Systems which have been in operation for long periods of time become more complex, maintenance and management costs balloon, and it becomes difficult for them to rapidly respond to business and societal changes. These challenges must be overcome in order to carry out digital transformation that provides value to companies. Toshiba Digital Solutions uses the diverse know-how it has built up through the years to create modern applications, driving IT modernization that applies the latest digital technologies to existing systems. We have already developed wide-ranging experience in diverse fields. In this issue, we explain the technical methodologies and key consideration points of the new IT modernization option of "stepwise modernization." We also present one of the latest examples of how stepwise modernization has contributed to improvement of actual company value. We will combine the experience and knowledge these cases provide to develop IT modernization models.
An option of stepwise modernization
IT modernization uses the latest technologies to overhaul systems that have become highly complex due to years of function additions and expansions. The goal is to ensure that systems are always easy to improve, expand, and link, while keeping up with business evolution and advances, growing together with companies.
However, overhauling existing systems to create new, modern systems all at once requires a tremendous amount of time and is highly costly. The process consists of organizing the data stored in existing systems and the architecture implemented in them, fully assessing every aspect of the system, deciding on system specifications, and determining one's vision for optimal systems. This takes a great deal of time and involves numerous processes, which can lead companies to hesitate to perform system overhauls.
This is why we have prepared a new option, stepwise modernization, instead of completely overhauling entire systems at once. This approach makes it possible to gradually migrate to new systems while continuing to use existing systems, based on problem-solving priorities tailored to individual customers. Existing assets are categorized and organized, and the order in which they will be improved is decided. IT modernization is then progressively implemented based on this. For example, microservice architecture could be introduced to prepare a service environment that is highly adaptive to change, and then link it with external Software as a Service (SaaS), first focusing on improving business speed. This is one example of how IT modernization prioritizes providing customers with benefits that they place great value on.
Modernization along dual axes with the aim of rapidly providing value
Our stepwise modernization is organized along two axes, "application modernization" and "infrastructure modernization" (Fig. 1).
The goal of application modernization is to gradually migrate conventional monolithic applications to microservices. By migrating monolithic application architecture, in which all necessary functions are packed into a single application, into microservice architecture, where development and operation is performed in units of services which are finely divided by individual function, each of the functions (services) of monolithic systems turns into independent components. The advantages offered by this approach are that it makes it possible to scale up only functions that have high usage loads, and makes it easy to improve individual functions without stopping entire systems.
Infrastructure modernization, on the other hand, makes it possible to apply container technologies to on-premise systems, and to migrate to new infrastructure types, such as infrastructure that utilizes the cloud. IT modernization is carried out by defining goals and scenarios based on customer issues, business conditions, and the application features they need. There are various possible IT modernization approaches. Once is to first prioritize infrastructure modernization, migrate functions to microservices, and then evolve the infrastructure from on-premise systems to the cloud, or to migrate both applications and infrastructure simultaneously. Migration is performed using an appropriate, stepwise approach based on customer operation issues and needs after first defining the system's vision.
Systematizing the "six Re's" and creating optimal methodology combinations
In implementing stepwise IT modernization along the axes of applications and infrastructure, we have systematized specific methodologies. We offer six methodologies for each of the functions used in existing systems, based on their need for change.
For functions that are currently in use but must be continuously changed, the first option is "Re-hosting" – migrating functions with their structures maintained. Next is "Re-platforming," which uses Platform as a Service (PaaS) to partially shift functions to the cloud. "Re-purchasing" replaces functions with other products like software packages, SaaS, and the like. With "Re-architecture," functions are rebuilt using microservices and other architecture on the cloud. Customers can select the optimal methodology from this range of options to rebuild their functions on the cloud. For functions that are currently in use but which will not change in the future, we examine maintenance costs and other factors to consider the viability of "Retaining" – keeping the current configuration as-is, without making changes. For functions which are no longer in use, we consider "Retiring" them – shrinking or eliminating them.
However, IT modernization is not accomplished by using a single methodology to perform stepwise migration of entire systems. When considering actual migration processes, we often combine multiple methodologies to optimally match customer requirements.
Example of advanced modernization for modeling
We are currently carrying out IT modernization for numerous customers based on these approaches and methodologies. The results of research and development work by our Systems Engineering and Technology Center are being used in modern application development methodologies, and the software quality management technologies we have developed through our experience in social infrastructure business are being fused with the Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence(AI) and applied technologies such as big data processing. We are building up a track record in a wide range of fields.
One example is our proposal for Konica Minolta Japan, Inc. In its efforts to update its healthcare service systems into next-generation systems, it faced two types of challenges. The first was that of operation-oriented challenges – enhancing the customer handling capabilities of service personnel and transforming workstyles. The second was that of IT-oriented challenges – designing operation processes and system architectures with an eye to the future expandability and linking required by the establishment of the company (the merging and restructuring of a healthcare business company and solution business company with products such as multifunction printers).
One of the particularly clear, high-priority requirements presented by operation-oriented challenges was the use of mobile technologies. Until the system renovation, service staff had to do their preparatory work before the site-visit, and their reporting work after the site operation, on computers located in the head office. Office work was an inevitable part of their operations. Moreover, since outside partners, such as service contractors, could not use the company's systems, the company members had to enter work reports on behalf of outside partners. All of this placed a heavy workload on site service personnel. To help alleviate this work burden, the decision was made to develop mobile functions to simplify the process of checking work schedules and issuing work reports from outside the office, and make it possible for outside partners to use their systems (limited to mobile use) without the need for proxy entry work. The issue was how to implement new functions, such as mobile functions, while still taking into consideration future expandability and linking.
We used Retaining and Re-platforming methodologies to propose an IT modernization approach that migrated only the functions needed by mobile devices to the cloud. The existing system, which linked operation applications and databases via the company intranet, was left as-is, but the system was rebuilt to use Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) that made it easy to integrate mobile devices (Fig. 2).
This led to the realization of an environment that enabled the entire reporting process to be carried out smoothly, just by entering inspection results from mobile devices at the site of post-sales service, improving the operation efficiency of service operators. Furthermore, entered data was linked to past maintenance history and sales history data and managed. This enabled even more precise customer support and cross-departmental communication.
In just a short time, Konica Minolta Japan's system was reborn as an advanced system that transformed workstyles, improved fieldwork quality, and contributed to company-wide operation optimization. However, this was not the end of the improvement process. In the future, the company has its sights on further potential system advances, such as applying Business Intelligence (BI) and Augmented Reality (AR), adding speech functions, using cloud services, and linking with external SaaS, through gradually migrating existing functions to the cloud.
We will create 'models' based on the practical knowledge and experience we gain through such projects, apply those models to individual customers, and provide optimized, efficient IT modernization. We will support customers from ultra-upstream processes such as new system migration policy and plan formulation, and offer integrated, uniform support for everything from asset migration to platform creation, testing, and operation. As a total ICT solution partner, we will use close-knit coordination between the Systems Engineering and Technology Center, solution development departments and business departments to transform business together with our customers and create new value.
* The corporate names, organization names, job titles and other names and titles appearing in this article are those as of January 2019.