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Business Transformation

Tackling Your Application Portfolio Modernization Strategy

By Annie Lin (Senior Director, Business Strategy, VMware), Matt Campbell (Solutions Architect, VMware) and Brandon Blincoe (Program Strategist, VMware)

IT teams face a growing web of complexity in their application portfolios. These portfolios are ever-changing and often include in-house custom apps, new apps added through acquisitions, or commercial off-the-shelf software. More than just a growing app landscape, IT teams also face an added layer of complexity when people move between teams or when coworkers leave the company, making it challenging to identify the primary app owner. With constantly changing business needs and organizational changes, it is easy to lose track of what’s in your application portfolio!

Executing on application modernization requires people with expertise, time and money so it’s important to make that investment strategically. IT teams need a strategic decision-making framework, automated tools and low-touch analysis to accelerate their digital transformation journey and make smarter decisions about applications.

One of the myths of app modernization is that an organization cannot begin to modernize until it understands every part of its app portfolio. Luckily, teams can use lean and agile methodologies to short-circuit this analysis paralysis, leveraging iterative feedback loops and frequent delivery to validate progress, move faster and produce higher quality, consistent outcomes. To help organizations kickstart the modernization process or breathe life into ongoing initiatives that are stagnant, VMware developed an approach called VMware App Navigator.

So what does app modernization look like in the real world? Using our own IT organization as an example, our IT app portfolio has grown exponentially in size and complexity over the last two decades through custom and third party apps and through acquisitions of companies and technologies. VMware is undergoing a digital transformation to maintain and mature this complex portfolio and ensure we can innovate faster and be responsive to our customers’ needs. To efficiently handle change requests for new features, we must accelerate delivery by modernizing mission-critical apps that are still running on legacy systems. This talk shares an example of how our IT team modernized our Customer Connect portal, a monolithic application, to improve the customer experience while achieving a 40% improvement in service response time and saving over 1,000 person-hours in maintenance.

To jumpstart the modernization process, our IT team partnered with the App Navigator team to develop a strategic framework for app modernization that considered key business and technical factors. Our objective was to develop a targeted list of app modernization candidates so we could have a productive starting point for strategic discussions and prioritize our modernization efforts. Our approach to app prioritization follows these four steps:

Example: VMware’s strategic portfolio modernization framework

1. Confirm app inventory: What do we have in our portfolio today?

In order to evaluate which apps were in scope and are candidates for modernization, our IT team needed to first update its app inventory and build a single source of truth. This involved an extensive exercise of culling through its large app inventory to identify in-scope apps, map the correct app owner, determine where it is deployed, and where the source code sits. This early part of the process allowed us to develop a clean baseline of our application inventory to apply a first-pass filter and determine the apps in our portfolio that would fall under the scope for our modernization effort.

2. Initiate technical discovery: What’s technically feasible to move?

Today’s software teams sit on a rich data set available in their source control systems, and it is important to have an automated and low-touch way to detect legacy frameworks, technical debt and cloud anti-patterns to quickly assess the modernization maturity of the app portfolio. Therefore, our IT team leveraged automated tools like Cloud Suitability Analyzer to analyze source code to detect common cloud anti-patterns. The team used Application Transformer for VMware Tanzu to discover components running on virtual machines (VMs) and their dependencies on services and components outside of the application itself. These tools allowed us to collect data across the portfolio to understand the specific runtime platforms and technology stacks for low-hanging modernization opportunities.

3. Determine business discovery: Why should we move?

Our IT team’s business drivers for app modernization focused on strategic value, delivery velocity and app interdependency. To develop a strategic prioritization of our app modernization candidates, we collected survey data from app owners asking key questions such as:

  • Is this app customer facing?
  • Does this app address compliance or security?
  • Does this app impact revenue?
  • Does this app have a customer SLA?

This survey data then allowed us to predict which applications would be most impactful to the business in terms of cost, risk and value.

4. Prioritize app ranking per decisioning model: What should we modernize first?

With these technical and business findings, we were able to create a combined app score to rank applications based on the business justification and level of modernization effort required. This prioritized ranking from a clean single source of truth allowed the team to break out from analysis paralysis and begin strategic discussions on the path forward.

Portfolios have common characteristics across applications that can uncover insights to help inform our plan. We grouped applications using these characteristics to find key applications with lower risk and less complexity, while still maximizing benefits to the organization and validation for the modernization roadmap.

What’s next

By developing a more strategic and efficient approach to modernizing our application portfolio, we were able to build an accurate inventory of our IT custom application portfolio landscape. Applying this custom business and technical decisioning criteria to our updated app inventory gave us a prioritized list of strategic app modernization candidates. With this information, we were able to bring together stakeholders for well-informed conversations and determine which apps had the strongest business case for modernization. Looking ahead, we have the tools, skills and decisioning framework to continue evolving our strategy as business needs change.

Final thoughts

Application modernization enables IT teams to deliver software faster while enhancing resiliency, performance and security. However, the process for determining which legacy applications are best suited for modernization can take IT teams substantial time, resources and effort. By adopting a strategic framework and approach that incorporates key business and technical considerations, automation and low-touch analysis, organizations can jump through the initial inertia of analysis paralysis, make informed decisions and fast-forward to the app modernization work itself.

About App Navigator

VMware App Navigator is a consulting service engagement that helps your organization accelerate and execute on its application modernization and cloud transformation. This engagement leverages best-in-class tools and proven techniques to prioritize and begin executing your app modernization strategy. We use agile software development practices and teach your team new skills along the way.

To learn how App Navigator helps organizations deliver value in just days, read the Solution Overview, watch a webinar replay for more details and case studies, and contact us.


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