At the beginning of last year, HP commissioned Forrester Research to survey 206 global IT decision makers in pursuit of the answer to this question (among others).  Specifically, we wanted to hear what companies hoped to gain through modernizing applications and application delivery – which we define as that gamut of recent trends across people, process, and technologies:  projects with offshore or near-shore support structures; a process shift away from document-heavy methods like Waterfall to flexible ones like Agile; and new technologies such as richer clients (RIA), cloud computing, and service-based architectures.

The answer surprised us.

The #1 objective of application modernization wasn’t cost reduction.  Cost reduction wasn’t #2 either.  In fact, the respondents said their objectives in modernizing were, in order of priority:

  • Increased agility
  • Innovation
  • Cost reduction
  • Functional enhancement
  • Richer customer experience

The next question, of course, is:  Have application teams realized these benefits?  And although I don’t have a survey behind me on this, I’ll say that the anecdotal evidence suggests the answer is “Not yet.”

Why not?

The modern application is often built from a combination of new and existing subcomponents. It’s assembled by geographically distributed teams, perhaps using new or unfamiliar technologies and almost certainly using different methodologies: Agile, iterative, sequential, or none at all. The impact of this mix on people, processes, and technologies means complexity is layered on complexity. The hard truth is that few organizations marshal a good response to these complexities. The complications tend to creep in incrementally (a pilot outsource arrangement here, an experiment in new technology there) rather than exploding all at once.

This drip-by-drip approach means no single increment feels like a game-changer. As a result, the organization doesn’t see a need to rethink the legacy mechanisms they’ve long used for managing and executing application delivery—spreadsheets, emails, document templates, heroic work efforts, etc. While the aim is modern delivery, the means are often anything but modern. Rather than achieving greater agility, more innovation, lower costs, and richer applications, these organizations experience the opposite: Rampant complexity overwhelms the operational status quo.

In future posts, we’ll take a look at the ways certain world class application organizations have tackled the challenges of modernization, and pushed through to realize the original goals.