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In the first blog post of the series, we established four use cases for using a low-code platform (innovation, customer engagement, operational efficiency and legacy migration) and mapped them to Gartner’s Pace Layer Model. The second blog explained how to take an iterative, test and learn approach to developing innovative apps. In the third blog, I focused on how to rapidly build and scale customer-facing apps while delivering the performance users expect. The fourth blog post focused on combating the challenges of developing apps that provide greater operational efficiency. In this blog post, I will focus on the last core use case for low-code development: Legacy migration.

There are two types of legacy migration projects: lift-and-shift and business transformation. Lift-and-shift legacy migrations are typically initiated by IT because the underlying infrastructure or technology needs to be updated or replaced, often for cost or technology obsolescence reasons. In these scenarios, the IT organization is looking to rebuild the existing system on a one-to-one basis, and there is no compelling or urgent need for significant change on the side of the business. They simply want a new system that allows them to continue doing what they’ve been doing.

Most of the legacy migrations we see our customers undergo, on the other hand, are business transformation initiatives.  Driven by the business, these apps are meant to replace legacy systems that don’t sufficiently support business processes, whether new or existing or provide the right user experience. While these legacy migration projects require new functionality, they often must support current processes as well.

Within the business transformation category, we see two types of systems:

  • Core legacy migrations: larger systems built by central IT, such as portals and custom ERP systems. These apps require scale, performance, and complex data migration.
  • Non-core legacy migrations: smaller, departmental apps originally built by the business using tools like Microsoft Access, SharePoint, and Lotus Notes. The defining characteristics for successfully migrating these systems are business enablement, centralized governance, and easy data migration.

Examples of legacy migrations include transitioning from Lotus Notes, Case Stack’s migration of legacy technologies from Salesforce.com, NLE’s migration from ProcessRunner and .NET, and Texas Life’s rewrite of its legacy policy administration application.

Challenges of Developing Legacy Migration Apps, and Their Low-Code Solutions

Lack of flexibility creates tomorrow’s legacy

Legacy migrations require organizations to build a system that remains flexible to adapt to changes. The last thing IT wants is for the new system to become tomorrow’s legacy. Low-code platforms enable your organization to employ a modern app architecture that promotes agility by leveraging microservices. Look for a platform that enables easy creation of autonomous apps and services that can be recombined and shared—while facilitating fast, frequent change cycles so the system can evolve to meet new business needs. It is critical to take advantage of a future-proof platform so you aren’t creating an unmaintainable set of apps or piles of machine-generated code.

Enabling developers to rapidly take advantage of best of breed modern technology stacks without having the expertise to be an expert in all of them will create a high level of flexibility that is fully documented and visually constructed.

Mission-critical apps fail to deliver at scale

Many core legacy systems fail to deliver the required performance at scale. Look for a low-code platform that can ensure the new solution can be deployed with the required resiliency and high availability for mission-critical use. A low-code platform with a cloud-native architecture enables automatic failover for continuous operation of business-critical apps, ensuring that they don’t run into the same performance issues as legacy systems.

Inadequate oversight of quality

Due to the size and complexity of most legacy migration solutions, there is often an inadequate oversight of the quality of the app. It is important to be able to proactively monitor and address the quality of the applications to prevent technical debt and improve long-term maintainability. Look for a low-code platform that embeds automated quality, testing, and performance monitoring within the development lifecycle.

Usability is an afterthought

With this type of application, usability is often an afterthought, blunting ROI. Use low-code development to take a user-centric, design thinking approach when designing the new solution. Deeper understanding of the users and business context can help close process gaps that existed in the legacy system, delivering an end-to-end solution that drives substantial productivity gains. This level of understanding may also result in the incorporation of new capabilities that weren’t available in the legacy system (e.g. mobile, conversational UI), or the removal of unused features. Both help deliver a more focused and engaging user experience. Look for a platform that enables the business to participate in the design process to ensure app usability and success.

The Boston Globe Transitioned from Lotus Notes to Mendix to Improve Performance and Maintainability

The Boston Globe, the largest newspaper and regional website in New England, turned to Mendix’s low-code development platform to migrate a dozen legacy Lotus Notes workflows that were increasingly difficult to maintain and failed to provide a modern user experience. The first project was migrating the Globe’s newsroom corrections database, a key application for monitoring quality for its 350-person newsroom.

The results were phenomenal: what took over a month to code in Lotus was built in just five days with Mendix. Now, the Boston Globe is using the low-code platform to migrate other Lotus apps as well as build new apps to move the business forward. Thanks to the high productivity and collaborative approach to building applications, the Globe is delivering apps in days or weeks, delivering immediate and substantial business impact. 

Using the Mendix platform, we can do things we simply wouldn’t have been able to do using traditional development methods because Mendix is so much faster and easier. The platform has allowed our IT department to become an enabler and change agent within the organization.”- Wade Sendall, Vice President of IT, The Boston Globe

 Learn more about the value of low-code platforms in the recent Forrester Wave on Low-Code Development Platforms.