Application transformation case study targets enterprise bottom line with eye-popping ROI

The ongoing impact of the reset economy is putting more emphasis on lean IT -- of identifying and eliminating waste across the data-center landscape. The top candidates, on several levels, are the silo-architected legacy applications and the aging IT systems that support them.
Written by Dana Gardner, Contributor

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes/iPod and Podcast.com. View a full transcript or download a copy. Learn more. Sponsor: Hewlett-Packard.

This podcast is the first in the series of three to examine Application Transformation: Getting to the Bottom Line. Through a case study, we'll discuss the rationale and likely returns of assessing the true role and character of legacy applications, and then assess the true paybacks from modernization.

The ongoing impact of the reset economy is putting more emphasis on lean IT -- of identifying and eliminating waste across the data-center landscape. The top candidates, on several levels, are the silo-architected legacy applications and the aging IT systems that support them.

Using our case study, we'll also uncover a number of proven strategies on how to innovatively architect legacy applications for transformation and for improved technical, economic, and productivity outcomes. The podcasts coincidentally run in support of HP virtual conferences on the same subjects:

Register here to attend the Asia Pacific event on Nov. 3. Register here to attend the EMEA event on Nov. 4.Register here to attend the Americas event on Nov. 5.

Here to start us off on our series on the how and why of transforming legacy enterprise applications are Paul Evans, worldwide marketing lead on Applications Transformation at HP, and Luc Vogeleer, CTO for Application Modernization Practice in HP Enterprise Services. The discussion is moderated be me, Dana Gardner, principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions.

Here are some excerpts:

Evans: When the economic situation hit really hard, we definitely saw customers retreat, and basically say, "We don't know what to do now. Some of us have never been in this position before in a recessionary environment, seeing IT budgets reduce considerably."

That wasn't surprising. ... It was obvious that people would retrench and then scratch their heads and say, "Now what do we do?"

Now we're seeing a different dynamic, ... something like a two-fold increase in what you might call "customer interest" [in applications transformation]. The number of opportunities we're seeing as a company has doubled over the last six or nine months.

If you ask any CIO or IT head, "Is application transformation something you want to do," the answer is, "No, not really." It's like tidying your garage at home. You know you should do it, but you don't really want to do it. You know that you benefit, but you still don't want to do it.

This has moved from being something that maybe I should do to something that I have to do, because there are two real forces here. One is the force that says, "If I don't continue to innovate and differentiate, I go out of business, because my competitors are doing that." If I believe the economy doesn't allow me to stand still, then I've got it wrong. So, I have to continue to move forward.

Secondly, I have to reduce the amount of money I spend on my innovation, but at the same time I need a bigger payback. I've got to reduce the cost of IT. Now, with 80 percent of my budget being dedicated to maintenance, that doesn't move my business forward. So, the strategic goal is, I want to flip the ratio.

... Today, we'll hear about a case study -- with the Italian Ministry of Instruction, University and Research (MIUR). This customer received an ROI in 18 months. In 18 months, the savings they had made -- and this runs into millions of dollars -- had been paid for. Their new system, in under 18 months, paid for itself. After that, it was pure money to the bottom-line.

... Our job is to minimize that risk by exposing them to customers who have done it before. They can view those best-case scenarios and understand what to do and what not to do.

Vogeleer: We take a very holistic approach and look at the entire portfolio of applications from a customer. Then, from that application portfolio -- depending on the usage of the application, the business criticality of the application, as well as the frequency of changes that this application requires -- we deploy different strategies for each application.

We not only focus on one approach of completely re-writing or re-platforming the application or replacing the application with a package, but we go for a combination of all those elements. By doing a complete portfolio assessment, as a first step into the customer legacy application landscape, we're able to bring out a complete road map to conduct this transformation.

We first execute applications that bring a quick ROI. We first execute quick wins and the ROI and the benefits from those quick wins are immediately reinvested for continuing the transformation. So, transformation is not just one project. It's not just one shot. It's a continuous program over time, where all the legacy applications are progressively migrated into a more agile and cost-effective platform.

The Italian Ministry of Instruction, University and Research (MIUR), is the customer we're going to cover with this case, is a large governmental organization and their overall budget is €55 billion.

This Italian public education sector serves 8 million students from 40,000 schools, and the schools are located across the country in more than 10,000 locations, with each of those locations connected to the information system provided by the ministry.

Very large employer

The ministry is, in fact, one of the largest employers in the world, with over one million employees. Its system manages both permanent and temporary employees, like teachers and substitutes, and the administrative employees. It also supports the ministry users, about 7,000 or 8,000 school employees. It's a very large employer with a large number of users connected across the country.

Why do they need to modernize their environment? In fact, their system was written in the early 1980s on IBM mainframe architecture. In early 2000, there was a substantial change in Italian legislation, which was called so-called a Devolution Law. The Devolution Law was about more decentralization of their process to school level and also to move the administration processes from the central ministry level into the regions, and there are 20 different regions in Italy.

This change implied a completely different process workflow within their information systems. To fulfill the changes, the legacy approach was very time-consuming and inappropriate. A number of strong application have been developed incrementally to fulfill those new organizational requirements, but very quickly this became completely unmanageable and inflexible. The aging legacy systems were expected to be changed quickly.

In addition to the element of agility to change application to meet the new legislation requirement, the cost in that context went completely out of control. So, the simple, most important objective of the modernization was to design and implement a new architecture that could reduce cost and provide a more flexible and agile infrastructure.

The first step we took was to develop a modernization road map that took into account the organizational change requirements, using our service offering, which is the application portfolio assessment.

From the standard engagement that we can offer to a customer, we did an analysis of the complete set of applications and associated data assets from multiple perspectives. We looked at it from a financial perspective, a business perspective, functionality and the technical perspective.

From those different dimensions, we could make the right decision on each application. The application portfolio assessment ensured that the client's business context and strategic drivers were understood, before commencing a modernization strategy for a given application in the portfolio.

A business case was developed for modernizing each application, an approach that was personalized for each group of applications and was appropriate to the current situation.

... This assessment phase took about three months with the seven people. From there, we did a first transformation pilot, with a small staff of people in three months.

After the pilot, we went into the complete transform and user-acceptance test, and after an additional year, 90 percent of the transformation was completed. In the transformation, we had about 3,500 batch processes. We had the transformation. We had re-architecting of 7,500 programs. And, all the screens were also transformed. But, that was a larger effort with a team of about 50 people over one year.

... We tried to use automated conversion, especially for non-critical programs, where they're not frequently changed. That represented 60 percent of the code. This code could be then immediately transferred by removing only the barriers in the code that prevented it from compiling.

All barriers removed

We had also frequently updated programs, where all barriers were removed and code was completely cleaned in the conversion. Then, in critical programs, especially, the conversion effort was bigger than the rewrite effort. Thirty percent of the programs were completely rewritten.

The applications are now accessed through a more efficient web-based user interface, which replaces the green screen and provides improved navigation and better overall system performance, including improved user productivity.

End-user productivity is doubled in terms of the daily operation of some business processes. Also, the overall application portfolio has been greatly simplified by this approach. The number of function points that we're managing has decreased by 33 percent.

From a financial perspective, there are also very significant results. Hardware and software license and maintenance cost savings were about €400,000 in the first year, €2 million in the second year, and are projected to be €3.4 million this year. This represents a savings of 36 percent of the overall project.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes/iPod and Podcast.com. View a full transcript or download a copy. Learn more. Sponsor: Hewlett-Packard.

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