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Modernising Legacy Systems with Low-Code

Technology

Nov 26, 2020 - 13 minutes read

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Objectivity Innovative leader in technologies

Our specialty is designing, delivering, and supporting IT solutions to help our clients succeed. We have an ethical framework that underpins everything we do. Our underlying philosophy is that every client engagement should result in a Win-Win and this is supported by our four values: People, Integrity, Excellence, and Agility. Our clients are at the heart of our business and we are proud to form long-lasting working relationships, the longest of which is 29 years. Our goal is to continue to grow our business whilst remaining true to the ethical framework and values on which we are founded.

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Are Legacy Systems Hampering Your Growth and Competitive Advantage?

According to Gartner, a legacy application can be any "information system that may be based on outdated technologies, but is critical to day-to-day operations" [1]. Reliance on legacy systems can hold organisations captive, hamper digital innovation, and increase technical debt day by day. Age doesn’t always define a legacy system – at times, it might be the fact that it’s no longer supported or has grown incapable of meeting the needs of a business or organisation. Such software is often challenging to maintain, support, improve, or integrate with new systems due to its architecture, underlying technology, or design.

Legacy systems can be problematic for many reasons, some of which may include:

  • the infrastructure and technology used may be obsolete or unsupported.
  • the talent pool required to maintain the applications is shrinking.
  • the system does not effectively support the evolved business process.
  • it’s not possible to offer the desired user experience.
  • with years of ad-hoc modification and increased numbers, the system may have become unstable, or may have performance or scaling issues.
  • there are problems with security, patching, or compliance with new policies and regulations.
  • they cannot provide the integrations needed for digital transformation.

Any one of these issues can cause maintenance costs to become extremely high. In 2019, the US government spent 80% of the $46 billion Federal IT budget on Operations and Maintenance. "This spending mainly included ageing legacy systems, which posed efficiency, cybersecurity, and mission risk issues."[2]

Experience shows that maintaining a legacy system beyond its useful life can have a severely negative impact on supporting core operational processes, such as contributing to the side-lining of any innovations and opportunities that may exist.

Legacy systems which still exist are often maintained because organisations simply cannot function without them, and the risks associated with changing them seem too high.

Can Low-Code Development Rescue Legacy Systems?

When faced with the ongoing challenges that legacy systems offer, what steps can you take to resolve them? Change, by its very nature, is not without risk. For legacy systems, and as identified by Gartner in their "7 Options to Modernize Legacy Systems" [3] article, there is a range of potential options.

Encapsulate

Leverage and extend an application's features and value, encapsulate data and functions in the application and make them available as services via an application programming interface (API).

Rehost

Redeploy an application component to another physical, virtual, or cloud infrastructure without recompiling, altering the application code, or modifying features and functions.

Replatform

Migrate an application component to a new runtime platform. Make minimal changes to the code to adapt it to the new platform, but don't change the code structure or the features and functions it provides.

Refactor

Restructure and optimise existing code without changing its external behaviour to remove technical debt and to improve the component's features and structure.

Rearchitect

Materially alter the application code so you can shift it to the new application architecture and fully exploit the additional new and better capabilities of the application platform.

Rebuild

Rebuild or rewrite the application component from scratch while preserving its scope and specifications. [4]

Replace

Eliminate the former application component and replace it, taking new requirements and needs into account.

And perhaps the default and most common option:

Do Nothing

By doing nothing, you'll face ongoing issues and challenges which will further increase over time.

"The key is to understand if your problem is caused by technology, architecture or functionality of the application, and how each modernisation approach improves those aspects" – says Stefan van der Zijden, research director at Gartner. Additionally, for many legacy systems, the age of the platform may itself determine viable modernisation options.

With a lack of skilled resources in some legacy technologies, and with monolithic systems developed over many years, such scenarios may naturally limit options for encapsulation, replatforming and refactoring. Rehosting may initially appear attractive too, yet even for applications developed in the last five years or so, a direct lift and shift from on-premise to cloud hosting is not without its challenges. Poor hosting cost optimisation and the fact that sometimes it’s much harder to optimise a legacy workload without native environment resources are just two examples.

Traditionally, legacy modernisation has faced significant efforts and costs. Only recently have organisations had the option to consider modernising with a low-code solution. While the reduced delivery time is often the first low-code benefit to gain attention, it’s not the only reason why you should consider the adoption of low-code for legacy modernisations.

Higher Productivity

What used to take months can be reduced to weeks or even days. With low-code development, time is no longer a barrier to real innovation. Low-code adoption encourages module and function reuse that also improves standardisation.

Lower Costs

With low-code, there is a reduced need for development resources. Couple this with the fact that the resource profile of an implementation team may change to support business users playing a more active role in solution creation, as such, it will become possible for more apps to be built and tested, leading to lower costs. This is true for in-house and outsourced projects as well as the hybrid model where companies provide an internal team to work with a specialist low-code provider in order to create an optimum combination of roles for a project; one that accelerates delivery time and reduces overall costs.

Agility

Development times are significantly reduced thanks to low-code’s visual design capabilities, which allow for the use of drag-and-drop components and model-driven logic through a graphic user interface (instead of coding). All this, alongside automated testing, means that business value is delivered sooner. With low-code development, organisations can quickly adapt to market changes and customer needs.

Improved Quality

With low-code, less code is written; there is a lower risk of errors occurring. While testing is still an essential part of low-code development, much of the application functionality is provided by standard components and modules, with a ‘test once and use many times’ approach. Also, many low-code platforms have built-in automated testing, proactive quality monitoring, and real-time performance management.

Better User Experience

Low-code fosters business-IT collaboration to improve user experience. Also, many low-code platforms offer omnichannel delivery, ensuring a consistent experience whether the user is using a desktop, tablet, or mobile device.

Coping with Change

While low-code fosters a closer working relationship between the business and IT, no solution remains static and requests for changes to be made are going to occur. The visual nature of low-code development permits the rapid creation of initial mock-ups and prototypes for business review and assessment. This not only contributes to initial deliveries being more closely aligned with requirements, but also ensures that subsequent changes are more accurately assessed – leading to less rework after delivery.

Timely Legislative Response

Very few organisations operate in isolation and many are impacted by various statutory and other regulatory policies. Being able to respond to frequently changing requirements in a timely and efficient manner is essential. The adoption of low-code enables fast change so you can meet requirements and stay ahead of deadlines.

With these low-code benefits, organisations are better equipped to consider what may often be seen as the daunting task of legacy system modernisation. Migrating to a low-code solution can future-proof applications (or even complete enterprise-level solutions) reducing risk and providing the foundations for an organisation to maintain their essential operational processes and competitive advantage.

Having discussed the options for legacy modernisation in general and where low-code can provide a viable alternative to more traditional legacy modernisation, let us now illustrate a few scenarios where our customers have realised the benefit of the adoption of low-code.

Case Studies

Client: Edrington, An International Spirits Company Based in Scotland.

Low-code Platform: Microsoft Power Apps

As part of their ongoing strategy, Edrington was working on an enterprise-wide digital transformation to migrate to Microsoft 365 and the Azure cloud. This transformation included the replacement of their SharePoint on-premise (on-prem) servers to cloud provisioning.

Legacy applications running on the SharePoint on-prem servers used a combination of InfoPath forms and Sharepoint designer workflows to maintain data in SharePoint lists. This data was necessary for the business auditing, compliance, and pricing functions in Edrington.

Microsoft was no longer investing in these versions of SharePoint and InfoPath, and the mainstream support was to be retired very shortly. Edrington also found these legacy systems had become increasingly hard to maintain with a scarcity of experienced resources.

Keeping these legacy systems running was not a viable choice; the costs of doing so would be prohibitive. With the decision made to decommission the on-prem infrastructure, the timely modernisation of these applications was critical.

By leveraging the licences that the Office365 accounts afforded them, Edrington decided to migrate the systems to Power Apps (Microsoft's low-code platform) and enlisted Objectivity to help them realise this goal.

Working alongside members of the Edrington Business Technology team, we migrated the legacy forms to Power Apps applications and Flow (now Power Automate) with data hosted within SharePoint lists in Microsoft365. In doing this, we were able to help in establishing best practices for Edrington in adopting the Power Apps platform. We also created the user interface and user experience (UI and UX) controls that provided reusability for the Edrington brand going forward. These helped define some of the conventions, work processes and governance for the team.

With the legacy forms now migrated, and with Objectivity facilitating Erdington's migration to Microsoft Power Apps, the team at Edrington can now continue on their low-code journey with confidence. With Microsoft, they have a trusted vendor platform who ensures that the team has access to a highly resilient and highly available platform as well as a centrally managed application distribution centre.

We believe we’ve left Edrington in an empowered and agile state to be able to change and create further applications in Power Apps. Coupled with the guardrails Objectivity has provided (both by building and sharing their first Power Apps applications and sharing the best practices), they are now in a comfortable position to proceed independently.

Any improvements can also now be considered and implemented in an agile way. Microsoft is investing heavily in Power Apps and the more extensive Power Platform, continually adding new features that enhance development productivity and business value. We're confident that Edrington is building on a platform that will serve them well over the coming years, as it would serve any other organisations choosing the Power Platform.

The Client—Water and Sanitation Services Provider

Low-code platform: Mendix

When we started working with the Client, they had already embarked on a digital transformation journey. They had adopted rapid application development in low-code as a vehicle to achieve:

  • Employee empowerment
  • Customer engagement
  • Operation optimisation
  • Product & service innovation

The Client believed that using the Mendix low-code platform would give them the customer-centric approach they were after, additionally ensuring that they remain ahead of their competition. They knew that transforming some of their legacy systems would help them to achieve this goal by providing:

  • Low-cost rapid application development
  • Flexibility and adaptability
  • A faster time-to-market

Three legacy migrations took place from applications hosted in a Citrix Digital workspace.
The initial priority was for a Change Management application that provided workflow and functionality for the change process in the IT department at the Client’s organisation. Migrating this application from Lotus Notes Domino to Mendix empowered employees and provided the following benefits:

  • Increased collaboration with better user experience
  • Inherent processes definition within the solution
  • Stakeholder engagement throughout with frequent feedback sessions

The second application was formed from two separate legacy applications built on Lotus Notes, at two of the Client’s different sites. This migration optimised operations by offering:

  • A cloud-hosted solution that reduces IT maintenance efforts
  • Configuration based new site (location) addition
  • Consistent and easily applied security policies

The last application implemented was a Health and Safety application, allowing safety concerns to be recorded and managed.

The migration had already taken place inside the Client’s organisation, but Objectivity enhanced the application utilising the responsive UI design that Mendix brings to build once and deploy on any channel. This application has been an innovative game changer used by both colleagues on-site with mobile phones which can record any risk found, and in the office on a responsive web app to action any risks that the site may encounter.

Three of the Client’s different applications have been migrated using Mendix as their low-code solution. Rebuilding their legacy systems using the Mendix low-code platform has provided many advantages overall, with each application having benefits as outlined above.

There is every indication that the Client, having embraced the Mendix low-code platform, will go on to achieve more and more success and business benefits.

The Client—UK Fashion and Homeware Retailer

Low-Code Platform: Mendix

Our retail client embarked on an enterprise-wide digital transformation to replace their existing distributed stock management with a centralised system underpinned by Oracle Retail. They struggled to find a module that would support the store's front-end bespoke functionality and usability requirements. The ability to be agile in-store with their stock is a vital part of remaining competitive in the fashion industry; the right product has to be available at the right place, at the right time, and at the right price.

We were engaged within a cross-functional team to design and develop the client’s front-end solution on the Mendix low-code platform. The low-code front-end system needed to be able to integrate seamlessly with the Oracle Retail back-end centralised system and have the efficiency and performance to deal with the vast amount of retailer data in real-time.

The open, flexible architecture of the Mendix platform allowed us to implement an interface to connect with data from the entire supply chain quickly and efficiently. The ability to do this in the platform has been made painless and Mendix has many pre-built and pre-tested modules in its app store which enable seamless integration with many systems at speed.

The platform also gave us full control over the user experience. Using a collaborative and agile process, which goes hand in hand with low-code, the stakeholders were able to design and refine the user interface and experience. The responsive design and omnichannel deployment process employed by Mendix allows for the user requirements to be easily met on all devices as required, reducing the development time. For this solution, users needed to be able to access the system equally in stores, on desktop computers, on tablets, and in the head office.

The client required on-premise (on-prem) deployment – which despite being a less conventional low-code hosting approach – was a feature of the Mendix platform. This type of on-prem hosting still allowed the landscape to be simplified, centralised, and streamlined as compared to the legacy solution.
For any legacy modernisation, and especially when replacing a business-critical solution, effective risk management and mitigation are essential. As low-code development outpaces other traditional development approaches, combined solutions like this do require strong project management.

Overall, we feel that creating a custom front-end by replacing the store front-end functionalities of the legacy system using low-code capabilities was a big win for our client.

Summary and Next Steps

The examples described above showcase how low-code can be a viable and beneficial choice for legacy modernisation. But, is it right for you?

As always, it depends. It is recommended, as with any digital transformation, to review all the options, their benefits, and risks.

Our experience identities that low-code solutions for legacy system modernisation can be a real game changer. Still, for such business-critical applications, we understand that even reviewing low-code options can be a significant challenge. Behind the glossy marketing sheets and product presentations, in switching to low-code, you need to consider items such as the platform’s capability and adherence to standards, the financial stability and longevity of the vendor, the cost of licencing and the strategic alignment to your organisation.

Low-code platforms do encourage and promote business and IT collaboration to align the rebuilt system to more efficient business processes, while delivering a modern application for omnichannel user access.
Replatforming using low-code, and the inherent rapid application delivery it offers, removes technical debt and frees up your existing resources from supporting and maintaining often opaque and monolithic legacy applications. With the removal of such constraints, you can move forward to create innovative applications to increase operational efficiency and improve user and customer engagement.

A strong relationship with your low-code vendor is beneficial in understanding their product roadmap and in satisfying any technical or business challenges you may have. A partnership with a digital transformation specialist (who are themselves vendor partners) and low-code evangelists can help you to accelerate your journey as they have both the experience of the platform and breadth of knowledge.

At Objectivity, we always work with our clients to establish long-term and win-win relationships. Our experienced low-code consultants, our many years of bespoke development experience, along with our partnerships with leading low-code platform providers, ensure that Objectivity can offer unbiased recommendations and experience based on your situation and requirements.

About the Authors

Sharon Smith
Rapid Application Developer

As a long-standing employee at Objectivity, Sharon has held various roles during her 24-year tenure. She is a highly analytical team player who has gained multiple skills from working in traditional development, support teams, and business analysis. She currently works in the rapid application practice as an Advanced Mendix Developer where she can use both her technical and customer facing skills to benefit the agile teams we have on low-code projects.

Ian Andrews
Client Principal

With over 30 thirty years’ experience in the IT industry, and having come from a software development background, Ian has seen many different technologies applied to the delivery of customer-facing software applications. Having been an early adopter of Rapid Application Development in the 1980’s, it is now with the emergence of low-code that he sees the promise of Business and IT alignment as being finally fulfilled. Ian’s current role is that of a Client Principal, aligned to several of Objectivity’s key accounts, acting as trusted advisor, and supporting clients to achieve win-win outcomes.

 

 

[1] https://www.gartner.com/en/information-technology/glossary/legacy-application-or-system
[2] https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/ap_16_it-fy2019.pdf
[3] https://www.gartner.com/smarterwithgartner/7-options-to-modernize-legacy-systems/
[4] Replace and Rebuild may often go hand-in-hand, stabilising initially by rebuilding and preserving, but not significantly extending functionality, and subsequently using this modernised foundation to offer through replacement a fully enhanced system. An initial rebuild offering a delivery benchmark and lower risk delivery, by directly comparing the legacy system with the new one.

1553 Devops Whitepaper News Section 416X300 EN
Objectivity Innovative leader in technologies

Our specialty is designing, delivering, and supporting IT solutions to help our clients succeed. We have an ethical framework that underpins everything we do. Our underlying philosophy is that every client engagement should result in a Win-Win and this is supported by our four values: People, Integrity, Excellence, and Agility. Our clients are at the heart of our business and we are proud to form long-lasting working relationships, the longest of which is 29 years. Our goal is to continue to grow our business whilst remaining true to the ethical framework and values on which we are founded.

See all Objectivity's posts

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