While custom software applications never last forever, there are things you can do to ensure you get the most value out of them. Like the way a well-maintained vehicle that’s driven properly tends to last longer and run better over time, there are steps you can take to prolong the life of your software application. Beyond extending the useful life of your application these tips will allow you to deliver value to your users in the form of needed application features and functions without racking up tons of technical debt.
This post dives into activities that extend the life of your custom applications to keep them running more effectively and delivering more value over time, which include:
- Refactoring the codebase to make it easier and more cost effective to maintain and extend.
- Adding features and/or functionality to the application in a systematic manner to meet changing business needs.
- Improving the application’s security and compliance to stay abreast of industry standards and regulations.
- Optimizing the application’s performance and scalability for sustainable growth.
These tactics can help reduce technical debt and help keep an application from becoming clunky and outdated.
Over time, a legacy codebase starts to become cluttered and outdated. A few contributing factors include changing application needs and technology along with multiple developers working in the codebase over time. When the initial architecture is set and application code is written, all needed features and functions typically haven’t been conceived. In addition, while the original code was most likely written using the latest technologies, these quickly change over time. Another contributor to code clutter results from the codebase being handed from developer to developer, each with their own ideas on how best to structure the code they write.
Don’t distress, even the most advanced teams run into some code clutter. The good news is that code refactoring helps. Code refactoring is the process of restructuring or reorganizing existing code without changing its functionality. The goal of code refactoring is to make the codebase easier to understand, maintain, and extend by improving its design, readability, and modularity. Consider code refactoring before adding new features and functions to improve the product’s overall quality.
There are several techniques for refactoring code, including:
- Renaming variables, functions, and other elements to give them more descriptive and meaningful names.
- Extracting code into smaller, more focused functions or modules.
- Removing duplicate or redundant code.
- Applying design patterns or software architecture principles to improve the structure of the code.
- Adding comments and documentation to explain the purpose and usage of the code.
Code refactoring is a valuable process for improving the quality and maintainability of an application. By making the codebase easier to understand and work in, developers can more quickly and effectively add new features, fix bugs, and maintain the application over time.
Adding New Application Features
Adding features or functionality to an existing application helps to meet changing business needs and provide more value to users. If you have a well thought out product vision and supporting product roadmap, this should be used in the prioritized development of new features and functions for your application.
If you don’t have a fully formed product roadmap, you can start by asking your user base if they have known needs. You can also look to feature request tickets or support tickets that cluster around certain topics. You may find features that are requested more often than others, which will help with the overall usability of your application. However, there are some pitfalls to building features lead solely by user requests. To avoid what is eloquently called “feature soup” we strongly encourage having a well-defined product roadmap backlog. Regardless, be sure you have some form of vetting process for feature/functions. You can use a full formal framework such as the MoSCoW method or a lighter weight approach such as the T-Shirt Sizing method when prioritizing new features/functions.
Before you begin adding new features or functionality, you’ll want to set yourself up for success. Consider the following:
- Requirements gathering: It’s important to carefully define the new features or functionality that are needed, including how they will be used and what value they will provide.
- Impact on existing functionality: Adding new features or functionality can sometimes impact the performance or stability of an application, so it’s important to carefully consider how the new features will affect the existing application.
- Testing: It’s important to thoroughly test any new features or functionality to ensure that they work as expected and do not introduce any new issues.
- Maintenance: Adding new features or functionality can increase the maintenance burden of an application, so it’s important to consider the ongoing support and maintenance needs of the application.
If after you’ve done your due diligence, and you decide to add new features/functions, you’ll likely see some immediate results. Expect improved user experience, increased competitiveness, and overall enhanced functionality.
Improving Application Security
Improving the security and compliance of an application is a critical activity. You need to protect sensitive data and ensure that your application meets relevant industry standards. We all know the horror stories of companies losing customer data, and maybe have even fallen victim to these breaches ourselves. There is no quicker way to lose a user’s trust than to have shoddy security. Some steps that you can take to improve the security and compliance of your applications include:
- Conducting a security assessment: A security assessment can identify vulnerabilities and risks in an application and provide recommendations for addressing them.
- Implementing security controls: Security controls can include measures such as encryption, authentication, and access controls to help protect against security threats.
- Adhering to industry standards: There are a range of industry standards and regulations that may apply to an application, such as HIPAA for healthcare applications or PCI DSS for applications handling credit card transactions. Ensuring compliance with these standards can help protect against legal and financial risks.
- Conducting regular security and compliance audits: Regular audits can help identify any new vulnerabilities or non-compliant practices, and provide an opportunity to address them.
Always be mindful of security vulnerabilities. When making updates and improving security, be careful not to expose security vulnerabilities that were not present in the first place. It is always important to test new updates but be especially mindful when making security updates.
Overall Application Optimization
Optimizing the performance and scalability of an application is important to ensure that it can handle increased workload over time and meet the needs of its users. We’ve written at length about software application performance optimization (it’s what we do), but here’s a quick overview of steps you can take to optimize an application’s performance and scalability.
- Monitoring and measuring performance: Monitoring and measuring the performance of an application can help identify bottlenecks or areas for improvement.
- Optimizing code and queries: Optimizing the code and queries used by an application can help improve its performance by reducing the amount of time and resources it takes to execute them.
- Caching: Caching can help improve the performance of an application by storing frequently accessed data in memory, reducing the need to retrieve it from a slower storage medium such as a database.
- Load balancing: Load balancing distributes incoming traffic across multiple servers or instances of an application, which can help improve its performance and scalability.
- Horizontal scaling: Horizontal scaling involves adding more servers or instances of an application to handle increased traffic or workload, which can help improve its scalability.
By optimizing the performance and scalability of an application, you can ensure your custom software application meets the needs of its users and supports the growth of the business.
Things to Consider
The above four tips will help keep your technical debt in check a little longer and help you extract more value from your software applications. Of course, at some point you will need to take more drastic measures to modernize your custom application. We’ve shared ideas to help you know when it’s time to modernize your application, which you may find useful.
Whatever you decide, be sure to consider the cost, time, benefits, and overall risks you may encounter. The goal is to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of operations, reduce the risk of security breaches and downtime, and increase competitiveness in the marketplace.
If you’re looking for help deciding which application modernization strategy works best for you, contact us. We have more than 25-years of experience building, modernizing, and maintaining custom software applications that delight customers and drive tremendous value for business.