Money For Nothing: Why Legacy Modernisation Projects Fail
Blog //27-02-2017

Money For Nothing: Why Legacy Modernisation Projects Fail

by Rob Anderson, Vice President of Marketing and Product for Application Modernization

Modernising legacy platforms from old languages like COBOL is all about managing risk. Here are some Best Practises for getting ahead of the game and avoiding common mistakes.

Legacy modernisation is all about managing risk- of staying on legacy systems as well as the risk involved in moving to new ones. We asked one of our senior leaders, VP of Delivery, John Regan to weigh in on what makes modernisation projects fail. Regan has been working in the field since the mid-90s. In the end, the reasons are basic and get right to the core of what it means to modernise.

Technology Tunnel-Vision

There’s more to legacy modernisation than modern languages, IDEs, components, and platforms. Large organisations often have millions of lines of legacy code. The code is written in older languages such as Natural, COBOL, or C. It encapsulates decades of business processes, lessons and protocols.

“There are definitely productivity improvements in going from structured languages to object-oriented languages, tools, components or frameworks, but that perspective is all about value for IT – not business-centric modernisation, aligning business with IT. When is the last time you saw a business stakeholder go through Java code or use Eclipse? It’s always a good idea to catalogue your business logic and technical use cases,” says Regan. “It’s costly and frustrating to address this challenge after the migration.”

Advanced’s solutions guarantee a 100% business logic and functionality match between the legacy and target environment. “It’s the best of both worlds,” says Regan. “IT gets their new environment and the business doesn’t lose any of the critical processes collected over the years.”

Unrealistic Expectations for Legacy Modernisation

Setting a clear path for success starts far before contracts are signed. Advanced is careful to set expectations in the sales process for what it will take to make the project a success. "It's not always the popular thing to do," says Regan. "But transparency is critical for success. In the middle of a sales process it is easy to promise more than can be realistically delivered. When this happens projects get into trouble." To make sure we keep everyone honest, Advanced involves delivery staff in every sales cycle. "The delivery staff ensure we can deliver what we promise," says Regan. "They lay out clear steps to the customer so they understand exactly what's necessary to make the project work."

Relationship Melodrama

For a legacy modernisation project to be a success the customer has got to want it to work. This sounds obvious, but at large organisations politics often become a factor. If a project is sponsored by one group but opposed by others who need to be engaged for the project, it's doomed. "Internal infighting is a recipe for disaster," says Regan. The boundaries of a successful relationship must also be respected by the vendor and customer. "There needs to be some element of give and take," adds Regan. "If one partner is inflexible and refuses to engage in whatever is needed to make the project succeed then the project is likely to run into problems."

Remember the End User

Most legacy systems are highly transactional and automated, but still elevate exceptions to humans. Managing exceptions can be the critical to the daily operations of the business. If the modernisation effort is solely focused on the operational or system areas without looking at the enablement of the human participants who handle exceptions, the result is partial and incomplete modernisation. “Since employees are trained on familiar systems, replacing them without understanding the modern solution doesn’t make their lives easier,” says Regan.

Our Automated Conversion solutions include the Presentation layer. “We actually reproduce the mainframe look and feel in HTML,” says Regan. “The business and IT can educate users without the shock of a new visual experience and users can get the enhanced functionality of the new platform without a steep re-learning process.”  Be sure to make a concerted effort to involve and educate the end user. Your new systems are only as good as the people using them.

We hope this helps with your legacy modernisation journey.

Rob Anderson

Rob Anderson


Vice President of Marketing and Product for Application Modernization

Rob Anderson is Vice President of Marketing and Product for Application Modernization. He has spent the better part of the past decade developing, marketing, and selling mainframe modernization solutions, and has had a front-row seat in the transformation of the industry and its surrounding ecosystem.

Read published articles