“Change before you have to.” This quote by Jack Welch, Former CEO, General Electric has never had greater significance than today. Everything is constantly changing, from the expectations of digital customers, the requirement for better user experiences by the next-gen workforce, changing business models according to business needs, to the modernization of technology, before it becomes inevitable.
Consider this example. A health-information and intelligence company in Stamford, Connecticut built a ‘health intelligence platform’ to create their labs’ competitive difference. The platform built years ago had advanced from enabling clients’ lab operations to creating an impact on lab research outcomes. While the software developed 2 decades ago was robust, there was an imminent need for modernization.
From the VP of tech engineering to the lab head, there were change agents or champions who recognized this need for modernization. However other stakeholders, comfortable using the old system, were apprehensive to move to new systems. In due course, the company embraced modernization and upgraded from a legacy, FoxPro-based Lab Information Management software (LIS) to a modern Java/Angular application.
By using a low-code platform, they were able to accelerate application development, automate ordered tests, simplify integration with external systems, and develop applications quickly and economically. This accelerated their time-to-market - a necessary competitive edge, where the extent of technology leverage could make the difference between invention and discovery. Taking this example, we will discuss the approach and the steps that every change agent should consider when embarking on the modernization journey.
Modernization is not only about scaling or ramping up software technology, it also requires an enterprise-wide change in mindset. A change in mindset in the way people work, collaborate and communicate with each other and with the technology they use. What most enterprises are facing today seems to be an impasse. On one hand, business owners feel that the use of technology is limited to the support they get from IT and on the other hand, there are tech owners who do not have the time or the skills to deliver more. When IT teams are overloaded with enterprise demands, the bandwidth for core business innovation is minimal.
For decades, enterprise-class systems have had a monolithic approach. Enterprise architecture has evolved from monolithic models to service-oriented architecture and is progressively moving towards microservices architecture. The role of enterprise architecture has also matured, from supporting IT to a strategic role of innovation.
Enterprises can stay competitive by incrementally transforming monolithic legacy systems to adopting a modern, agile approach such as microservices. Once they experience the agile delivery of microservices, innovation will naturally flow. Any change agent will tell you, undertaking an IT modernization initiative is not an easy feat and the first question that invariably arises is “how and where to start?”
Enterprise IT Modernization Using Microservices
How and where to start
In any migration or modernization project, making enterprise-wide changes all at once is not always feasible, as it would involve intense coordination and meticulous planning. Moreover, modernization requires investment in emerging technologies, therefore big budgets need to be approved and allocated. The first step in IT modernization is not to make a mountain of the existing monolithic system. If new functionalities need to be added to the software, adding them to the legacy system is only going to make the migration process more difficult. Instead, build independently deliverable services, microservices.
5 Aspects to Consider When Migrating to Microservices
Here is an approach with 5 steps that every change agent in an enterprise should consider when they begin their journey of modernization to microservices.
- Integrate components and ensure data access by auto-generating APIs
APIs are used to integrate components (third-party and internal) and the model used will determine the business profitability. Generating APIs for a new service or reusing code of existing services that invariably use legacy technology can be challenging. The pace at which APIs need to be generated is something most enterprises are grappling with.
In the earlier example, the health IT company had to build APIs over databases and custom services. Using a platform to integrate external EHR (electronic health record) systems and enable building a database of patient health records, a unified API helped them access data and run queries.
To improve productivity, low-code platforms are used to auto-generate APIs, where it is not limited to simple, database CRUD operations, but also the generation of APIs for search, filter, aggregate and export services, among others. APIs can be built over databases and for custom services and can also be generated for database queries with stored procedures. Using the ‘API designers’ feature in a low-code platform, REST APIs are generated automatically for every service imported into an application, be it a Database Service or Java Service.
Low-code platforms also offer the advantage of writing business logic by reusing generated APIs in popular languages like Java. When enterprises are in a position where they are still using legacy technology like JSF, Struts, JSP or Servlet where Java code is used, low-code makes it possible to extract the code and generate APIs from it. There are different ways in which a low-code platform can help in reusing code to generate APIs, either by obtaining the libraries of the code and wrapping it in a service or copying the code in a service. Moreover, since development teams would probably be using Java, reusing code and generating APIs becomes very easy.
- Expedite data migration, availability, and accessibility
When it comes to migrating the most valuable asset, which is data, the challenge of “data gravity” arises. Over time, as data grows, how it attracts other data, how it is integrated and how it is customized, changes. Data migration not only has to be done with speed to avoid disruption, it also has to be done accurately and securely.
When migrating to microservices, all of the data from storage systems have to migrate from a monolithic solution. However, at the time of migration, the data itself is not accessible directly.
To make data available across microservices, frequent data migration routines or a synchronization process needs to be created and these datasets need to be made available as APIs. In the earlier example, daily schedules for data migration and syncing were created to ensure access to near real-time data and minimal process disruption for users.
There are several on-premise, open-source, and cloud-based data migration tools. From on-premise data migration tools such as Centerprise Data Integrator, IBM InfoSphere, Informatica PowerCenter, Microsoft SQL, Oracle Data Service Integrator and Talend, to open source tools like Apache NiFi, CloverETL, Myddleware, and Pentaho, to cloud-based tools such as Alooma, Fivetran, Matillion, Snaplogic, and Stitch Data. These tools can provide simple data migration and repeatability.
Low-code platforms simplify and accelerate the entire data migration process securely. They make it easy to integrate anything from databases to third-party libraries and deliver seamless experiences with offline data access and synchronization.
- Build simple UI applications that demonstrate immediate value
Nothing compares to a user-friendly application to demonstrate its value. When using apps, the user interface (UI) is what delivers the experience for users. By creating ‘beautiful looking’ UIs, it is easier to get stakeholders to understand the value that an enterprise application can deliver.
Imagine you could provide users with better usability by providing a web application instead of a desktop application. What if you could create a modern UI that displays information and encourages interaction, something that was not possible until now. What if you can enable your users to use the functionality of modern applications through their mobile phones, on-the-go.
And what if you can build predictions and forecasts based on data and showcase it using powerful dashboards to stakeholders.
Modern, low-code tools have made it easy to create simple UI applications. With drag-and-drop features and limitless customization that low-code platforms offer, developers can create aesthetic UIs to deliver pixel-perfect application designs, at scale.
- Pull services out of a monolith - One at a time
When migrating to microservice architecture, the best way to start is to break down the monolith into manageable chunks. The best approach would be to pick microservices out of the existing monolith one service at a time. Once the first service is up and running out of the monolith, this will give insights into how to create more microservices.
- Identify the part of an application that can run independent of the monolith. Services such as reporting and dashboarding, or other such functionalities that can be made into independent microservices and which have frequent data sync available to migrate data to databases.
- Identify how to write back to the existing application. Many systems provide a way to write back to the existing system. Interfaces such as EDI messages, HL7/FHIR interfaces, and CSV files can be used to write back to monolith systems.
- Measure and show the value
Once a service is taken out of the monolith, identify more uses cases that can be pulled out of the existing application. Identifiable services could range from managing new customer orders, self-service applications providing customer information to a new payment service, basically, those services that can be managed as separate microservices.
The whole point of selecting one microservice at a time is to measure value and improvement. When choosing a service to be migrated or modernized, it is best to choose a high-value service, or a service that requires frequent change but not delivered as frequently, or one that can demonstrate visible visual improvement to stakeholders. Before creating a baseline to measure the effectiveness of change, make sure you gather relevant numbers such as the number of releases, amount of delivery and delivery time.
What microservices provide is a software component model that helps to future-proof systems against the changing business needs. Microservices works best when multiple teams are working in coordination to run a complex network of systems that require evolving applications. When applications and systems become complex and large enough to be broken down into separate services adopting microservices architecture is beneficial.
Make Migration to Microservices Meaningful
Inspire Innovation and Confront Change
Monolithic legacy systems cannot be transformed overnight. To migrate from monolithic systems and efficiently create enterprise-class microservices, a low-code approach has proven to be the most effective. Low-code platforms provide the ability to develop custom software stacks, deploy API-driven microservices-based applications and orchestrate IT infrastructure effectively. In this app economy, using an ‘API-first’ strategy with microservices architecture works great because it enables enterprises to focus on delivering value and accelerating innovation on a massive scale.
Look at microservices through a macro lens to understand how enterprises can use modern approaches such as low-code to rapidly respond to evolving demands. With composable architecture based on microservices, APIs, reusable components and containerization, low-code platforms empower enterprises to rapidly develop and deploy modern and cloud-native applications with agility, scalability, and simplicity.
Migration to modern technology is a major change for many enterprises, technologically and culturally. What low-code platforms provide is a catalyst that change agents can use to showcase the value of microservices to other stakeholders. Because modernization of legacy systems and migration to modern technologies is going to be inevitable, eventually.