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The Archaeological Dig: Migrating Applications to the Cloud

by Eban Escott, Feb 10, 2016

Intellectual property (IP) is the secret source that is a business's competitive advantage. In a world of modern technology 64% of Small & Medium Businesses (SMBs) have already moved to using cloud-based applications in order to best utilise their IP. A further 78% of businesses have indicated that they are considering purchasing new solutions such as these in the next 2-3 years. This makes it clear, maintaining your business’s competitive edge means digging up your IP and modernising your software from legacy to cloud. As the father of the quality evolution, W. Edwards Deming says,

"It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory".

Excavating your IP from the legacy application involves a tricky process riddled with a few navigational issues and booby-traps. When finding the true IP of a legacy software you are only actually looking for a very small amount of code (sometimes as small as a few hundred lines). The rest of the legacy application is infrastructure code that has been written to expose the IP to the end-users. Software developers often spend a disproportionate amount of time on this infrastructure code instead of facing the real business problem of making improvements to the IP. From here, the challenge is twofold; firstly how to retain the IP moving into the new cloud application. Secondly, how to manage the effect the new application has on the people using it. In the Lean startup world, this is part of the challenge when finding a product/market fit. Luckily, software engineers have been working hard behind the scenes to find ways to combat these challenges involved in the process of legacy application migration.

The technical challenge

Dealing with the first problem, the technical challenge of creating a systematic path from legacy to cloud, involves creating a clever data migration strategy. The strategy must be able to smoothly transition existing customers to the new application. In addition, the new cloud services must have comparable behaviour to the legacy system. To achieve this and unleash the IP onto an innovation platform there are a few options for a business to take:
1. Application Programming Interface (API)

2. Shared database

3. Rewrite
All processes can lead to successfully moving to the cloud, but determining which path is right for your business can be a little trickier. Rewriting is usually only done if the IP is relatively small or a business process. This is due to the huge cost and time associated with starting from scratch. There of course are still awesome advantages to this strategy, the main one being that you can completely redesign the user interface and make it better suited to your markets’ modern day needs. Alternatively, using an Application Programming Interface (API) or a shared database are both useful for uncovering valuable but complex IP. As seen in the diagram above, theses options can be used to expose or make a certain functionality available in the cloud, no matter which programming language was used to develop the IP.

The new culture challenge

Once you’ve dug out your IP, modernising is going to require careful consideration of your product/market fit. The key here is to avoid your business receiving a ‘culture shock’ when you initially implement the new cloud technology. To manage this you should consider the two major booby-traps in the transition process:

1. Forgetting a lighthouse client

2. Not adapting your management method

The first technique you should adapt in order to manage the culture change is to find a lighthouse client. A major flaw of migrating companies and startups these days is the pressure they put on themselves to have one giant release of their new software. Staging the releases to be done in iterations allows for a “build, measure, learn” process to take place. The lighthouse client is the key to this process. Once you have a lighthouse client you should begin work on the Minimum Viable Product (MVP). A MVP is described by the founder of the lean startup, Eric Ries, as the “version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort”. As your first customer, the lighthouse client comes along and helps in the development process of your application by validating the functionality and usability of what you have created. Building on their feedback you can then develop the best user experience for future releases of your software.

For startups, the management process you will need to implement during the transition, might require some adaptations compared to your legacy software. New technology can be quite confronting to a business that has become extremely dependant on an outdated system. To get employees well-acquainted, the key is to slowly integrate the changes. This might start by sending out an email with links to the new software or trials for them to use. Delivering fair warning and educating employees on how to use the system in advance will ensure a smooth transition from legacy to cloud.

The combined processes involved in migrating to the cloud can seem a little daunting from the start, but the options available for digging out IP and the strategies for development of your new software can massively reduce the burden on your company. With 78% of businesses poised to make the move to the cloud, maintaining a competitive edge means digging up your IP and modernising. So if just like Indiana Jones, you are ready to embark on your next archeological adventure, check out our white paper!