September 8, 2022 By Praveena Varadarajan 4 min read

What keeps a chief information officer (CIO) up at night? Fear of the unknown. Today’s CIOs and other digital professionals run complex businesses that connect to other businesses in new ways. This makes the CIO a key partner in the company’s overall strategy. For a CIO, it’s not enough to keep your own digital house in order; you need to meet certification and interconnectivity standards that can change at any moment. Taken together, these responsibilities add layers of complexity, uncertainty and stress.

Think of a bank: In the past, it simply needed to keep its own money safe. Challenging, but comprehensible. With the advent of computerized banking systems, a bank needed to also keep information safe, but still only on its own systems. But now, virtually every bank participates in a global digital consortium. If it falls out of compliance with the global financial messaging standard, business stops. The bank must maintain this stability on top of local physical and digital security. The overlapping responsibilities are enough to give anyone sleepless nights.

What’s more, this complexity drives widespread uncertainty, from local to global, such as:

  • What systems and infrastructure do we need now and in the future?
  • How do we respond to changes in IT demands or scale?
  • How do we keep our business and collaborations running seamlessly?

Modernization leads to transformation — but only with the right strategy

The common advice for CIOs looking to address all these uncertainties is to “modernize and adapt.” As I wrote in my recent thought leadership paper, “Strategic app modernization drives digital transformation,” modernization isn’t just a vague synonym for improvement. App modernization means assessing and optimizing your application mix to drive measurable impact within your business. Each app modernization requires more than just updating technology — it can include changes to infrastructure, design, operations, people, process and governance. Taken together, all these app modernization journeys contribute to a comprehensive digital transformation where your organization is constantly developing new skills, processes, tools and capabilities.

Modernization journeys are the steps that get you to digital transformation. Modernizing your application suite aligns your capabilities to today’s demands, optimizing services and costs at the same time.

With all its benefits, app modernization is essential to remain competitive. But successful modernization needs a strategy behind it. The stakes are high, and the history of modernization and transformation is littered with cautionary tales. According to a 2019 survey by Couchbase, 86% of companies failed in at least one transformation project they desired, and 73% felt that the results they did achieve fell short of being truly transformational.

What to understand as you plan your app modernization journeys

So, what is the best course of action for the CIOs and other pros who are worried about app modernization efforts? To cope with uncertainty and alleviate fears, and with the help of an experienced modernization partner, you need to bolster understanding of the following three areas:

1. The state of your organization

You can’t modernize successfully unless you know where you’re starting from. This means running an exercise to rationalize your application portfolio and generate a panoramic view of your entire ecosystem, including all of its interconnections. This is how the CIO can know which systems and infrastructure you need now and plan for the future.

Understanding your workforce is also essential because of the human and cultural element of any modernization. If you modernize your apps, it will both require and support new ways of working. As a result, improvements to applications may require you to address skills gaps by changing processes, restructuring teams, retraining workers or hiring new ones.

2. What’s pushing you to modernize

You can’t modernize successfully without knowing what your motivations and goals are. Frequently, stakeholders will each emphasize the pain points that they feel most acutely. For example, it’s common for line-of-business personnel to feel pressured by the need to connect systems and function smoothly in a digital world. Legal and regulatory departments are pressured by the increased level of certification needed to function. CFOs, IT staff and executives generally feel the growing cost of systems maintenance and the exponential cost increase that comes from scaling on-premises systems.

The answers change for different departments and different industries. But it’s important to reach a consensus so that your efforts can be focused correctly. Answer these questions: What are the most important factors driving your organization to modernize apps? And how can those factors be translated into actionable technical goals that are achievable in a reasonable timeframe?

With that knowledge, the CIO can plan responses to changes in IT demands or scale.

3. How to add value without damaging security or interrupting operations

Finally, you can’t modernize successfully if you interrupt operations to deploy new capabilities. You’ll need to plan a clear target architecture that includes considerations such as:

  • Which hyperscaler services will be used
  • What apps reside within the revised architecture
  • The business and personnel changes needed to support new workflows

Then, as the CIO requires, you’ll need to plan the app modernization effort in overlapping phases to add value while keeping business and collaborations running seamlessly. A well-planned modernization improves efficiency and maintains functionality, but that’s not all. Planning is essential if you want to avoid security breaches by designing the app and environment together.

There’s no shortcut to these three types of understanding – but in our experience at IBM, working toward them soothes the CIO’s fears and sets the organization up for success. IBM Consulting can evaluate your application needs and plan modernization journeys that equip you for the future.

Read the report: Strategic app modernization drives digital transformation

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