Does App Modernization Equal Digital Transformation?


Breathing new life into legacy software is a sound idea in principle, but not if it holds back real digital transformation. says VANTIQ’s Blaine Mathieu

Recently I attended an event in Silicon Valley put on by an application development platform provider. The event was named something along the lines of “Digital Transformation Now!” (I’ll refrain from using the real event name to protect the guilty). I’m as interested as the next guy in the digital transformation of business-critical systems such as supply chains and manufacturing processes, and getting it “Now!” seemed like a good thing. But no sooner had the conference started than the headline speaker began to talk about “application modernization”. This continued through the rest of the day. I have to admit, I had not really clued into the term before, so I began to ask myself how app modernization might be related to digital transformation.

I began my research where we all do and quickly pulled up a bunch of sites and references for app modernization. According to Gartner, “Application modernization services address the migration of legacy to new applications or platforms, including the integration of new functionality to provide the latest functions to the business.”

Sounds good. As it turns out, app modernization often includes elements such as:

  • Re-hosting (perhaps moving from on-premises to a private or public cloud host)
  • Re-coding (changing from antiquated languages like Cobol and Fortran to more modern ones)
  • Re-platforming (adapting to web/browser or mobile platforms)
  • Exposing (creating APIs or other hooks to enable easier connections to other systems.

As you might expect, a large ecosystem of vendors are ready and willing to assist with app modernization efforts, ranging from the usual heavy-hitters and the large Indian and Chinese systems integrators, to numerous startups that promise automating much of the task (assuming you agree to be wedded to their services going forward).

So why do enterprises do it? There is obvious benefit to extending the value of existing legacy investments, retaining compatibility with current workflows, and perhaps making these systems less expensive to maintain going forward. All good ideas – but none are fundamentally about truly transforming your organization, your supply chain, or your manufacturing system.

True digital transformation is not just about doing the same things faster, easier or on a different platform. Transformation is about doing different things – things that significantly change the trajectory of a business.

Perhaps a 10x improvement in the speed or efficiency of an existing manufacturing process could be transformational. But most disrupters that are now figuring out how to take your business away are not being hampered by existing processes or workflows or models. They are not rewriting a legacy application. They are rewriting your business.

So what do you do? From a technical perspective, a key component of most digitally transformative applications involves a switch from database-centric, request-response architectures to one that is based on real-time, so-called ‘event-driven’ architectures. The speed and volume of flows of data about the events streaming in and around businesses is now too great to simply put it all into a database to run reports on later.

As Gartner said in a recently released industry report, “CIOs must use innovative technologies based on event-driven architecture (EDA) to support digital business transformation.” So, does app modernization equal digital transformation? Clearly the answer is “no”.

True digital transformation involves companies sensing, analyzing, and (most critically) taking action on events in real-time. Whether these events relate to a global supply chain, or a critical manufacturing process, or the collaborative repair of equipment in the field, the goal should be the same – true digital transformation.

Blaine Mathieu is a multi-time CMO, CPO, and CEO, with 25+ years of experience in prominent private and public technology companies including Gartner, Adobe, Corel, GoodData. He is now Chief Product and Marketing Officer at application platform company VANTIQ. Mathieu holds undergraduate Business and MBA degrees from the University of Alberta and Athabasca University in Canada.