Feb 07 2022

How Small Businesses Can Modernize Their Applications

Legacy apps can be a roadblock to cloud migration. Here’s how smaller organizations can tackle the challenge.

Small businesses often lag larger corporations when it comes to taking advantage of new technology. Limited resources make it challenging to get the latest equipment or hire employees with the right skills, and it has consistently been a roadblock for smaller organizations to undergo digital transformation, particularly when it comes to using the cloud.

That all changed when the COVID-19 pandemic sent employees home in March of 2020. Businesses of all sizes scrambled to support a distributed workforce, and it became increasingly clear that that support would have to include cloud migration. Migrating applications has been a particular challenge to small businesses making this transition.

As small businesses made plans to use the flexibility and scalability of the cloud, their legacy applications blocked that progress. It can often be challenging and costly to move older systems to the cloud, particularly if they were built in house for a specific purpose. Modernizing these applications is key to accessing the full benefits of the cloud while maintaining critical business operations.

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Why Legacy Applications Stand in the Way of Cloud Success

The nature of small business IT can make it difficult to move applications to the cloud. First, many smaller organizations rely on applications that they have developed themselves. These apps are often created to work within the organization’s existing infrastructure at the time, which usually means that they were built around on-premises data centers. Because the applications rely on legacy infrastructure, they aren’t designed to fit within a cloud environment.

The other roadblock that internal development can present is that these applications were designed to perform specific processes or serve specific functions. This can sometimes lead to platforms that are inflexible and difficult to scale, which then limits the benefits of having those systems in the cloud. 

A third challenge for small businesses is staffing. Many smaller organizations don’t have the resources to be able to successfully migrate these applications to the cloud. Smaller IT teams don’t always have someone who is skilled in cloud technology, and even if they do, migration can be a large task depending on the application. This is particularly challenging for critical apps, as small businesses are less resilient to downtime.

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How SMBs Can Modernize Legacy Applications

Cloud migrations often follow the six R’s: rehosting, replatforming, repurchasing, refactoring, retiring and retaining. The refactoring stage is where application modernization lives, and it's critical for using apps in the cloud effectively. 

The first step is to identify those unique applications that need to be modernized. These are likely the systems that a small business has built themselves that can’t be found somewhere else in the marketplace. Once identified, they need to be reconfigured to run across different machines while also being easily updated and scaled. Infrastructure as Code is one tool that can be useful in making these changes.

Modernization isn’t just about the specific updates that need to be made, but also about how the small business approaches those updates. Organizations need to have a framework to evaluate, upgrade and scale applications in an agile way. This is where methodologies such as DevOps come into play, with teams working together to establish processes that ensure the right changes are being made at the right time to enable the workforce. Once these processes are established, they can be automated to save time.

With so many elements at play, it can feel daunting for small businesses to begin such an undertaking, especially if they have multiple applications or their applications are particularly critical to operations. One of the biggest challenges here is staffing, as many smaller organizations don’t have the tools or knowledge on their IT teams to handle this transition. Working with a trusted partner can not only ease modernization efforts, but also help monitor and manage future upgrades.

This article is part of BizTech's AgilITy blog series. Please join the discussion on Twitter by using the #SmallBizIT hashtag.

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