This post was originally featured on Forbes
For organizations focused on digital transformation, existing monolithic application architectures present a major obstacle to modernization initiatives that have become a top priority for CIOs and CTOs alike. Monolithic application architectures stand in the way of today’s highly adaptive, cloud-first, forward-looking approach to delivering faster, better and more efficient business outcomes.
• According to a survey by 2nd Watch (via VentureBeat), 79% of organizations rely on older applications for critical business functions but find themselves held back by the resilience, scaling, security and performance limitations of old code.
• The technical debt of these essential applications can get in the way of high priorities like driving innovation, improving engineering velocity, reducing ramp-up time for new developers and, ultimately, improving business outcomes like customer experience, market share and competitive advantage.
• Digital transformation efforts can be delayed, stalled or halted by monolithic architectures.
Modernization should be a priority for everyone. According to our recent survey of 250 director-level respondents, 92% of respondents are planning to or are actively involved in app modernization projects. There’s a problem, though: Nearly 80% of those respondents reported that some of their application modernization initiatives had failed.
Let’s assume, for the sake of this article, that you decide the risks of modernization outweigh the advantages. After all, your team is already overworked and understaffed, balancing between maintaining existing applications and delivering incremental improvements. You’re also afraid of wasting time, money and energy on modernization projects that might not deliver results and often come with significant inherent risk. Finally, you and the other leaders in your organization simply have other priorities to think of.
However, organizations that prioritize maintaining or even migrating monolithic applications over modernization can end up with a substantial problem—a broken culture.
Your team wants to work with leading-edge technologies.
Most developers—especially young, energetic developers—are trained to work with and want to work with leading-edge technologies. They’re eager to build code for the cloud; they want to use microservices and use leading-edge languages and toolkits.
The majority of developers are not enthusiastic about maintaining older code running on top of out-of-date platforms to support monolithic enterprise apps. They struggle with wrestling with decade-old challenges and weaknesses instead of building something innovative and new. They become uninterested in learning the current stack because it’s so antiquated and not marketable. They aren’t able to use the hard-won skills they acquired through education and previous roles.
Also, developers who work on monolithic applications often spend their days fighting fires (in the form of technical debt) instead of driving improvements. Old architectures come with security issues and scalability limitations, which weren’t problems a decade ago but are constant issues today.
Thanks to these problems and many others, developers who work on legacy code may find it frustrating and unsatisfying, resulting in poor job satisfaction and low morale.
Your experts on aging applications are marching toward retirement.
Depending on the age of your monolithic applications, you may find that your experts are moving toward retirement. Developers who were 35 years old in the 1990s are reaching retirement age today. They’re looking forward to enjoying their free time instead of digging through the intricacies of poorly documented code.
To make matters worse, many programmers or developers from the 2000s have moved into management roles and aren’t involved in day-to-day maintenance, bug fixes or feature additions. Their coding and development skills might be rusty. Maintaining the quality of your applications becomes more challenging each year, and as more and more problems emerge, your team is getting more and more disillusioned and discouraged.
The “Great Resignation” is not your friend.
Since 2021, developers have been leaving their companies in record numbers. According to a Salesforce survey (via InfoWorld), 93% of enterprises are struggling to retain skilled developers.
If your organization is focused on maintenance and upkeep instead of forward-looking, high-value transformation initiatives, you probably won’t be able to retain high-quality, dynamic talent. It’s possible that your best and brightest will exit, heading to more progressive organizations and leaving you with second-tier talent that might not be able to cope with the workload. As you lose critical skill sets to resignation, you’ll be forced to find and train remaining employees to take on critical tasks, and that burden ends up putting additional stress on your team and the progress of your initiatives. In our recent survey, many respondents noted that ramping employees to maintain monolithic applications is a top challenge.
To make matters worse, key departures are likely to undermine morale. After all, what organization wants to be understaffed and overworked? What employee really wants to be on the C team?
Your organization has a damaged reputation.
If you’re not pursuing application modernization initiatives, the reputation of your organization might suffer.
The days of organizations flying under the radar online are gone. Sites like Glassdoor let current and former employees paint a picture of what it’s like to work at your organization. Imagine what would happen from a recruiting and hiring perspective if your organization’s lack of interest in modernization was public. As your staff resigns to pursue more engaging, interesting work, what would they write about their experience working with outdated architectures and dealing with the ramifications of extensive technical debt? For that matter, what would happen if your organization’s lack of interest in modernization became known to your technology partners, customers and vendors? Would your team stay happy knowing that the marketplace perception is that their skills aren’t staying up-to-date and the organization isn’t interested in progress?
It’s clear that organizational cultures do well when they’re progressive and forward-thinking, so application modernization initiatives are a critical initiative for making sure you have a positive culture throughout your IT organization. As we’ll see in the second part of this series, however, deciding to pursue application modernization can result in other personnel challenges that afflict your success.