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Digital modernization 2021 

Unlocking the potential of next-gen technology

As technologies like cloud and AI continue to help organizations create new efficiencies and savings, corporate leaders must continue to preserve a focus on legacy modernization. In doing so, companies can support the agility, innovation, and new ways of working that ensure new solutions remain relevant several years down the line.

2021: Digital modernization in business transformation

In 500 B.C., during a transitional period between what was Ancient Greece and what would be Classical Greece, there was a developing theme and interest in transformation. The Greek Φοίνιξ, or the coming of the phoenix, was used as a symbol of rebirth, hope, renewal, and progress. The phoenix rising represented a view of sun and its potential for possibility of new creation.

In 2021, we see our world moving into its own transformative period from what was once considered next-gen technology to a complete digital metamorphosis. Digital technologies such as cloud, mobile, and cognitive are creating a world of new opportunities for businesses today and helping companies save millions while also creating software-supported efficiencies and enhanced quality.1 Many companies that faced pandemic-related uncertainty and tightening budgets in 2020 are now seeking more from technology investments than simple improvements to the enterprise IT plumbing. They want to create a lasting foundation for innovation and competitive advantage.2 Legacy modernization is now 2021’s mission-critical endeavor.

For a holistic view of digital modernization in 2021

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Legacy modernization isn't about technology, but about teams

Team organization is key to successful software development. Conway’s Law from 1968 states that you will find a copy of an enterprise’s communication structure in the application code. More than 60 years later, this still holds true.

Autonomous teams, each focusing on a single business domain, are key to agile software development. Correctly organized, these teams can foster sustainable software architecture, as domain cross-cutting concerns are hidden behind a well-defined interface and in the code base.3 Vertical teams, organized by business functionality, can reduce coordination efforts and increase team performance. This change in organizational culture (organizing teams vertically rather than horizontally) fosters business value and ownership.

This ownership is the key to microservices, an architectural style more focused on team organization than on technology. As Carola Lilienthal points out, “Many developers and architects initially thought that microservices were only about splitting software systems into separately deployable services. But microservices mean something completely different. Microservices deal with distributing software to development teams so that these teams can develop independently and autonomously faster than before. So, for one thing, microservices are not about technology, but about people.”4

Digital modernization aspects to consider

The relevance of some application modernization aspects tends to be underestimated. When designing and implementing something such as a cloud migration road map, it is important to prioritize not only what will be needed now, but also what’s needed for the future. One future aspect to consider that we find underrated is user interface (UI) modernization. A well-designed UI contributes to the overall success of an application. A UI acts as the access point to an application’s functionality and is a defining piece of the overall user experience.5 When it comes to internal applications, however, companies often reduce the UI to its colors and don’t see the need to invest in them, since clients won’t often see it. The truth is, well-crafted UIs are way more than something to look at. When done well, UIs render applications highly usable, thereby increasing employees’ productivity, efficiency, and overall satisfaction. The UI shapes how users perceive the application, including its ease of use, usefulness, or quality.6 The more positive these perceptions are, the higher a user’s initial acceptance, current use, future use, and overall satisfaction with the application will be, which contributes to realizing the anticipated business benefits.7 With a well-designed UI, an application becomes self-explanatory and reduces the need for and associated costs of training, documentation, and support. It also reduces the need for special onboarding, as new employees usually know how to interact with recent applications. Higher satisfaction with the application and with the workplace can reduce employee turnover and corresponding hiring costs.8

Elastic cloud environment

One philosophy that has succeeded within digital modernization initiatives is an early and flexible cloud vendor imperative. Josef Adersberger and Johannes Siedersleben conclude that the cloud-native technology stack, “abstracts away the complexity of a cluster by making it look like one single, huge machine.”9 As a result, cloud vendors provide instant resource availability based on workload demands. The workloads can be distributed based on expected resource utilization, leveraging elastic environments that allow for dynamic adaption to increasing or decreasing resource requirements.

Elastic environments are still a form of pre-allocated environments, as they are still initially scaled for the average load. Cinar Kilcioglu et al. state that those environments are substantially overprovisioned, resulting in costs for unused computing cycles.10 With the advent of serverless computing, a real pay-per-use model can be employed. A transition from virtual machine–based environments to cloud-native, serverless computing could significantly drop the overall costs of an application, with the biggest cost savings effort noted at 94%.11

What digital modernization will teach us in 2021

Digital modernization efforts seeking the next level of innovation should be focused around the complexity of the business domain and the teams using it, rather than simply on the technology itself. Software can specifically enable a business to grow and innovate in the ways needed and thus be a strategic component of an entire enterprise. One way to accomplish is through domain-driven design (DDD), a philosophy around how domain experts are collaborating with software development teams. This allows developers to create better architecture through better understanding of the domain and resulting in a better user experience with the software.12 Therefore, DDD-driven modernization teaches the business more about itself and everybody involved while still contributing and learning constantly.13

Another important aspect is using computer-aided modernization tooling to get to next-gen technology. If the past is any indicator, heavily staffed modernization projects will continue to become more risky, expensive, and difficult to manage. Successful digital modernization needs to use innovation and software itself to transition legacy systems reliably and effectively.

2021 will likely bring a year of all-new, next-gen technology possibilities, remote workforce technologies, and inventions to transform an organization. While we move through a sea of new AI, cyber, and cloud initiatives, we will come back to the most important thing, the people and teams behind the technology. Legacy modernization will be about how to help teams succeed during ever-changing times through automating what they need automated, enhancing what they need enhanced, and allowing for internal ownership and flexible work environments that allow people to grow and renew their organizations.

As the story goes, the phoenix lives for more than 100 years, and it does not end, but instead changes, growing from ashes to allow for progress, change, and rebirth.


  1. I. Hanschke, Strategic IT Management: A Toolkit for Enterprise Architecture Management, Berlin: Springer, 2010.
  2. Deloitte, “Core Revival,” in Tech Trends 2021,
  3. M. Skelton and M. Pais, Team Topologies, Portland: IT Revolution, 2019.
  4. C. Lilienthal, "From Monoliths to Modular Architectures and Microservices with DDD," JAX London, 30 September 2019. [Online]. Available: [Accessed April 2020].
  5. D. Norman and J. Nielsen, "The Definition of User Experience (UX)," [Online]. Available: [Accessed April 2020].
  6. J. Anderson, J. McRee and R. Wilson, Effective UI: The Art of Building Great User Experience in Software, O’Reilly Media, Inc., 2010.
  7. L. Deng, D. E. Turner, R. Gehling and B. Prince, “User Experience, Satisfaction, and Continual Usage Intention of IT,” European Journal of Information Systems, vol. 19, no. 1, pp. 60-75, 2010.
  8. J. Ross, “The Business Value of User Experience,” January 2014 [Online].
  9. J. Adersberger and J. Siedersleben, “The Cloud Native Stack: Building Cloud Applications as Google Does,” Digital Marketplaces Unleashed, Springer, 2018, pp. 711-713.
  10. C. Kilcioglu, J. M. Rao, A. Kannan and R. P. McAfee, “Usage Patterns and the Economics of the Public Cloud,” in Proceedings of the 26th International Conference on World Wide Web, 2017.
    Communications of the ACM
  11. E. Evans, “Domain-Driven Design - Tackling Complexity in the Heart of Software,” Addison-Wesley, 2004.
  12. V. Vernon, Implementing Domain-Driven Design, Boston: Addison-Wesley, 2013.

About us

Application Modernization powered by innoWake™ uses approaches discussed in this paper through a suite of unique technology to highly automate and assist a modernization processes, starting with a detailed analysis of the current state of the application portfolio and careful planning of a modernization journey. Deloitte Consulting LLP is constantly monitoring innovative approaches to help adapt them for application modernization and help provide strong, future-proof solutions for you and your organization.

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