How to Build a Modernization Roadmap

Plan, Start, and Complete your Modernization Journey Efficiently and Effectively

Every enterprise that relies on mainframe applications is by default in the modernization business. The approaches to and degree of modernization will vary from one enterprise to the next, but all are engaged in it at some level. Like a Rubik’s Cube, modernization is a puzzle with many sides, twists, and turns. Modernization, however, needn’t inspire dread. Solving the modernization puzzle requires the enterprise to build a modernization roadmap.

Modernizing legacy System Z applications is an endeavor that seems like boiling the ocean. It’s often a daunting effort rife with complexities, hidden barriers, and a finish line that is somewhere way past the horizon. Where do you start? How long will it take? How much will it cost? Will our efforts even succeed? The more reliant an enterprise is on mainframe applications, the broader the scope and larger the scale of modernization efforts. It can intimidate even the most seasoned IT executives.

This article delves into the process of how to build a modernization roadmap that can effectively guide the process. Before doing so, however, it’s useful to survey the modernization landscape and consider the path that other enterprises have trod. A useful lens for doing this comes from recent research commissioned by vFunction and executed by Wakefield Research titled “Executives and App Modernization: What Architects Want You to Know About Why App Modernization Projects Fail.”

Released in June 2022, the research study looks at how application modernization goals, challenges, and reasons for failure differ between business leaders and architects. You can get a copy of this study here. Consider these study findings:

  • 4 in 5 software and architecture leaders in the survey report experiencing an application modernization failure.
  • 74% of study participants indicate the typical application modernization effort costs over $1 million, averaging nearly $1.5 million.
  • Almost 3 in 5 (58%) software and architecture leaders that were study participants report the typical modernization effort exceeds a year, averaging 16 months per project. Over one quarter report their projects take two or more years to complete.

Anyone who has been part of a modernization project team will not see these statistics as a surprise. The road to modernization has its share of dead ends, speed bumps, and potholes. It’s an expensive road to travel, and the journey for most takes longer than expected. This study data paints a realistic picture of most modernization journeys. Other key findings from this report provide insights about the modernization journey:

  • Securing funding and resources is the most difficult aspect of modernization, according to half of the executives and architects in the study.
  • Challenges for executives in the study include “Knowing what to modernize,” ranking second with “training and preparing the staff for modernization” ranking third.
  • Challenges for architects in the study include “building the business case,” ranking second tied with “training and preparing the staff for modernization.”
  • Half of the software and architecture leaders in the study report management prioritization was missing, resulting in halting their application modernization process at some point.

These insights reveal the stark reality of the modernization journey: it’s difficult to justify, it’s hard to prioritize the order in which to modernization applications, and it’s challenging to prepare staff to go on the journey. This data may seem sobering, but it also provides important clues to expediting the modernization journey.

Let’s consider these challenges alongside some solutions for navigating them successfully.

  1. Justifying the modernization journey. Securing funding and resources for the journey is made difficult because of the uncertainty surrounding its scope and scale. Rightly so, as the HostBridge team is acquainted with two instances of enterprises each spending half a billion dollars on their efforts without getting results.

    The solution: make informed decisions. Gather data about the core, daily processing activity that includes sources of mainframe transaction volume from users, macros, bots, scripts, and other applications. HostBridge recommends each project, large or small, begin with an analysis of this activity data to understand the modernization scope and business process dependencies. HostBridge can perform the analysis aided by its HTAC software and Splunk. A series of dashboards display the results that enable precise sizing of the project in terms of time and resources.

  2. Prioritizing the modernization journey. Most enterprises don’t have just one or two core mainframe applications. They depend on a suite of applications that serve many or all lines-of-business. Which one has top priority for modernization? Which line-of-business executive is willing to wait in line to modernize their mission-critical application? There typically aren’t enough resources to tackle all applications at the same time, and the VP of Risk Management wouldn’t allow it anyway. What’s the solution?

    The solution: metrics-based priorities. The analytic data that HostBridge helps enterprises collect and analyze reveals which applications are the “heavy hitters.” Mainframe applications are surprisingly interconnected with the outside world. Citizen developers are using their tools to exploit mainframe data and logic. Often, the full interconnectedness of the mainframe isn’t obvious. Mainframe integration analytics ensure that the most important, most critical applications are prioritized for modernization. The analytics take the guesswork and politics out of prioritizing applications for modernization.

  3. Preparing staff for the journey. A certain degree of polarization often exists within an enterprise. There are the caretakers of the mainframe and then there is everyone else. It’s typical that a certain degree of rivalry exists between these camps. Should the mainframe team be retrained on other platforms and technologies? Should non-mainframe architects and developers become experts on core mainframe applications? The truth is, for a modernization project to succeed, these two camps need each other and need to find common ground. How can this happen?

    A solution:  reduce dependencies with APIs. Well formed, business oriented APIs act as enterprise pivot points. Regardless of whether the decision is to remain on the mainframe or migrate, modernization is fastest when APIs reduce the number of technology dependencies. The right API design (and implementation) eliminates the need for any changes to the core systems while allowing free selection of technologies for modernization efforts. This approach enables incremental migration while virtually eliminating the regression risk. By contrast, poorly placed API boundaries, quick and brittle integrations, conspire to generate fear and slow down the innovation, all but killing organizational agility. The HostBridge innovation process excels at delivering APIs that work, perform and eliminate risk, regardless of the modernization path chosen.


 Modernization challenges and solutions to them.

The challenges of modernizing are significant. The modernization journey, however, doesn’t need to rival an Everest expedition in complexity and endurance. Using the solutions this article outlines, an enterprise can use its data to build a modernization roadmap that lays out the shortest, easiest path to the destination. Whether modernizing-in-place or migrating, HostBridge has the software, tools, and expertise to serve as your modernization sherpa. Use the contact information at the bottom of this page to contact us and start a dialogue about how we can help.

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