The right technology with the wrong culture is not enough – both should be addressed for successful application modernization programs

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Technology is only part of the work of modernizing applications. Culture and attitudes also need to be considered, as well as business models that legacy applications were built around. If not all pieces are addressed, you will not get the full value of modernizing applications. Working deeply in this area at IBM, I (Derek Barclay) will explain how it works.

The culture that exists in an organization is extremely important, and very difficult to alter, in the change projects where technology is involved. It includes everything from attitudes in society at large, industry specific norms and one’s own corporate culture, to how the individual employees of a company think. With a culture that does not match the technological changes being implemented, there is an obvious risk that the technological change will crash, often without notice. In challenges with change, what we often refer to as digital transformation, there is an intermediate level between culture and technology implementation: change of business models. These three levels are of course connected and the connections between them make change projects even more difficult.

Find out how to Modernize Applications effectively and channel cost savings to drive innovation in a post-Covid world

Sweden differs from other countries

That’s something I have worked on a lot with responsibility for investments in modernizing applications at IBM in the Nordic region. Considering I have lived in Sweden since 2000, I have noted some characteristics that exist in the Nordic countries in general and in Sweden in particular. It is a tricky situation, because here in Sweden, you need to communicate changes earlier than, for example, the United Kingdom and the United States. I think companies must have the whole team included on the change journey and often decisions on planed change are confidential whilst being planned which complicates this. There are also differences in the way you communicate: We understand the importance of local culture and that reflects when we bring IBM experts from other countries here to give lectures or support in sales, we are careful to explain that they should take a more humble attitude than they are used to, or clients in other countries expect from their partners. But ultimately, it’s about creating new business growth opportunities and increasing profitability, with the help of technological change. In this case, to modernize applications, often using cloud technology. Where to start?

Start small and make a good user experience

One possible tactic is to select a defined area and make a rapid technological change in what will have a positive impact on the employees in a company. I believe in selecting a solution that is close to the employees and put effort into creating a good user experience, preferably one that reminds them of the digital experience they have outside of work as this is technology they have adopted by choice. Of course, there are important business technology platforms at the bottom, but the results of the changes can be seen above all in the user interface and interaction in daily work .It is not about “deceiving people”, but about clearly showing the value of a change in technology such as modernization of applications early in what can be a long transformation. There is also a second message to convey. In my experience, companies that are at the forefront of technology development and that are able to use the new technology solutions in a good way are often more profitable than other companies, “cloud aviators” as we refer to them in one of our research reports. Another aspect is, of course, the competence of the employees. It can be costly in the long run not to invest in training and other staff development measures, to ensure the technology is understandable and the change is sustainable. Current business capabilities should considered to know what type of external help needs to be brought in. In some projects IBM has very specific technical tasks, while in others we also contribute with designers and management consultants. In some projects, management consultants come from another companies. There are advantages and disadvantages to the different approaches. The trick is of course to choose what is right for your own company.

Important with a large knowledge base for comparisons

How do you know you’re doing the right thing? In my experience, many customers are interested in comparisons with other companies, both in their own industry and in other industries, so-called benchmarking. We have a very large knowledge base that we often use to help customers with comparisons to guide them even in very early stages with limited insights, refining as we engage more. Finally for me, the most important message when it comes to modernizing applications is that it is not just a technical business project. Without the need for a parallel change of culture and attitude, as well as a match against business models, otherwise you will not get optimal value from modernizing your applications. And, when you start, it is good to get help from someone who has long experience and broad knowledge of entire organizations to get the best results.

Find out how to Modernize Applications effectively and channel cost savings to drive innovation in a post-Covid world

Find out more about IBM Application Modernization

Advisor and Cross Platforms Architect, IBM Sweden

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