The Two Best Ways to Rebuild a Software Platform

When quick fixes no longer cut it, it's time to look at total transformation, from the ground up.
APRIL, 2019

In our last post, we detailed five telltale signs of a platform that's beyond repair. If you checked all some of those boxes, you may now be coming to terms with the fact that a rebuild is in your near future.

That realization can come with a sense of overwhelm — about costs, scope, logistics, impact to customers and impact to your team. We get it. Change of any size is hard, even when you know it's the right move for your business.

In our experience, we've found it helps to know what to expect from the process, the options at play and the impact it will have on operations during development. So we compiled this primer on what it means when your system or platform is diagnosed with a total rebuild.
Option A or Option B
We approach a rebuild in one of two ways:

The first is a cold turkey — or, in software engineering parlance, a "greenfield" rebuild. We keep the original platform running while building a new one in parallel, from the ground up. Then, when the new platform is complete, you shut off the old and turn on the new.

The second option involves building the new application inside the old one. Essentially that means you're building new code within the original application until, over time, you've rebuilt the entire platform.
Weighing both options
There are pros and cons to both options. A greenfield is typically faster, since our development team is building something net new rather than navigating around old code and taking steps to ensure service isn't disrupted.

Building the new inside the old, on the other hand, allows you to deploy new features gradually, migrating clients to the new app over time.

Typically, however, it's not a matter of preference; the choice between the options is more black and white.

If your app is up to date, running modern frameworks, you will likely be able to rebuild within your existing platform. If your system is lagging behind, you're probably better served building a new application alongside the old. After all, in the time it would take just getting the old software up to date, you could build something entirely new.

Data models also play a key role in how we approach a rebuild. If you have to change your data model dramatically, you will likely have to rebuild your platform from scratch, not from within your existing application. Look at the banking industry, for example. Changing federal regulations require banks to track new and different information. Frequently, legacy banking systems were not built to track the granular details now required by regulators; it's often too complex to build new capabilities within an old system. You've got to build something new.
Case studies
We've worked with clients through both types of rebuilds, designing plans based around their individual needs.

For Boardroom Insiders, for instance, we recommended the "greenfield" option. The existing code base was several years old, dense and brittle. Building a new platform from scratch allowed us to simplify the Boardroom Insiders code base and build a solid foundation for future growth and product expansion.

With LearnPlatform, on the other hand, the system was in good shape, but the user interface wasn't right. So we opted to rebuild inside of the existing application and allow customers to sample the new version as its features became available.

The result in both cases was a total upgrade without any loss in operations or upheaval in customer experience. Win for the customer, win for the business.
Rebuild myths, debunked
Cost can be one of the most intimidating parts of the rebuild prospect, and we get that, too. Money is precious when you're building or running a business, and any significant investment deserves thorough consideration.
But consider this: If you don't opt to rebuild your system, you will likely spend much more maintaining what you've got, either in code development or lost revenue.
Another concern we hear all the time is about the impact to the business when you're trading an old system for something new. The truth is, during a rebuild, your business can keep moving. You may have to push pause on minor upgrades and added features, but you can maintain your operations, keeping money flowing into the business while you're laying the foundation for future growth.

While the prospect may seem overwhelming, the post-rebuild reality is worth the investment of time and money. You just have to wrap your mind around the fact that change can be very, very good.

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