Modernization is a tricky term in the tech industry because the goalposts of what it means to be modern keep moving. Many people think of it as the process of staying technologically current by upgrading software to the newest version and buying the latest hardware every few years. But that’s really maintenance—the bare minimum an organization must do to function. Modernization means more than just downloading new drivers. Rather, it is a holistic process that should suffuse a company’s entire culture at every level. Modernization is about keeping everything from systems to skills current, making sure older systems are usable and maximizing the value of incumbent systems.
Of course, upgrading technology is important—indeed vital—to the ongoing process of modernization, but keeping systems modern requires knowing which systems must be upgraded in the first place. Specifically, new machines should be future-proofed as completely as possible, purchasing systems built with open standards and extensibility and maintaining all subscriptions and warranties to ensure support when things go wrong.
Modernization is about People
More important than machines are the professionals who use them, so keeping skills and best practices current is as important as keeping technology up to date. Training and education are vitally important as employees work on emerging uses for new and legacy technology. This could mean in-house training or paying for external training, though usually some combination of both is ideal. It’s important not to get hung up only on bleeding-edge technology because employees should also be able to leverage systems of any vintage.
Maintaining the utility of older technology isn’t just tech hipsterism, it’s essential. Legacy systems might not seem cool on the surface, but they have some advantages over newer hardware and software. For example, a mainframe is still likely the most powerful asset in an organization. Knowing how to use Big Iron for coding, processing and data analytics is imperative, especially given how future-proof these processors are because of their general purpose design. By making sure that older technology remains viable, organizations have kept these systems running for decades.
Give IT a REST
Representational State Transfer (RESTful) web services are one way to bridge the gap between newer and older technologies to make sure cutting-edge and established systems can coexist. RESTful systems allow a professional to manipulate textual representations of resources using easy-to-understand operations—basically translating what a system can do into universal “layman’s” terms so that someone versed in one system can program for another. A younger developer with no knowledge of COBOL can thus easily be taught to leverage a mainframe with RESTful interfaces acting as the intermediary. By adding RESTful interfaces to apps and data, companies can bridge generational gaps to keep older technologies serving new needs.
A RESTful interface also makes modernization more efficient as new app code does not need to be written to allow employees to use different systems. There’s no need to waste time coding and creating an intermediary app because the process to implement RESTful is dramatically easier and quicker.
Welcome to the API Economy
One of the most vital aspects of modernization is the embrace of new trends and ideas, and one of the most successful of late has been the API economy – supporting the ever-expanding world of apps. Three great things about APIs are that they’re modular, intuitive and universal. You can provide an API into any compatible system, teach anyone to use it on any platform (since it functions identically on all of them) and trust all users to program with APIs installed on that platform.
Modernization is a multi-pronged process involving everything from buying new equipment, to learning new skills to leveraging old tech along with new innovations. It’s more than just a belief that every gadget and killer app must be built from scratch; instead, it’s a top-down philosophy that allows entire organizations to strive for modern efficiency and productivity. Without this mindset, you’ll only be putting a new coat of paint over yesterday’s ideas.
Bryan Smith is Chief Technology Officer for Rocket Software, a global technology company based in Waltham, Massachusetts, where he manages all aspects of Rocket’s R&D organization and operations.
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