AWS Cloud Operations & Migrations Blog

Choose Wisely and Quickly: A Rapid, Data-Driven Approach to Prioritize Applications for Modernization

Where do I start image generated by Amazon Bedrock

Figure 1 – Break free from analysis paralysis

In today’s dynamic landscape, companies are seeking faster time-to-value for their business initiatives through cloud adoption. As businesses evolve and embrace digital transformation, application modernization becomes a critical aspect of their cloud journey and an imperative for value creation. Modernizing your applications helps you reduce costs, gain efficiencies, and make the most of your existing investments. The cloud provides powerful means to modernize applications. Building a comprehensive cloud modernization plan starts with performing an assessment of the existing estate to discover, profile, categorize, and prioritize applications. The process of determining how best to prioritize is often complex, and not all applications may require immediate modernization. Customers often struggle to decide where or how to begin, which leads to analysis paralysis.

This blog post provides ways to quickly prioritize applications for modernization, with a data-driven focus on speed to value.

Common Pitfalls

Application modernization prioritization is a factor of both business value and technical feasibility that begins with an assessment of the application portfolio. Customers often start their journey with an application assessment and categorization of applications into one of the 7 R’s for common migration strategies. When embracing a Refactor (modernization) the path forward can quickly become daunting.

When prioritizing applications for modernization, several common pitfalls may arise, impacting the success of the process. One challenge involves the absence of a clear link between modernization priorities and business goals. Often, the complexity of the task is underestimated, especially when opting for a modernization approach, leading to potential hurdles in the journey. Attempting to address too many applications simultaneously, insufficient documentation, and overlooking integration dependencies are additional pitfalls that can hinder the prioritization process and result in analysis paralysis. To navigate these challenges successfully, a comprehensive yet rapid assessment and prioritization model considering both business value and technical feasibility is crucial.

Prioritization Model

With all of these known pitfalls, it is not surprising that 74% of modernization journeys fail. Amazon’s Working Backwards approach to product or service development reminds us that business goals should be the north star. We propose the same principle is a key success driver for application modernization as well. Once business goals are well understood, you can begin to collect data for the applications under modernization consideration.

In the example below, the business goals focus on cost reduction and agility (responding to evolving requirements quickly) to respond to ever-evolving business needs. Based on these goals, we leverage guidance from SAFe to determine which metrics to collect.

  1. Assess and understand business goals – Cost Reductions through operational efficiencies, Agility
  2. Collect directional metrics (focus on speed rather than perfection) based on the business goals
    • Number of Production Defects in last 30 days
    • Number of times you have to manually repair or rework the data, run a process, or execute a one-off job that will fix the issue for an individual occurrence
    • Number of times the same data has to be entered manually into multiple systems due to lack of integration
    • Number of new requirements requested by the business in the past year
    • Time taken to add a new, simple requirement to the system (for example, a system change without any upstream/downstream dependencies)
  3. Further classify the applications based on usage and business criticality:
    • Frequency of application usage such as how often an application is accessed. This can be constant, at regular frequencies, or sporadic in nature such as daily/weekly/monthly
    • Business Criticality of the application (High/Medium/Low) based on combination of business defined factors such as revenue, regulatory, customer experience, and/or brand image

The output of this data collection exercise is a prioritized list as shown in Figure 2 aligned to business needs:

Figure 2: Tabulated output of key application metrics to determine priority

In this example, the top priority is Application 1, given the highest number of defects, the frequency of changes, and how long it takes to apply a change. While the criticality of Application 2 is high, it has fewer defects, only one hand off, and few new requirements, resulting in a Priority 2 designation. Application 3 has moderate issues across the metrics and lower criticality and is deemed Priority 3.

This simplified analysis guides the modernization roadmap by aligning key data points with business goals. More rigorous prioritization is possible by weighting metrics and calculating scores. However, this provides an example of quickly applying the methodology to collect data, mapping to goals, and visualizing applications for prioritization.

This prioritized list of applications provides a quick and clear starting point, answering the question “where to begin.” Let’s explore how these prioritized applications can be modernized to unlock quick wins for the business.

Approach A – Quick Wins Applying Strangler Fig

Modernizing manual-heavy applications can achieve quick wins by reducing support costs and addressing user pain points. In the above example, Application 1 can be modernized using the strangler fig pattern. This pattern incrementally decouples the application architecture by migrating it from a monolithic to a microservice-based platform. This approach brings incremental value and progress while promoting 2-way door decisions (decisions easily reversed without significant impact) that reduce risk as the monolith is broken up. By continuously layering new functionality, which eliminates manual intervention, the business can continue to operate as usual while the enterprise realizes an incremental return on investment sooner.

Demonstrating this agile approach towards modernization yields business trust and support. In addition, the business gains flexibility to add new requirements during the modernization journey rather than wait.

Approach B – Eliminating the Swivel Chair

The ‘swivel chair’ phenomenon occurs when businesses grapple with incompatible applications, leading to a labor-intensive process of manually entering the same data into multiple systems. As new applications emerge in the evolving business landscape, integration challenges arise, resulting in this cumbersome practice. Recognizing the inefficiencies and risks associated with the ‘swivel chair’, we prioritize its elimination to streamline operations, reduce risk and maintenance costs, and enhance overall operational efficiency. For instance, in Application 2, there are ten manual interventions. This could be indicative of a need to pull information from multiple platforms or do manual data entry across multiple systems. Modernization of Application 2 in this scenario would seamlessly integrate the multi-platform architecture and give the business a single point of integration to update and consume data, which would reduce data entry errors.

Call to Action

We recommend the following next steps to advance your prioritization journey:

  1. Collaborate with your business partners to identify their goals
  2. Align business goals with easily obtainable metrics
  3. Highlight highest-priority applications, showcasing incremental business value

For further assistance and expertise, consider leveraging AWS Professional Services or Partners to deliver a formal Application Modernization Assessment. Many customers are finding success leveling up their cloud transformation with Experienced-Based Acceleration (EBA).


In tackling the complex landscape of application modernization, the perennial question persists: where to begin? This blog post emphasizes a rapid approach, urging readers to work backwards from their business goals and swiftly collect metrics that matter. This results in a well-informed, data-driven modernization prioritization model to develop a roadmap.  Following this guidance, you can avoid analysis paralysis, realize quick wins, and achieve momentum for a successful modernization journey.

Darren Price

Darren Price is a Customer Solutions Manager aligned to Financial Services at AWS. He has spent his career focused on establishing trust-based relationships with customers, leading complex programs, and building/inspiring global teams. Prior to joining AWS, he held multiple senior leadership positions focused on digital transformation in Financial Services, Transportation, and Public Service.

Sonal Agrawal

Sonal Agrawal is a Senior Solutions Architect at Amazon Web Services in Atlanta, GA. She has over 18 years of experience architecting and implementing solutions with Banking and Automotive Industry focus. She is passionate about learning new cloud technologies, and assists customers in building cloud adoption strategies, designing innovative solutions, and driving operational excellence. Outside of work, she loves to spend time with her kids.