Software Modernization

What is software modernization about? How does it differ from software quality assurance? Learn more in our wiki article!

What is Software Modernization?

When your vital software applications start becoming error-prone, sluggish, and costlier to maintain, what steps should you take? This is a common dilemma faced by numerous companies when assessing their legacy software setups. As software ages, it increasingly impedes a company's future trajectory.

Legacy systems, legacy software, or applications built in outdated programming languages necessitate proactive consideration by the IT department regarding the feasibility of software modernization.

What Sets Modernization Apart from Other Quality Improvements?

Software modernization addresses issues that other quality improvement measures alone can no longer resolve. This is often because, over an extended period (years), these regular quality-enhancing measures, such as reducing technical debt, upgrading technologies, ensuring comprehensive documentation, or compensating for retired experts' absence, have been overlooked.

When to modernize your software

The pragmatic answer is: when it is no longer easily readable, editable, maintainable, and expandable. The strategic answer is: when the installed software can no longer support your company's strategy (digitalization, cloud, growth, M&A).

There are thus a whole series of reasons in your individual company situation that can speak for software modernization. Here is a selection:

Digitization in your market(s)

The installed software can no longer (completely) meet new requirements (e.g. cloud, IoT, mobile)
Performance and availability

Technical debts, large amounts of old data, or spaghetti code limit the performance, availability, and innovation capability of the software.


Security gaps in the application no longer offer sufficient security. This can no longer be produced with normal effort.


The compatibility of the software with more modern applications in the company is only partially available. The interfaces between the applications are becoming more and more complex and confusing.

Maintenance costs

The software is so confusing and complex (spaghetti code) that maintenance and further development are becoming more and more complex. Maintenance measures often cause new problems.

Discontinued support

The application is based on old technologies that are no longer maintained or supported.

Loss of know-how

The original developers are no longer available and the documentation in the code is incomplete. The old software can no longer be further developed or only with very high effort and by few persons.

Usability/User Experience (UX)

The usability of the legacy software is not intuitive and cumbersome. It affects productivity and user satisfaction.

New legal requirements

The protection of personal data (GDPR) must be ensured by the use of technologies that correspond to the state of the art. The data protection officer in the company has the duty of "Privacy by Design" (data protection by appropriate design of the technology).

The common denominator of the triggers for software modernization is:

  • The software can no longer adequately support business strategy and processes
  • The technological requirements to seize the opportunities of digitalization are missing
  • The know-how for further development of the application is no longer available

How is software modernized?

Depending on the company's configuration regarding strategy and technology, there are various approaches to modernizing software to make it more efficient and future-proof. The following methods are considered:

  1. Refactoring: Improving code and architecture to reduce technical debt and restore innovation capability. Identifying and eliminating neglected maintenance points and improving modularity in the  architecture facilitates the integration of new features/functionality.

  2. Reengineering: Retaining functionalities while building on a new technology platform (e.g., from cloud to microservices). This requires extensive decoupling of architecture and redevelopment of individual components to develop, operate, and scale functions independently as needed.

  3. New Development: Developing new software to replace legacy applications. Based on current programming languages, technologies, standards, and tools, this allows the implementation of the latest strategic requirements and market trends.

  4. Retirement + Migration: Decommissioning the application and migrating/archiving the data. In addition to possible obligations for retention, the data could be used in other applications in the future.

Choosing the right modernization approach is crucial to achieving the best possible and future-proof improvement of the application with minimal effort, cost, and risk. 

It may be sufficient if the technological basis of the software is still current and future-proof, and only refactoring is performed to reduce technical debt.

Goals of Software Modernization

The most common goals of software modernization, as we know from our practice, are:

  • Restoration of maintainability and innovation capability of the old software.
  • Reduction of complexity and maintenance effort.
  • Adaptation to new strategies and technologies.
  • Enhancement of performance and efficiency.
  • Improvement of user-friendliness (UX).
  • Increase of security and data protection standards.
  • Enhancement of overall software quality.
  • Ensuring compatibility with other modern systems.
  • Boosting scalability and flexibility of the software.
  • Development of new software according to specifications, considering the latest business trends and with state-of-the-art technologies.

Challenges and Their Risk Management

Software modernization can encounter significant hurdles if planning and risk assessment are inadequate. Incorrect expectations, incomplete analysis of legacy software, and ineffective risk management are particularly concerning. A failed modernization can have profound repercussions for the company. Common Problems and Risks are the following:

Data Alignment and Resource Insufficiency 

Often, there's a disconnect between the analysis findings of legacy software and the requirements for the new software. This can result in ambiguity regarding the modernization strategy. You should know what no longer meets the current requirements in the old software, what the modernization should achieve (its goals and requirements), and which path to choose for implementation.

Inadequate project resources, lack of expertise, along with tight budgets and unrealistic expectations exacerbate the situation.

Shortage of Knowledge Holders

Another concern arises when too few individuals maintain the old application and lack the capacity to contribute significantly to the modernization initiative.

Technical Hurdles and Documentation Gaps 

Unique technical obstacles and inadequate documentation of the legacy system introduce further risks. Neglecting modern software tools during the analysis and selection of the modernization approach poses a significant project risk.

Additional Challenges

Apart from the aforementioned risks, typical challenges encountered in software development projects include garnering support from management levels, ensuring effective project communication, managing risks, and conducting thorough testing.

Addressing these challenges meticulously during the planning and execution phases of software modernization projects is essential to ensure their success and effectiveness.

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