Ciber pursues third way in applications modernization

Applications modernization is one of most important but challenging steps of any digital transformation program.

Taking decades-old systems that are critical to the day-to-day running of the business and re-platforming them to ensure that they can scale, perform and adapt to support the digital agenda is a Herculean task. But without it, businesses cannot reap the full benefits of the cosmetic changes they make to their customer facing interfaces.

US services firm Ciber is looking to help with this challenge by offering what it sees as a less onerous path to modernization. PAC recently caught up with Brian Haskett, the former CA and IBM exec who now leads Ciber’s apps services practice, who said that there are typically two options on the table for organizations looking to overhaul legacy systems.

The first is rip-and-replace, where old platforms are phased out and new off-the-shelf applications are transplanted in their place. Option two is a factory rewrite, where teams of specialists (typically offshore) go through the legacy application module by module, line by line, and use integrated development environment (IDE) tools to repurpose it as a digital-ready platform.

Both approaches are costly, labour intensive and carry high levels of risk. And the second approach in particular can fail to build the bridge between the legacy and the modern, by not sufficiently addressing aspects such as security, third party integration, multiple user interface platforms and analytics. It can also be tricky to find and build on the core business logic that has become tangled by years of customization.

Haskett says that Ciber is pushing a third approach, where legacy apps are re-platformed in a more targeted way. This is done by leaving behind legacy procedural flow and pulling out those things that are most relevant to automatically generate the new application, which is then “hand finished” by developers. Ciber calls this approach its “Momentum” offering.

So how does it work in practice?

Ciber analyzes the legacy system, and working with the client, scopes out the functionality that it wants to keep or enhance in order to meet future business requirements. It then works the desired architecture into its baseline templates and – using its cloud-based ‘Engineer’ tool – automatically harvests the legacy code and business logic, screen designs and database schemas and then generates code for the new application using design and coding patterns that Ciber sees as best practice for that particular industry domain.

Ciber claims that as much as 85% of the code for the new application can be automatically generated in this way, with the remaining 15% requiring manual intervention to support specific business logic and to add polish in areas such as UI layouts, reports and menus.

Haskett says that Ciber is working on Momentum with clients in several different areas. The offering has been born out of some of the work that the company has done in the US government sector supporting clients that use large monolithic systems to run the business that simply don’t have the option of a COTS alternative. Another area where Momentum is being rolled out is for those organizations that plan to go to a COTS platform, but also want to modernize the many other parallel legacy applications whose functionality won’t be replaced by the new system.

There is clear demand for application modernization across all industry sectors. Our recent study in the insurance space found that 94% of organizations believed that legacy modernization is important to them achieving their digital strategy, with 42% planning significant modernization initiatives in the next 12 months. There is clearly a huge potential market for Momentum to address.

Like all established IT services players, Ciber is pedaling fast to ensure that it offsets pressure on traditional systems integration activities with growth in new wave service offerings. Last week, the company announced a 1% decline in revenue to $193m (in constant currency), with operating profit of just $2.1m.

As Haskell admits, Ciber has been forced by the maturity of global sourcing models to focus on automation as a way to differentiate its application services offering. It will always struggle to stand out in a rate card battle, so its focus on reducing the effort tied up in the heavy lifting of legacy modernization makes sense. Case studies and testimonials will be a big help in proving to prospects that Momentum can deliver what it promises.