Jun 20 2024

The Ultimate Roadmap to Modernizing Legacy Applications in Healthcare

There are many ways to give old software new computing power, but following these steps can ensure a successful application modernization journey.

Healthcare organizations have an abundance of applications to support operations, administration, research and clinical workflows across departments. The sheer number of apps can lead to redundancies and vulnerabilities.

Modernizing a health system’s application infrastructure can improve workflow efficiencies and security while lowering management and maintenance costs. However, many healthcare IT leaders struggle with getting started.

IT leaders say they plan to spend 42 percent more, on average, on application modernization because it is seen as a solution to technical debt and a way for businesses to reach their digital transformation goals, according to the 2023 Gartner CIO Agenda. Despite the additional budget and intent to begin the application modernization process, many healthcare organizations can still face challenges such as a skill or staff shortage, a lack of team buy-in or processes to support the project, or perhaps not enough time or money to dedicate to the task. 

While the challenges may seem insurmountable, application modernization is achievable in a shorter time frame with fewer resources than many health IT leaders would expect. With a strategic roadmap that prioritizes which apps to upgrade and creates data migration checklists — in addition to aligning application modernization with a healthcare organization’s business objectives, gaining stakeholder buy-in and working with a trusted partner — healthcare organizations can successfully navigate application modernization.

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Here are the essential steps healthcare IT leaders should follow:

Modernize Apps in Line with Healthcare Business Objectives

First, healthcare organizations should conduct an assessment of their application portfolios to determine which apps are eligible for modernization, whether that be through containerization, cloud migration, refactoring or another route. This can help IT leaders prioritize which apps to upgrade. It also gives teams a comprehensive picture of the entire application portfolio: performance, health, average age, security gaps, container construction and more.

“Having an inventory of all of your applications can help you avoid duplicative investments and paint a clearer picture of how that application fits into your organization’s long-term strategy,” says Greg Peters, founder of the Strategic Application Modernization Assessment (SAMA) at CDW. “By assessing the current state of applications and aligning them with business goals, organizations can prioritize modernization efforts based on their potential impact.”

For example, a healthcare organization hoping to reduce operational costs might prioritize moving legacy applications to the cloud, as this lowers data center expenses from the balance sheet.  

Once IT leaders have goals established, experts at Microsoft recommend assessing the financial and technical health of each application. From there, teams can finalize modernization plans for each workload and budget the resources required for success.

Get Healthcare Stakeholders on Board Early

It’s also critical to get stakeholder buy-in from different leaders across departments, teams and users involved in the process. Doing this early on helps foster collaboration and minimizes resistance to change. Stakeholder involvement promotes transparency, enhances decision-making and ultimately increases the likelihood of successful modernization.

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Map Data Dependencies and Where Data Will Reside

The next critical step is to map dependencies before beginning the actual modernization.

“Even a minor change to the functionality of a core system can have major downstream effects, and failing to account for any dependencies on legacy apps slated for modernization can lead to system outages and business interruptions,” Hitachi Solutions notes in a post.

Taking this step is a smart way to “prevent potential disruption and ensure a smooth transition for end users,” Hitachi states.  

IT leaders also need to make sure that no data is lost when migrating legacy applications to new platforms. The same is true if teams are working to rewrite or transform the applications.

“To prevent data loss when migrating applications from on-premises environments to cloud platforms, institutions should create checklists that detail how data needs to be migrated, how that data should be presented once it’s in the cloud and what testing needs to be done to ensure data accuracy,” Hitachi notes.

DIVE DEEPER: What is a Strategic Application Modernization Assessment?

Choosing a Modernization Approach for Your Healthcare Organization

At this point, healthcare IT leaders should decide which application modernization technique works best to upgrade their legacy software.

1. Rehost

Also known as a “lift and shift,” rehosting allows the IT team to move applications from on-premises environments to the cloud with minimal changes. This quick migration is affordable and allows businesses to keep the core architecture of any app intact.

2. Refactor

With this option, IT staff can rewrite portions of the application’s code to optimize apps for cloud environments. This can improve overall performance in the cloud and make it easier to maintain.

3. Rebuild

If the software requires an overhaul, IT may opt to rewrite the application from scratch while maintaining its original scope and specifications.

4. Replatform

With this option, an application is moved to the public cloud, but it is first overhauled to make it more like a cloud-native app, often via containerization.

5. Retain

During a modernization effort, IT leaders may decide to leave some applications alone, especially those used by relatively few people.

6. Retire

In some cases, IT leaders may decide that an application is no longer necessary and should be retired. This would involve disposing of software responsibly and stopping its renewal cycle.

7. Replace

If it’s too hard to salvage old software, teams may opt to replace it entirely with new, commercial off-the-shelf products or a Software as a Service option. Often, the price of investing in a new tool is significantly cheaper than maintaining older software.

Each of these platform modernization approaches has distinct benefits, but all of them give legacy systems new computing functionality.

RELATED: How can application rationalization tools ease your journey to the cloud?

Solicit the Help of an Expert Technology Partner

Finally, no matter which route an organization decides to take when it comes to modernization, IT leaders should partner with a trusted third party to complete the work. Tech experts can help create roadmaps that are tailored to the organization’s business objectives and financial and technical capabilities.

“Organizations may find it helpful to work with a trusted third-party adviser when conducting assessments, especially if they have limited technical resources,” Peters says. “Having an outsider’s point of view can also help appropriately rank and prioritize applications.”

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