefit realization models utilizing the modernization workshop and assessment methodology
There is more to this job description but this is enough to get the general idea of what’s needed to be successful at the task of modernizing applications. This is quite a challenging set of skills to grow or find, but if you have them, the salary range for the 235 jobs is from $90,300 to $135,000 a year. Not bad.
Wrap Up
I hope that you got some good ideas from this series on application modernization. If you have been following me on Destination z, you probably know that I have been writing in depth on this subject there as well. I am hoping to give a talk on this topic in June at the ECC Conference, but I won’t know if my proposal has been accepted for several more weeks. 

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