Application modernization brought cost-savings of millions

Net 1/2016,  2016-12-27

Old applications are given a new lease of life when migrated to modern technology and platforms. The State Treasury and the pension insurance company Varma carried out an extensive legacy modernization project of their mainframe-based core system in cooperation with Fujitsu.

ModernizationFor both Varma and the State Treasury, the legacy modernization project has been a success.

"The repayment period of our project is only 16 months. Thanks to modernization, we have been able to completely give up the maintenance of the costly mainframe. This was the very first project of my life for which I didn't have to create a detailed cost calculation," says Ilkka Maijala, project manager of the State Treasury.

"Modernization helped us get rid of the business risks and the expertise problems posed by old applications. On top of that, we can soon say goodbye to the license costs of maintaining the legacy systems, and received new, modern tools for application development in return," says Ilkka Lilius, project manager from Varma.

Fujitsu offers standardized modernization services across the world, covering a wide range of technologies and business needs. Fujitsu and its partners have the global expertise needed for helping customers in their modernization projects, wherever they are in the world.

"We chose Fujitsu as our partner for this project based on our discussions and their successful track record in legacy modernization for companies. Their modernizing process, knowhow and extensive experience convinced us," says Tiina Kurki, CIO of Varma.

Putting an end to costly maintenance

A few years ago, the State Treasury realized that their mainframe applications, vital for business, were quickly becoming outdated. The application environment was inevitably approaching the end of its lifecycle, its maintenance was expensive and the availability of expert users was no longer guaranteed. Even security was no longer fully compatible with the current security requirements.  

The Sovako payment system is used by the State Treasury to account for compensations for disabled war veterans and their family members, and also rehabilitation and nursing institutions. Moreover, Sovako provides advice for users of public services and handles payments for people who have served in the peacekeeping force, for example. 

The old mainframe platform was 20–30 years old with a small device base, but maintaining the platform was getting costly.  

I Maijala"Every year, the service cost of maintaining the hardware amounts to approximately 20,000 euros. Even so, we wanted to ensure the functionality of the legacy system for at least ten more years, so we had to update the background technology to meet the today's requirements," Ilkka Maijala (on the right) says.

The processing systems of Varma's pension insurances and insurance fees run at the very core of Varma's most important functions, and they are connected to a number of other fundamental systems. However, the cost of maintaining the legacy system was getting unsustainably high.

"We were worried that the license costs related to software development would get sky-high. What is more, year by year there were fewer staff members with the necessary expertise. We found ourselves in quite a deadlock," says Ilkka Lilius.  

"We closely investigated various architectures and solutions, and also looked into the alternative of offshoring our software management. Eventually, we chose the migration of our legacy software and an architecture where part of the applications remain in the mainframe environment. We wanted a browser-based user interface, and the main purpose of the migration was to modernize Cobol-based user interfaces," Lilius continues.

Prepare for surprises with ancient software

The Sovako system used by the State Treasury had been coded with the Cobol programming language and the CSP modeling for software development.

Security requirements are strict. As stated by Central government, all the applications that process personally identifiable information must follow the instructions given in VAHTI, the Government Information Security Management Board.

"In the first phase, we moved the entire system to a browser-based Microsoft platform. The migration went extremely well, even though you are bound to encounter curious things when dealing with age-old software. For example, just recently we discovered that the hyphen used in social security numbers had somehow been replaced with a period in the system. So prepare for surprises. No matter how thoroughly the database has been analyzed, some unexpected exceptions may always turn up," Maijala points out.

The legacy pension insurance software used by Varma had been implemented with the CA Gen application development, which produces non-maintainable Cobol and C++ code to run-time environment. CA Gen models were modernized to Cobol-based server software and to modern HTML5 user interfaces. Millions of lines of code can be maintained with the latest tools. As often is the case with systems like these, they are interconnected with multiple other systems and applications. These connection interfaces were left untouched in the modernization project.

For the implementation, Fujitsu built a mock-up of the actual environment in its sandbox, where a number of user interface tests were successfully conducted.   

I Lilius"The deployment mock-up worked well. We recorded various use cases and used them as the basis for completing hundreds of automated test cases in the test environment. That's how we could make sure that the new packages work and can be taken forward to system testing," says Ilkka Lilius (on the right).

"The users wanted the user interface to stay the same, even its colors. We listened to their wishes and they were pleased with the result: even though in principal the user interface was identical to the original application, we still managed to bring in many minor improvements," he continues.

The crucial role of testing

Both Maijala and Lilius emphasize that modernization projects are largely about testing.

"The importance of testing can't be stressed enough. Every single function must be tested, from signing in to the very last banking transaction. The system contains many different kinds of software that have been integrated into it over the years. So you need to take into account every possible scenario under the sun. My recommendation is that people working on the project come both from inside the organization and from the IT service vendor's side," says Ilkka Maijala.

"In fact, modernization is first and foremost a testing project, which consists of many different phases, one of them being transferring the code. An application may contain millions of lines of code, so the testing process is a very demanding task," Maijala continues.

Modernization of Swedish Transport Agency has reached its final stage

Fujitsu has also implemented the IT environment modernization of Transportstyrelse, the Swedish Transport Agency. In this project, the old Unisys 2200 mainframe environment and its LINC/EAE, COBOL, and Assembler based applications were modernized to .Net-based browser applications and batch jobs.

This is one of the largest modernization projects in Europe, with a value of approximately 6.2 million Euros. The Net Magazine covered the story in early 2016.

The modernization project implemented by Fujitsu was kicked off in March 2015, and the entry into production is well under way. The finishing line is in sight.

"The project has progressed on schedule. The performance tests went well, and we are just an inch away from going live," says project manager Anna Larsson from Fujitsu.

A LarssonAnna Larsson's three tips for legacy modernization

- Learn the system inside out. Investigate its contents and consider if there are any functionalities that could be left out altogether.

- Find someone who has previous experience of similar projects to help you.

- Don't wait. The longer you wait, the less expertise there is available and everything gets more and more difficult.

Modernization is at the heart of digitalization

Modernizing legacy software should never be only about replacing old technology with new. It should also make the organization more efficient. At the same time, changing the contents of a service or introducing an entirely new service ensures that an application continues to work also in the future.

In Fujitsu's model, modernization is implemented using automated processes as much as possible with the help of new technology. The idea is to make sure that the new and the old IT systems work seamlessly together. The legacy systems are not rebuilt from scratch, but they are migrated to a new environment. This way, new applications can be built on top of them.

Implementing the project can be done using the RPA methods (Robotic Process Automation), which is a cloud service automation platform. Also various process automation interlayers and cloud-based integration systems can be used.

 For more information, please contact Mikael Valtonen, Fujitsu, tel. +358 45 7880 9558

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This article is based on the presentations given by Ilkka Maijala, Ilkka Lilius and Anna Larsson at the Fujitsu's Breakfast Seminar in October 2016.

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Published in the Net Magazine 1/2016,  2016-12-27

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