Skip navigation
modernization success Alamy

Pilot Phase: A Critical Step to Success When Modernizing Applications

Follow these steps when preparing a pilot, which will help you determine the probability of success when you embark on an application modernization journey.

A phased approach is key to success when modernizing applications. This approach breaks up the project into smaller, more manageable steps with intermediate deliverables that can help ensure that the final delivery goals can be met. Each step is marked by well-defined and repeatable processes and ends with the meeting of a success criteria. IT leaders can associate a budget for each success point that will place the entire project on a pathway to success.

The steps to a phased approach would first begin with the key stakeholders reaching a consensus on the budget and resources that will be assigned to modernizing an application portfolio. They would then select and assess the applications that need modernization and identify a path to modernization for each application. Thereafter they would chart the tools and processes for each path selected.

Now comes the critical step that will determine the probability of success when you embark on the modernization journey — conduct a pilot to test and validate the resources and processes that have been selected for each application.

As a precaution, do not predetermine the period in which the pilot must be completed prior to identifying all the parameters and processes of the pilot that will represent the actual modernization effort.

Here are key steps for planning a pilot:

Step 1: Identify the path to modernization for the application to be modernized – Replace or Rebuild (requires extraction of business rules) or Refactor (requires optimization and code migration). If the path is still to be determined, assess and document the current state of the application to determine that path. The cost is minimal as compared to the cost of modernization or cost of failure, and this assessment will be required as an initial step no matter how you modernize the application.

Step 2: Identify the parameters that must be met to transform the source application to the selected target state. If the path to modernization is implementation of business rules in a commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) product, determine the template and format in which the rules can be consumed by that product. If the path is to rewrite the application from the current business rules, work with the development team to determine how they would like to see the rules as part of target specifications that will allow for easy understanding and rapid development. If the path is automated code migration, identify the system architecture and technologies of the proposed target code.

Step 3: Select code for the pilot. This code must be sufficient to exercise the technology resources and processes identified for the selected path to modernization. At a minimum, the code should be representative of the application/s to be modernized or it should be the most complex piece of these application/s. If the goal is business rules extraction, the end result of the pilot should either be successful consumption of rules in the selected COTS product or a validation by the development team that the rules can be converted into a new modern application. If the goal is optimization and code migration, the pilot should result in an executable mini-application that can be tested and deployed in an environment that is similar to the target environment of choice.

Step 4: Identify the intermediate deliverables of the pilot. The processes for each phase should result in deliverables that can be validated before moving on to the following phase. All anomalies should result either in modified expectations or modified processes that will result in expected deliverables.

Step 5: Once the parameters have been finalized, determine a schedule for completion of each phase of the pilot and the pilot itself. This schedule will validate the efficiencies of your processes and resources for each phase of the pilot, and assist you in creating a realistic schedule for the larger modernization initiative. More importantly it will allow you to provide a more realistic budget to the management.

Step 6: Execute each phase of the pilot. Document the finalized processes of a phase upon successful completion. It is not unusual to modify processes, require customization of automation tools and revise expectations as you execute each phase of the pilot. Delays of 30-40% related to such changes should be included when finalizing your schedule. What is critical is documenting the finalized processes of every phase that needs to be followed when implementing the larger modernization effort.

Other suggestions: If you are conducting a pilot with an outside agency, it is not uncommon to pay for their services. In fact it is better to compensate the agency to perform an adequate pilot than to water it down so as to avoid payment. However, a fixed price contract with success-based compensation is a good option to mitigate the risks of failure.

Case Study

A large state agency needed to extract business rules from a multimillion-line application. The target application state had been identified, and the template and format in which the rules were required had also been determined. Unfortunately, prior awards to outside organizations to extract rules had not resulted in the success that the state required.

A key stakeholder decided that the best chance of success was for the state to identify the resources and processes for rules extraction, and thereafter to conduct a pilot on a module of the application.

This module was further divided into smaller code segments. A modernization platform was selected based on analyst recommendations and theoretical comparison of features. The platform worked on a phased-approach methodology which allowed the state to identify intermediate deliverables.

A pilot that stretched for 4+ months was initiated. During each phase of the implementation, intermediate results were reviewed, custom modifications to the platform were noted to make the deliverables match the state requirements, and some processes were changed to generate efficiencies. While the platform publisher customized its product, revised processes were tested, finalized, and documented in writing.

Upon completion of the platform customization, an end-to-end rules extraction effort was performed on the pilot module with finalized documented processes that resulted in rules being generated in the format required.

Thereafter the state agency placed requests for proposals out to bid, specifying the platform to be used and the processes to be followed for extraction of rules.

This effort resulted in rules being extracted from 20+ million lines of code in a period of 2+ years.

About the Author:

Miten Marfatia is the founder and CEO of EvolveWare, a global leader in automating the documentation, analysis, and modernization of software applications. An early player in the application modernization industry, Miten has helped revolutionize the approach to modernization by incorporating automation and ML into a unique platform that is successfully guiding large organizations such as the state of New York, U.S. Department of Defense, and Deloitte Consulting clients through complex digital transformation initiatives. Prior to EvolveWare, Miten was a founder of Perisol Technology, which provided state-of-the-art storage solutions to corporations and government agencies, and prior to that, founded Silicon Electronics, a distributor of cutting-edge products to India's nascent computer manufacturing industry. 

Miten holds an M.S. in Electrical Engineering and an M.B.A. in Finance, Investment & Banking from the  University of Wisconsin at Madison. He earned his B.S. in Electrical Engineering from the University of Bombay in India.

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.