Incremental Modernization Extends Runway for Cloud Migration

By Arijeet Roy

Migrating to the cloud can present great benefits as well as major challenges to any agency.  A 2021 report from Cloud Security Alliance1 suggests that 90% of CIOs have experienced failed or disrupted data migration projects due to project complexity. Incremental Modernization is an intermediate step that agencies can take to help extend the life of existing systems while informing future cloud migration projects.

As agencies are forced to modernize, Incremental Modernization can extend the life of existing systems through improvements to security, efficiency, and user experience. Incremental Modernization helps agencies address their most urgent needs, while contributing to discovery, documentation, knowledge management, and change management efforts that can ultimately help promote the success of future migration efforts. 
Cash strapped agencies can reduce significant technology investments, while driving an additional value from existing systems.


Getting Started with Incremental Modernization

Guidehouse has developed a structured, business-focused, low-risk approach to enhance existing systems and extend their life while building foundational pieces for larger transformative efforts.

Incremental Modernization


Step 1. Staging and Porting

Staging includes updating software and databases, rewriting code, and redesigning applications to take advantage of new features and capabilities. Porting involves converting code written in one programming language to another. Staging and Porting can be substantially more cost-effective and efficient than developing new applications. By leveraging existing code and functionality, agencies can save significant time and resources, improve system performance and increase scalability, while also maintaining the same functionality and user experience as intended originally.

Step 2. Program Tracing and Code Clean Up

Program tracing and code cleanup attempt to identify software code errors and performance issues. This includes debugging, removing any unused files, and changing any code or data that presents risk or presents opportunity for improvement. Major components of the applications are analyzed and modified (for example, remove hard-coded edits and rules, remove unstructured code remnants, and optimize the data models) resulting in easier-to-maintain and reliable applications. Although executing program tracing and code cleanup can be time-consuming and complex initially, this can help to reduce technical debt, improve the overall application architecture, while reducing operational overhead and informing future enhancement and modernization projects.

Step 3. Business Event Logging

Business Event Logging attempts to improve real-time monitoring, alerting, and reporting, which enable the business and technology teams to quickly identify and address issues as they occur. Business event logging is a valuable technique for agencies that want to improve the reliability and performance of their systems, gain insights into user behavior, and meet compliance requirements. 

Step 4. Security System Integration

With an ever-evolving threat landscape, it is important that we safeguard systems against today's threats while building capabilities and processes to respond to unforeseen risks. Therefore, as systems are being rearchitected, it is critical to conduct a review and update the System Security Plan as necessary to ensure that system changes align with the System Security Plan. This will help agencies enhance their security posture, reduce the risk of security breaches, reduce costs, and enhance the efficiency of their security operations.

Step 5. Re-Implementation of Business Logic

This phase involves refactoring the legacy applications that are currently running on older servers to better support the new application environment. Once systems have been re-platformed and re-architected as part of earlier steps, applications may subsequently be hosted in a better secured environment. This involves creating platform security baselines and hardening the environment to address any security and configuration-related vulnerabilities and deploying the improved applications to the new environment.

"For CIOs struggling to determine whether to invest in a legacy application or move to a new platform, incremental modernization can help reduce risk and help "squeeze the remaining juice" out of existing technology.

—Arijeet Roy, Partner, Financial Services

Benefits of Incremental Modernization

Cloud migration offers benefits such as scalability, agility, and reduced costs. However, for agencies still operating on legacy systems such as mainframes, moving to the cloud can prove difficult due to the complexity in terms of the changes required of the workforce, organization, people, and tools for a successful cloud migration. Incremental modernization provides a great intermediate step for agencies by helping to improve and extend the life of existing systems while reducing technical debt and conducting knowledge management, change management, and training activities that will drive the success of future modernization or cloud migration efforts. Incremental modernization offers a safer set of benefits, such as lower cost, reduced risk, and speedier implementation, enabling agencies to realize benefits faster and mitigate potential risks, such as data complexity, associated with cloud migration as discussed in more detail below. This can position agencies for success with larger transformations, making this a great interim solution.

Technical Debt — Technical debt describes the amount of outdated code or unsupported platforms in an organization. Many government agencies carry high levels of technical debt, and the more they carry, the further they are from true modernization. A key component of incremental modernization are enhancements that reduce technical debt and position the organization for cloud modernization success.

Change Management — Business process and technology changes require persistent change management efforts to train internal and external users to operate new systems, to organize and operate in novel ways. Modernization efforts will not be successful if internal as well as external users do not adopt new technology and processes. A benefit of the incremental modernization is that change management can start earlier and be more effective with less severe changes over a longer time horizon.

Skill Gap — Migrating into and operating in the cloud requires knowledge of a different set of technologies and processes that may not currently be available at agencies. An incremental modernization will allow additional time to address this gap through a combination of training and hiring, enabling teams to operate effectively in a cloud environment.

While an iterative modernization approach will take more time to reach the future target state, the benefits can be immense. Taking the time to assess current systems will better enable organizations to understand the scope of wide-ranging integrated systems that have evolved over decades. This work is critical and will help improve the success of future modernization or cloud migration efforts.


This article was co-authored by Pam Malla and Arijeet Roy with contributions from Phuong Nguyen, Julie Singh.

1 Yeoh, John, and Hillary Baron. 2018. Review of The Impact of Cloud on ERP. Cloud Security Alliance.

Arijeet Roy, Partner

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