IT modernization is a broad category that encompasses any effort an organization makes to adopt, adapt or upgrade its technology.
The specific motions involved in an IT modernization project will vary depending on the organization’s industry, size, budget, workforce needs and customer expectations, as well as what stage of digital transformation they have already reached. But, in general, these projects involve moving away from older technology toward new tools that streamline, simplify and/or automate the processes and procedures that keep the organization running.
While modernization is practically required in order to thrive in our increasingly digital economy, these efforts are most likely to succeed when they’re thoughtfully planned in close relationship to current needs and future goals. IT modernization that is not well strategized can create more challenges than rewards for teammates and customers. For example, if an organization upgrades functional systems while those in need of overhauling go untouched. Or if it implements new tools without adequately training the employees who will need to use them.
In this article, you’ll learn foundational information that can help you identify and evaluate key considerations for your own IT modernization journey, including which aspects of your IT to upgrade, why change management is part of effective digital transformation, the challenges you may face and the business outcomes you can target.
Modernization efforts can touch any part of your organization’s IT ecosystem, from storage infrastructure to network solutions to end-user devices. The areas described in the following sections are particularly important due to their capacity to enhance business operations, customer satisfaction and employee experiences. Updating these technologies with an outcomes-centered strategy can deliver more meaningful results.
One of the most significant opportunities for your business to transform its IT environment is by upgrading your infrastructure. It’s the backbone of your operating environment, storing vital data and applications. However, modernizing infrastructure isn’t as simple as transitioning entirely from legacy on-premises storage to a fully cloud-based environment.
Adapting infrastructure to meet new business goals requires identifying the platforms and approaches that best fit your workloads, compliance requirements, security needs and budget. That can mean leaving some workloads on premises, transitioning to a public or private cloud, or adopting a hybrid cloud model. No matter what approach your organization chooses, moving to the cloud introduces new management needs, which can be handled either in house or by an external partner.
While infrastructure modernization is a massive undertaking, it’s also a key first step that makes many other digital transformation projects possible. For example, infrastructure upgrades may be necessary before you adopt solutions that incorporate the Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML) and the intelligent edge. These technologies expand your visibility, the value of your data and your automation capabilities in order to streamline processes and enable data-driven decision-making.
One specific — and significant — infrastructure modernization motion is data center migration. While migration efforts can involve the cloud adoption approaches detailed above, you can also upgrade your traditional, on-premises storage to more effective, high-performing options that better align to your desired business goals.
These platforms can include:
Whatever approach you choose, the steps to facilitating a successful data center modernization effort are fundamentally the same: Adopt a workload-first approach; develop a manageable and practical strategy; and ensure that stakeholders are on board with upgrades — before the process begins and through training during and after the migration.
Legacy enterprise networks often lack the agility that today’s fast-moving, always-evolving business landscape requires. While transitioning to innovative solutions, such as Software-Defined Wide Area Networks (SD-WAN), can be a complex process, newer connectivity solutions ultimately streamline and simplify your network environment.
A modern network offers benefits that traditional network systems simply cannot support, including:
These benefits are particularly salient for large organizations and businesses planning to adopt a more flexible approach to where and when work is done. A single-location organization in which all teammates always work on site has relatively simple networking needs, while an organization with multiple locations and/or teams who collaborate from the office, home and remote field sites will benefit from modernizing its network infrastructure.
Applications can build connections and improve engagement among your employees and customer base, but it becomes more challenging to support, scale and maintain apps as they age. These management roadblocks lead to frustrating user experiences that complicate customer interactions and stall internal collaboration — a pain point that’s amplified for younger users, who have grown acclimated to seamless digital engagement.
When you modernize your applications, you not only resolve challenges caused by your existing legacy applications but also move to cloud-based, data-driven platforms created with agility and scalability in mind. These newer systems for collaboration and engagement meet today’s expectations while leaving room for change and growth — making it easier to deliver experiences that retain customers and talent now and in the future. In other words, this major shift minimizes the need to make drastic changes to your applications again down the line.
Along with your productivity and collaboration applications, the devices you equip your workforce with substantially impact the employee experience. If your end-user hardware is performing inadequately, reaching end-of-life imminently or failing to support a hybrid approach to work, a device refresh may be in order. New devices come with a learning curve, but they also deliver improvements in performance, productivity and mobility that keep your teams engaged wherever and however they work.
The age of devices is just one employee pain point; limited hardware options can also diminish workforce satisfaction. Choose Your Own Device (CYOD) programs solve this challenge by giving workers the ability to select from an organization-approved range of computers, tablets and/or smartphones. This approach enables end-user flexibility without overburdening IT management and security processes — especially if you partner with a Device as a Service (DaaS) provider.
If you really want to maximize employee choice, a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy takes hardware flexibility to the next level. Under BYOD, your teams can access organizational networks, systems and data from their personal devices. While this reduces hardware costs and enables teammates to work with tools they’re already comfortable with, it also introduces additional complexity into your IT environment, especially when it comes to your cybersecurity.
IT modernization isn’t limited to upgrading platforms and hardware; it can also reshape operational processes, including lifecycle management. The IT lifecycle describes the routine practices involved in keeping endpoints functional and equipped to meet business needs. Streamlining these practices is a key site of IT modernization that also simplifies other transformation efforts by optimizing resources and bolstering your organization’s ability to scale and adapt.
The hardware lifecycle is a cyclical journey consisting of the following stages, all of which can benefit from adopting new solutions and practices:
When IT leaders raise the subject of modernizing legacy systems, they often hear stakeholders voice their fears that introducing new technologies will mean introducing new cybersecurity risks. However, innovative technologies are not inherently riskier than their legacy counterparts — in fact, they may be easier to protect than your existing systems, which can have security gaps of their own and often require a fragmented approach to threat defense.
As other parts of your IT ecosystem transform, your security systems will have to adapt — but that’s a positive side effect. While sticking to what’s known and comfortable is especially appealing when it comes to security, our cyberthreat landscape is always evolving, which means that your organization should adapt alongside it.
As long as your IT modernization strategy doesn’t brush aside compliance requirements and security concerns, your digital transformation will drive progress toward a more centralized, manageable and proactive approach to cybersecurity.
IT modernization reduces complexity in the long term, but in the transitional stages of your journey, it can require a patchwork of management solutions for your evolving infrastructure, applications, devices and users. At the same time, as is the case for cybersecurity, digital transformation opens up opportunities to move toward management tools and approaches that are more centralized and streamlined.
A particularly fruitful area for modernization is data management. As your business evolves to meet the changing demands of a digital economy, expanding visibility into and control over the information you collect is vital to optimizing processes, maintaining compliance and adapting to customer expectations. This is especially important if your organization will adopt innovations that expand the pool of information you can access, such as the Internet of Things. In short, modern management solutions and practices enable you to access, store, govern and analyze data from a growing collection of sources more effectively and efficiently.
Implementing new technologies is just one part of IT modernization; it’s equally urgent to ensure that your end users know how to use those tools to their full advantage. Even your most innovation-minded teammates will feel uncomfortable adopting new solutions without adequate preparation and training.
Partnering with experts in Organizational Change Management (OCM) and Learning and Development (L&D) can help your business smooth the process of digital transformation by preparing your workforce to hit the ground running with the new technologies you’ve asked them to embrace.
Not only does appropriate training support technological innovation, but technological innovation is also facilitating new approaches to training. In 2020, traditional in-person learning was limited due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While this abrupt change was often challenging, it also led organizations to refine many emergent approaches to training, including virtual learning, immersive technology, video content and mobile platforms. As a result, training programs are more versatile, engaging and audience-centric than ever before — which increases the likelihood that learners will internalize the information presented throughout the training experience.
Modernizing IT is a key business priority, but organizations often face roadblocks in their journeys. Internal IT departments juggle multiple, competing priorities, and long-term transformational projects sometimes take a backseat to more immediate needs. The need to allocate time and energy where it is most urgent is especially strong for organizations with limited budgets, staff and expertise. In many cases, collaborating with an external partner helps organizations fill knowledge gaps, develop effective strategies and achieve modernization more quickly — without overburdening internal teams.
However, even businesses with ample internal and partner resources can struggle to modernize if they lack a clear, comprehensive strategy. And, wariness around the potential drawbacks of new technologies — especially around employee adoption, industry compliance requirements and cybersecurity risks — can prevent organizations from even attempting to realize their benefits. Again, a trusted partnership can make it easier to build a strategy that incorporates business goals and necessary process updates into technology upgrade plans.
While IT modernization is a major undertaking, it’s also a significant driver of business success in a digital-first world. When your business adopts new technologies across your IT infrastructure, you can accelerate workloads and lay a foundation for better data insights, streamlined processes and the automation of routine tasks. Upgrading devices, applications and networks fosters better customer and employee experiences, which builds brand loyalty and makes retaining talent easier. And, that talent can maximize their potential with modern workforce tools that boost productivity and enable effective collaboration wherever and whenever they work.
Realizing these business outcomes through IT modernization requires patience, resources, expertise and an intelligent strategy — but the rewards are worth the effort.