Application modernization is a critical aspect of any digital transformation. It requires having a clear vision for what you want your apps to do, and the right tools and services to make it happen.

Jul 03 2024

The Tools Businesses Use to Help with Application Modernization

These solutions deliver simplification and automation as businesses update their apps, a critical component of digital transformation.

It’s the kind of application that, once you start using it, makes it hard to remember how things used to be.

Paychex Flex, as the platform is called, is designed to help businesses handle the daily challenges that come with human resources management. “Anything from hire to retire,” explains Chad Lown, director of infrastructure at Paychex, the company responsible for the software. “Payroll, time and attendance, insurance benefits and 401(k)s: It’s an all-in-one solution for everything HR.”

Based in Rochester, N.Y., Paychex calls itself an “industry-leading human capital management company.” It relies on its flagship app and internal software to deliver on its promise to customers — and it’s up to Lown’s operations division to support the technologies that make these solutions run.

A few years ago, Lown says, he and his colleagues recognized an opportunity. A large part of their job involves collaborating with the company’s in-house development team to update and modernize their software platforms. The two groups had always done so successfully, but it was quickly becoming obvious that they would need to improve efficiencies to keep pace with new and emerging technologies.

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The Right Tools Simplify App Creation

With that in mind, they turned to Red Hat OpenShift, a Kubernetes-powered platform for developing and running containerized applications. It works in conjunction with Red Hat’s OpenStack to provision application testing environments that developers can get with minimal help from operations.

“Red Hat eliminates some of the bottlenecks we used to face when the development team came to infrastructure to get work done,” Lown explains.

Today, the microservices within Paychex Flex are all managed in OpenShift, he says, and the platform has drastically reduced the time it takes to build new applications or add features to existing apps. The system also comes with valuable tools for detecting and correcting problems before they become serious.

“If we’re using too much memory or running out of a resource, it automatically does what it needs to do to take that issue out of the mix,” Lown says. “And now, when we want to push out changes, what used to take us months only takes days, and we can do that work without scheduling downtime or impacting our clients in any way.”

Why App Modernization Is A Business Imperative 

Many companies have focused their digital transformation on the technologies used to house and access business applications — solutions that include the cloud or data centers, endpoint devices, or perhaps a new suite of workplace collaboration tools.

Less talked about but possibly even more vital are the business applications themselves. It’s easy to forget that as technologies evolve and companies adapt new computing infrastructures and architectures, the software that’s critical to their work needs to be modernized as well.

“Some organizations are being left behind because technology is moving so quickly,” says Karl Feldman, managing partner at Hinge, a marketing and research firm. The constantly advancing technological landscape means that companies are always having to decide which applications to sunset and replace and which to keep and possibly remake.

“What we’ve seen is the firms that are growing the fastest and reporting the greatest profitability are often the ones that are really leaning into application modernization,” Feldman says.


The percentage of IT executives who say that application modernization is key to their company’s business strategy

Source: IBM Institute for Business Value, “Modernizing applications on hybrid cloud,” May 2023

In fact, application modernization has become, in the words of the IBM Institute for Business Value, a “business imperative” for many companies. In a 2022 poll of IT executives from IBV and Oxford Economics, more than 80 percent of respondents said that updating traditional applications to meet current tech standards was “central to the business strategy of their organizations.”

One company where this is true is ATPCO, based near Washington, D.C. The airline-owned organization is the industry’s primary source for merchandising and pricing data, working with more than 440 carriers worldwide.

Over the past few years, ATPCO has replaced its owned and operated data centers with a third-party public and private cloud infrastructure, according to Randy Strother, the company’s director of application architecture. Today, it has about 20 software teams using Amazon Web Services to develop and operate more than 100 business applications in production.

“The original driver for the migration was reliability, but we’ve also seen improvements in agility and scalability,” Strother says. Previously, his team depended on ATPCO-managed virtualized infrastructure to provision apps as microservices, and doing so often took weeks or months. The AWS solution enables the team to deploy new apps within minutes and scale up or down as business demands change.

“Now we don’t have to worry about whether we have enough hardware or capacity when the development team wants to do something new,” he explains. “Instead, we’ve created capabilities for self-service, and we’ve built a highly automated pipeline for continuous integration and delivery.”

Learn More: Find out how your applications can benefit from a hybrid cloud environment.

How App Modernization Tools Reduce IT's Burden

It’s no surprise to Ron Hunsaker that moving DevOps to the cloud would help organizations modernize more efficiently.

As vice president of enterprise application services at Maritz, Hunsaker led the company’s pivot to an app development strategy built around a cloud-based solution from Oracle.

For years, Maritz, a sales and marketing services company that designs and operates employee recognition and reward programs, sales channel incentive programs, and customer loyalty programs, had relied on an on-premises data center to run its array of business applications. The impetus for change arrived when the firm decided to consolidate the financial workloads of several business units onto a single enterprise resource platform.

Before the switch, Hunsaker explains, his team often struggled with the same capacity issues that Strother faced at ATPCO. It was devoting more and more of the department’s budget to hardware costs, and staffers were spread thin as they tackled the maintenance requirements of the company’s aging infrastructure.

WATCH: Discover how DevOps can add speed and efficiency to your process.

“Migrating has simplified everything while allowing us to modernize the solutions we provide to Maritz employees,” he says. Today, Maritz uses two Oracle solutions for all things app development: a low-code and no-code platform and Oracle WebLogic Server, a tool designed for Java applications.

The team had previously run WebLogic in the data center, so staffers were familiar with its automated processes for adding or upgrading applications. The difference now, Hunsaker says, has less to do with the technology itself than the cost savings realized through Oracle’s pay-as-you-go pricing model.

Hunsaker adds that when he looks ahead, he’s excited about the role that technologies such as artificial intelligence might eventually play in some Maritz applications. If it can help the company to improve its services or Maritz employees to do their jobs, his team has the tools it needs to adapt.

“You have to modernize to stay relevant,” he says, “and I think that we’ve shown we’re really good at that.”

Brian Stauffer/Theispot

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