Jun 18 2024

What School IT Leaders Should Focus on When Modernizing Applications

A thorough assessment can help schools save big money and effort.

There comes a time when a K–12 school’s software applications present more problems than solutions. Legacy applications often pose security risks, and it can become challenging for educators and staff to work efficiently with these tools. When that happens, IT must begin searching for modern technology applications that can support future growth and flexibility.

The good news is that both prepackaged and custom software platforms have become more flexible than ever. The limited modernization strategies of just a few years ago have now blossomed into a dizzying array of options. However, 79 percent of app modernization projects fail, according to a 2022 report from vFunction and opticca. So, evaluating current strategic software deployments against the ongoing barrage of wants and needs will require intentional decision-making.

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School IT leaders can use several techniques to modernize both software infrastructure (hosting, expansion, interoperability, responsiveness) and existing applications for usefulness, productivity, security and compliance. The techniques your school chooses must align with a realistic assessment of its current applications, their total costs and the changes they’ll need over a defined lifecycle. Here are some factors to consider before you get started.

RELATED: Why should K–12 schools prioritize updating legacy systems?

Why Assessments Should Take Place Before Modernizing Applications

The history of success and failure during the current lifecycle is a valuable starting point in the planning process. Begin by looking at your existing strategic applications and the environment in which they were deployed. At the time you selected these tools, you had to consider budget and compliance necessities as well as your school district’s or system’s capabilities.

LEARN MORE: How schools can sustain IT upgrades after 2024.

Performing an assessment can help prevent costly “blue sky” wholesale replacements and the expense of training and migrating infrastructure, not to mention a potential shock to productivity. Often, an assessment will give you a clear understanding of what must be retired, retained and replaced.

An assessment may prove that much can be retained. Retention saves money in licensing, training and migration, and it provides a known expectation of future outcomes based on past performance. Retention also reduces the jolt that staff can feel during major tech transitions and the scrutiny such change requires.

Replacement, by contrast, may require a new vendor, training and systems integration, and it may spawn a new lifecycle of upgrades, security integration and data migration from other pieces of your application puzzle.

Regular assessments can also help extend the life of your underlying infrastructure as well as applications and their data. Once you perform an objective assessment, the findings can be used as a roadmap for needed changes.

These techniques, combined with the future goals defined by the assessment, allow a decision tree to evolve as part of the planning process to address both problems and proposed goals.

DISCOVER: Why school mission should be at the core of your IT roadmap.

Cloud Migration Shifts the Burden of Infrastructure Maintenance

Your school can now segment portions of its platforms into hybrid models, where the computing, storage and perhaps entire applications can be housed in the cloud.

Historically, many schools hosted their own centralized platforms in small server farms on-premises. However, the needs of the originally deployed infrastructure often expanded over time, requiring costly retrofits. Server platforms predicted to sustain many years of growth might have indeed met predicted needs. But in some cases, hardware or software systems may no longer be supported, have run out of space or were set up for security fencing that’s costly to maintain. This could be why a recent CoSN survey of school technology leaders found that 35 percent of respondents are working on a cloud infrastructure initiative.

The advent of cheap and fast cloud hosting not only removes key structural barriers for sustained data growth but also boosts accessibility and overall performance.”

Migrating onsite applications to a hybrid static cost or fully cloud-hosted model shifts the burden of infrastructure maintenance and growth. The advent of cheap and fast cloud hosting not only removes key structural barriers for sustained data growth but also boosts accessibility and overall performance through faster cloud hardware with expandable data capacity.

RELATED: What can cloud services do for K–12?

Increase Application Functionality to Meet Current Demands

If you choose custom applications, note that the user interface or user experience to the application may need rewrites. Often, applications can be refactored to increase functionality and productivity without rewriting the application wholesale.

What was useful a decade ago may become deprecated or need updates to meet current demands for regulatory compliance and policy updates, or to slim or alter application scope. This application refactoring may be performed as a pilot (perhaps in the cloud, inside application modeling infrastructure) or in a hybrid test environment.

Rebuilding or Replatforming Applications Is Sometimes Necessary

If your current infrastructure is dated, fundamental changes (rebuilding the applications) will be required. There are several steps in this process:

  • Current platform assessment
  • Changes for required functionality
  • Initial test with benchmarks
  • Data migration to the new platform
  • Testing
  • Deployment (with future tests)

Your major components may not need to be totally rewritten, and there could be applications in the marketplace that are already designed for functionality, compliance and security that can be readily adapted or integrated into your existing platforms.

When schools need to make fundamental changes to keep an aging system functioning, moving it from on-premises resources to a cloud platform could be a good solution. This stopgap measure will give the school time to deploy a strategic application with migrated data into a successor platform. The new platform would then enable a more powerful infrastructure that can continue the aims of the application while lengthening the lifecycle required to meet future growth and budget.

Assessments may prove the need to close on-premises data centers, often because of costs. But many factors can spawn efforts to replatform existing servers, including connectivity, personnel, operations, licensing, district or system merger consolidation, and business continuity and disaster recovery.

DIVE DEEPER: What schools should consider when weighing HCI vs. cloud storage.

An effective application modernization effort for cash-strapped schools must include a comprehensive assessment with input from all stakeholders. Doing so can streamline a school’s efforts by considering new options to get the best life from its strategic software puzzle pieces. Assessments can also prevent costly mistakes from upgrades and form the foundation for an actionable plan.

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