White Paper
12 min

How Application Modernization Supports Digital Transformation

By updating their apps, organizations can innovate more effectively, improve the customer experience and gain an edge on competitors.


The Digital Transformation and DevOps Landscape

Digital transformation is perhaps the hottest IT trend of the early 2020s. Across industries, business leaders have pushed their technology departments to embrace transformation in pursuit of benefits such as reduced costs, accelerated time to market, improved sustainability and an enhanced customer experience. Still, some organizations have struggled to put digital transformation into practice or even agree on the definition of the term.

Digital transformation is a broad concept, but the organizations that have seen the most success with their transformation efforts are those that have focused on concrete results and tangible business value. In other words, digital transformation initiatives should not be centered on merely embedding technology throughout an organization but rather on using that technology to improve efficiency, accelerate productivity, pivot more quickly and generally meet the organization’s mission more effectively.

Although digital transformation opportunities vary by industry and organization, one common area of focus is application modernization. Across sectors, organizations are plagued by legacy applications that require resource-intensive maintenance, often through traditional “waterfall” development processes that limit flexibility and often fail to meet the needs of end users. By modernizing their legacy applications and adopting an agile DevOps approach to application development, organizations can increase velocity, shorten resolution times, improve customer satisfaction and spur innovation.

DevOps and digital transformation often go hand in hand, not only because DevOps supports application modernization but because the approach also enables the pace of change required for an ambitious digital transformation effort. By unifying their development and operations teams (and sometimes their security teams, in a DevSecOps approach), organizations that implement DevOps practices create an environment that encourages teams to collaborate and constantly iterate in pursuit of mission-critical objectives. This sort of fundamental change to systems and processes is key to true digital transformation, and it sets organizations apart from those that focus only on technology during their transformation initiatives.

Digital transformation, DevOps and application modernization all require buy-in from leadership, cultural change throughout an organization, and a considerable commitment of time and resources. But for organizations that tackle these initiatives effectively, the results are worth the effort.

Key Results

Application modernization can be a challenge, but successful organizations experience valuable results.


Customer Satisfaction: Agile development methods and DevOps practices are inherently customer-centric. Applications developed in these environments are updated according to changing needs and expectations, leading to more satisfied users.


Improved Efficiency: Application modernization efforts often allow organizations to migrate resources to the cloud and leverage automated, scalable infrastructure that helps to reduce the cost of ownership.


Reduced Risk of Failure: Agile and DevOps processes rely on an iterative development approach. Continuous improvement/continuous delivery (CI/CD) tools reduce the risk of failure by uncovering performance issues earlier in the process.

The State of Digital Transformation


The percentage of business leaders who are considering large-scale changes as part of their digital transformation efforts, as opposed to tuning up existing infrastructure or creating a single new application


The percentage of companies undertaking full-scale transformations that rate their efforts as “highly successful”


The percentage of companies that report an increase in profitability from their digital transformation initiatives


The percentage of companies that report an increase in customer satisfaction from their digital transformation initiatives

Source: Hinge Research Institute, “The State of Digital Transformation,” 2022

Application Modernization: Key Outcomes

At a high level, application modernization is the process of updating and improving legacy applications or building entirely new ones, with the goal of enabling the organization to better serve customers, support innovation and gain an edge over competitors. Three of the most common reasons that businesses modernize their applications are to increase velocity, improve the user experience and enhance efficiency. However, application modernization initiatives can also help organizations to achieve other valuable outcomes.


App modernization promotes efficient use of resources. Legacy applications and waterfall development processes often require teams to engage in extensive rework. By contrast, DevOps processes allow teams to rapidly release updates, and modernized apps that leverage containerization promote simplicity and automation. App modernization also can improve the experiences of users and customers.


Within many organizations, legacy applications are holding back business initiatives and processes, yet leaders can feel stuck because their organizations depend on these apps. Through app modernization, organizations can leverage and extend the features of their legacy applications by making them available as services via application programming interfaces.


As part of their app modernization efforts, many organizations adopt a DevSecOps approach, in which security is a foundational element of the development process. In these environments, security testing is automated, and an app cannot be pushed through to the next stage of development or production until problems are remediated.


Outdated applications are expensive to maintain, not only taxing infrastructure resources but also sometimes requiring organizations to hire employees with specialized skills to maintain them. A “lift and shift” migration to the cloud typically will be very expensive over time, whereas modernizing applications for new platforms can reduce ongoing costs.


While nearly all organizations are leveraging some sort of public cloud resources, many have stalled on their cloud journeys. An app modernization effort can help organizations get away from environments in which teams are deploying apps to servers that must be managed and updated.


Most organizations lack the visibility needed to glean critical insights from their IT environments, and many technology leaders don’t even know which of their apps will be the most difficult to modernize. This understanding, which is crucial to success, is the foundation for digital transformation and prioritization that accelerates app modernization initiatives.


For many organizations, application modernization is the first step in a digital transformation journey, a cornerstone component of an overall transformation effort or both. The benefits of app modernization, such as increased automation, can help to accelerate digital transformation initiatives, with artificial intelligence often serving as the engine.


Many organizations struggle to attract and retain IT professionals, but companies especially have felt the impact of worker shortages in recent years. Employees don’t want to be bogged down with rote tasks, and app modernization can spur the sort of innovation that makes a company an attractive place to work.

Discover how your organization can use application modernization to achieve a variety of valuable business outcomes.

Application Modernization: By the Numbers


The percentage increase organizations see in DevOps team productivity when they adopt hybrid cloud platforms to support application modernization1


The percentage of organizations that say external partners play key roles in their application modernization journeys2


The percentage of organizations that cite increased scalability among the top reasons for modernizing their applications2


The percentage of organizations that cite resistance to change as a barrier to getting started with application modernization2

Sources: 1Red Hat, “Plan Your Application Modernization Journey,” August 2022; 2Red Hat, “How Enterprises Approach Legacy Application Modernization,” February 2023

Tools and Practices to Optimize Application Modernization

Broadly speaking, app modernization efforts can be broken down into four stages: assessment, migration, modernization and optimization. At each of these stages, organizations must seek out and implement the tools and practices that will lead to success.


An assessment can make or break an app modernization effort. Automation is essential at the assessment stage, as humans can miss opportunities for modernization and slow down the process. A holistic assessment engagement, such as CDW’s Strategic Application Modernization Assessment, can help organizations to analyze their code, evaluate it against modernization goals, and provide a custom roadmap that leads to applications that are more scalable and easier to maintain. During a SAMA engagement, hundreds or even thousands of applications can be analyzed using CDW’s proprietary reporting and analysis technologies. To fuel digital transformation, it is important that assessments look at environments from a software standpoint rather than taking an infrastructure-centric approach.


Business and IT leaders sometimes overlook the importance of selecting the right cloud provider to host their modernized applications. Too often, organizations make this choice by default, simply continuing to use a public cloud environment with which they are familiar. But in a 2022 report on application modernization and digital transformation, IBM Consulting notes that this decision should be based on a provider’s ability to deliver necessary services. “Avoid the common mistake of considering only one hyperscaler and designing your program to fit its offerings,” IBM Consulting advises. “You’re more likely to succeed if you treat the hyperscaler as an enabler of your strategy rather than a menu of options you choose from.”


Once organizations have assessed their application environments and decided where their modernized apps will live, they must do the difficult work of creating cloud-ready applications that meet their needs. Typically, this process relies heavily on the use of containers, packages of software that are bundled together across application code, enabling seamless deployment across multiple environments. Other important tools include microservices, an architectural approach that makes development more agile by allowing each core function to be built independently; automation, which can streamline tasks such as deployment and diagnostics; and artificial intelligence, which can help organizations to mine insights from their applications.


Anyone who has worked in IT for long enough knows that the success or failure of an initiative often depends on how well it is sustained over time. Application monitoring tools can help organizations to ensure that their modernized app environments continue to perform as expected and meet users’ needs, and managed services can help reduce the burden on internal IT staffers. To support an agile, digitally transformed workplace, organizations must ensure alignment between their new application environments and their people, processes and governance. They must also closely track key performance indicators and adjust their practices over time to address changes in performance.

The 7 R’s of Application Modernization

Application modernization isn’t a one-size-fits-all endeavor. An approach that’s perfect for one application may be entirely unsuitable for another. Modernization options are often broken down into seven categories.

1. Refactor

Refactoring involves making changes to an app’s code without altering its overall functionality. This can improve performance and reduce maintenance burdens.

2. Rebuild

Sometimes called “revise” or “rewrite,” this option results in more fundamental changes that lead to improved functionality.

3. Rehost

Also known as a “lift and shift” migration, rehosting means migrating a workload to a public cloud environment without modifications.

4. Replatform

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

5. Retain

During a modernization effort, leaders may decide to leave some applications alone, especially those employed by relatively few users.

6. Retire

In some cases, leaders may decide that an application is no longer necessary and opt to retire it completely.

7. Replace

Finally, it may make sense to replace some applications with new off-the-shelf solutions. This is often a fast and cost-effective option, but project leaders must ensure that the replacement app will fully meet the organization’s needs.

Application Modernization in Action

Effective modernization is a powerful step toward true digital transformation that can help an organization achieve its business objectives and improve customer service.

Services from CDW can help organizations to turbocharge their application modernization initiatives.

Strategic Application Modernization Assessment

CDW's proprietary reporting and analysis tooling provides a complete picture of your modernization needs and enables our experts to build a comprehensive modernization roadmap. This plan gives you a clear path forward to meet your application modernization goals.

DevOps Assessment

CDW’s seasoned solution architects bring an expert outside eye to organizations’ DevOps environments. A DevOps assessment results in a better understanding of existing employees’ skill sets, how current practices align with a DevOps approach and what barriers stand in the way of successful DevOps implementation.

Software Design and Consulting

With consulting engagements ranging from hyperscale application architectures to agile and product development, CDW can help organizations adopt and implement modern software practices such as CI/CD and agile delivery and also help internal staffers to address technical debt and execute digital transformation strategies.

Managed Services

Through CDW’s managed services offerings, organizations can continue to optimize their application environments over time, long after the launch of initial application efforts. CDW’s managed services team provides ongoing review, support and services to proactively deliver management recommendations for business-critical applications.

Case Study: App Modernization

Sirius, a CDW company, helped a state courts system carry out an application modernization initiative that played a key role in its digital transformation effort. The project created a digitized system that simplified the user experience, especially for disadvantaged litigants and those without attorneys.

Before the initiative, the court system relied on paper-based procedures and in-person filing for many elements of court cases to move forward. Sirius re-engineered the judiciary’s system by designing, building and incorporating three new applications into existing applications. The transformation enabled the court system to accept electronic filing and allow litigants to appear in court using a virtual hearing platform. An online dashboard enabled court workers to review and file digital documents while reducing the complexity of documentation processing.

Ultimately, the initiative expanded the ways litigants, especially those with low incomes and those not represented by attorneys, could interact with the court. Further, enabling electronic processes simplified paperwork and provided a framework on which the court plans to add new features and capabilities.

Story by:

Jon Anhold, a strategic-thinking technology leader with over 25 years of experience in enterprise IT and consulting. Before joining CDW, Jon spent 10 years working for a large global agency as a vice president of technology. Jon’s focus areas at CDW include DevSecOps, application modernization, mobile/custom application development and integration.

Greg Peters, the chief architect for strategic application modernization assessment with CDW and an award-winning technologist who has worked both nationally and internationally to help clients optimize IT spending and maximize their ROI. He has worked on projects ranging from state and local governments to Fortune 50 companies for over 20 years.

Rolf W. Reitzig, a member of the Digital Velocity Solutions team at CDW, a group of highly experienced management consulting and technology experts who work strategically with CDW clients to design custom, technology-agnostic solutions to address critical business needs.