Modernizing Custom Software on a Tight Budget? Yes, It is Possible

Two Atomic Object employees at a table, working on a custom software development contract.

Business leaders know firsthand the importance of modernizing your custom software. There is a clear need to improve key processes to drive a better customer experience and build efficiencies to save money. All this needs to happen now to stay competitive in today’s fast-paced and constantly changing business landscape. And often there is no off-the-shelf solution that is a good replacement for your custom software.

It’s tempting to put off software modernization when your budget is tight, but this can be a risky move. Your competitors are likely investing in their own software and modern technologies to improve their business. And if you don’t keep up, you risk falling behind. So how can you modernize your existing custom software when funds are scarce?

Assess the current state of the software.

Before embarking on any modernization effort, it is important to understand the current state of the software. Review the system and identify the problems or limitations to address. Sometimes it’s best to pull in outside help at this step, since they can bring fresh eyes to your legacy application. They can conduct user interviews, analyze data on how the software is being used, and review the existing documentation. This will often surface ways users interact with the software that might surprise you.

Determine the scope of the work.

Once you’ve assessed the current state of the software, the next step is to determine the scope of the modernization effort. This can include identifying specific features or functionality to update or add. Additionally, determine any underlying technology or infrastructure changes that may be necessary.

Oftentimes, software is dependent on libraries or modules that are out of date. This may lead to security vulnerabilities that need to be addressed. And, if there have been no updates for a lengthy period, it may require that you replace the whole software solution with modern software. In this case, it may be an opportunity to revisit the specific business process the software was supporting and look for ways to design a simpler user experience.

Break the effort into smaller chunks.

Rather than trying to modernize the entire software system all at once, it is better to break the project down into smaller chunks and deliver them in rapid succession. This allows for more flexibility and adaptability as the project goes along. Crucially, making it easier to adjust to changing requirements as the modernization project progresses.

As part of this effort, review what business processes you can adjust or change to allow a team to focus on a smaller part of the problem. This may require some hard decisions on the part of the business in order to create the opportunity to modernize a part of the software system.

It may seem like a daunting task when you are looking at the scope for an update on a tight budget. Breaking the effort into small chunks allows software modernization to happen over a longer time horizon. And this allows you to smartly budget money for the effort over this longer time period.

Prioritize the most important changes.

When money is very limited, it’s crucial to prioritize the kind of change that is needed to modernize the software. Prioritize based on:

  • Impact – The magnitude of the change and its significant impact on the organization, its customers, and its stakeholders. Prioritize high-impact changes over low-impact ones.
  • Urgency – Changes the team must implement quickly due to external factors such as market conditions or regulatory requirements may take precedence over others.
  • Feasibility – It is important to consider whether the resources and capabilities needed to implement a change are available and whether the change is realistic given the organization’s current state.
  • Risk – You may need carefully evaluate changes that have a higher risk of failure or negative consequences and prioritize accordingly.
  • Value – Changes that are likely to bring significant value to the organization or its stakeholders may be given higher priority.

When prioritizing, focus your efforts on these areas first. You can move to other considerations later. Make sure to do all this planning work well before any software changes are made by a development team.

Leverage existing solutions and open-source tools.

Open-source tools and platforms are often a cost-effective way to modernize custom software. They are generally free to use and customizable to meet your specific needs. Your software development team will need to consider where to leverage open-source tools as part of your software modernization efforts.

Additionally, commercial systems may exist that can replace some special areas of the existing software solution. Software as a service (SAAS) solutions can be an affordable way to remove complexity. Often this can take the form of using existing e-commerce or content management platform solutions that are integrated into the custom software.

Seek out partnerships and collaborations.

Seriously consider partnerships and collaborations with other businesses or organizations to help you achieve your software modernization goals. Working together, you can share resources and expertise. And you can also spread the risk of the software modernization effort among multiple organizations. Finally, this is also the best way to find additional money to allow you to undertake a challenging modernization project with a tight budget. Challenge yourself to get creative and look at the problem as a chance to deepen a relationship with another company or organization.

Plan for the future.

Finally, understand that you will need to make continuous updates to your software in the future. Don’t allow yourself to fall into the trap of not updating your software and then having to make a big spend to catch up once again. In your financial planning, budget to spend money every year on keeping your custom software healthy. This will likely be somewhere in the range of 20%-30% of what you spent on the modernization effort. Taking this step will also protect you from any future security vulnerabilities.

Modernize custom software on a budget.

Modernizing existing custom software on a tight budget may seem like a daunting task. But it’s certainly achievable with the right strategies in place. By assessing the software, setting the scope, breaking work into smaller chunks, good prioritization, leveraging other solutions, and partnerships and collaboration, you can drive important change on a tight budget.

Don’t let limited capital hold you back. Take action today to ensure that your business is well-equipped to navigate the challenges of the modern business landscape.

Tell Us About Your Project

We’ll send our latest tips, learnings, and case studies from the Atomic braintrust on a monthly basis.