Modernization Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

When it’s time for your business to go through the modernization process, there are some common mistakes that you need to avoid. These mistakes will not only provide setbacks, but will make your systems more fragile. In turn the mistakes tally up extra expenses to fix the problems, and can result in lost revenue and potentially lost customers.

One of the biggest mistakes in modernization is not giving the process proper attention and focus. The person or people you’ve hired to do the job but don’t finish it, or they decide to do one system at a time and piece meal, maybe it’s even a side project. Not focusing resources an modernizing one system at a time will result in your business being in a constant state of modernization because once you finish with the last system, the first system that was modernized is no longer current and needs to be modernized again. The result is a never-ending cycle of constantly upgrading systems, which ends up being costly and adds fragility. Ensuring that modernization occurs across all systems simultaneously or in a dedicated amount of time, and that the job is completed, is a big factor in the success of the modernization process.

Another mistake is approaching modernization with a lack of expertise around the new and old systems. A non-expert might try to adjust the code base in one place, but lack understanding and actually end up making the system more fragile in another. It’s common for coding languages to be updated and certain functions be deprecated for security, which in turn means the code base needs to be updated to work. But if the person doing the modernization doesn’t know or understand why the changes are necessary, then anything they do to adjust the code could make the system more fragile. They could even reopen the same security issues by using the same methods while side stepping the security fix using different functions, which is worse because now you are vulnerable and don’t know it.

A third mistake around modernization is when a business starts, but modernization is de-prioritized and stopped because of budget cuts or changes in leadership. The problem is that the process of modernization left unfinished leaves a system that becomes extremely fragile. Anything you build on top the unfinished system can cause the entire thing to break depending on what was and wasn’t complete and how the remaining mismatched parts work together. People tend to then rush shoddy patchwork to try and fix the mismatches because it’s not in the budget to properly fix the system, which only perpetuates the cycle of fragility and worsens the overall situation.

Then there’s lift and shift syndrome. This occurs when someone doing the modernization process doesn’t actually change anything, but instead tries to put a server on the cloud without any adjustment, or moves or upgrades a platform just as it is instead of asking if it should be running that way in the first place. Moving things without updating or upgrading doesn’t actually fix anything, those systems and platforms are still old and fragile, they’re just in a different spot. And often the net result of this approach is misunderstood ballooning costs from a measure meant to cost saving.

The final mistake happens when a system is using methods that are deprecated. No one bothers to update the methods because it takes time and resources to do that, and by not updating the methods, the system remains fragile and tech debt multiplies. Instead, business go down an increasingly risky path to keep the deprecated system alive, often spreading the problem to other areas.

For instance, a certain deprecated method is deemed essential, and the business is unwilling to spend money upgrading it. Instead, they keep using the old version of the language to support the deprecated method. The old version of the language needs the old server version that isn’t publicly available anymore and is no longer patched for security. It has to run on an old OS that also can’t be maintained. The exceptions keep growing over time and reaching farther away from the initial problem. Failing to update a system that’s using old methods keeps those systems fragile and is almost like hacking your own business, if a hacker doesn’t find the weakness first. When that system finally breaks it can be catastrophic to your business.

The best way to ensure modernization is done properly is to hire an expert. Look for people who have had success in this area, people who have been doing it for years. Depending on the size of your business, it may take a team approach to ensure that everything is done properly. The cost is well worth the outcome because experts will ensure the security and stability of your systems and processes for years to come, which in turn ensures that your business doesn’t miss a beat and runs efficiently into the future.

About the Author

Pieter VanIperen, Managing Partner of PWV Consultants, leads a boutique group of industry leaders and influencers from the digital tech, security and design industries that acts as trusted technical partners for many Fortune 500 companies, high-visibility startups, universities, defense agencies, and NGOs. He is a 20-year software engineering veteran, who founded or co-founder several companies. He acts as a trusted advisor and mentor to numerous early stage startups, and has held the titles of software and software security executive, consultant and professor. His expert consulting and advisory work spans several industries in finance, media, medical tech, and defense contracting. Has also authored the highly influential precursor HAZL (jADE) programming language.

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