Software rot and the case for the PWA rewrite

By: Matt Ludwig
Software rot could be solved with a PWA rewrite

Do you smell that? Seriously, what is that? Did someone microwave fish for lunch again?!?? No? Weird…I can’t put my finger on it, but something definitely smells like it’s past its prime around here.

*launches archaic CorpSoftware app

Ughhhhhhh! That’s it! There’s the smell! Wait - does your company have some sort of internal app, website, or intranet “thing” created ages ago that you’re required to use regularly? It’s probably for some sort of recording of info for a core part of the company . . . it might be written in Visual Basic, .NET, or as a desktop Windows app. You likely know it as that one thing you have to double-click on that launches Java and takes forrrrrrrrrrrrEVER to start?

We hate those apps. We dread having to use them, too. Every other app/internal website we use regularly is basically fine, but that one that everyone in the entire company has to use is just so . . . bleh. I mean, no one likes using it. No one in IT ever says anything nice about it, and no one really knows why it’s still around, or worse, why its UX has never been updated. Why hasn’t it been updated? Couldn’t it be a Progressive Web App (PWA) or something else, you know, more … “modern”? Whether it’s for creating expense reports, accounting tasks, scheduling weekly payroll, or looking up company info or employee directories; it’s old and clunky and a pain to use. And I want it out of my life, and I just want to go to a website to do it, and I want it to work on my phone, and I want to use it when I have free time in the evening, and etc., etc. We hear you.

Is your internal app becoming a liability?

As employees change working habits, and unquestionably their devices, these apps you’ve bet the business on are not only starting to feel decrepit, they are taking a toll on the employee’s ability to Get S*%# Done! Employees can’t run these apps on their phones or non-Windows machines without doing ridiculously silly workarounds with a jolting (at best) user experience. Does having to screen share into a Windows machine back at the office over a kludgy VPN sound familiar? Yeah, we know - “1998 called - it wants its ‘innovation’ back.”

Inadequate software UX can be fairly easily realized as having a significant negative effect on employee happiness and productivity, which can be directly related to the company’s bottom line. The tools a company’s employees are tasked with using need to have outstanding UX, or the bottom line feels it. Design matters. Employee satisfaction matters; because the company’s bottom line matters. Otherwise, what is everyone showing up for every day?

Rewrite that app as a PWA

Rewriting these apps as Progressive Web Apps makes the method of access and future rewrites irrelevant. There, I said it. It’s true, and, you should begin to apply it as the core of your digital strategy moving forward. Take the opportunity to call a spade a spade and decide to promote the experience of using your software as the number one priority, instead of continuing to re-elect whatever was the number one priority whenever you birthed that dinosaur of an app you force everyone to use.

Access matters, data security matters, UX matters, and design matters. Don’t believe me? Ask your employees to name the biggest pain point in their toolset they’re required to use. Or, as a different approach, ask your IT department which of their maintenance responsibilities is the most agonizing and/or outside of the skill and scope of what their team’s focus is. There’s a pretty good chance that the answer you get from both surveys will be the same, and for different, yet important, operational reasons.

So how do we “fix” this? Investing in the biggest, most popular open technology platform of “the Web” makes cents (see what I did there?), don’t you think? Stop sitting in between the “Are we building on the right platform?” debate that IT and Marketing are having over your apps. A PWA rewrite of that legacy software would be built on the web stack, is secure (data and connection) by nature and basically free, is available on any device (built with an ‘offline first’ mentality), and has a UX like that of your favorite ‘native’ app. What is there to debate now?

The 50-year plan

If you rewrite that app as a PWA today it will work as intended 50 years from now. Are you confident enough to say the same about that Java or desktop Windows app you’re using currently? Me neither. Think of it this way: the employee that you’ll grow to rely on that is hired tomorrow, or in 40 years, doesn’t care how the app they have to use got there; they only care that it’s there when they need it. They also probably assume it’ll be on whatever device they have access to at that time, regardless of whether they’re on or offline, and that it syncs their work on its own. I know that’s what I want for my team! Actually, I’d say that’s the most important thing to provide for any team. Think about it; you hired them for a reason - you think they can do great work. Why force them to learn some out-of-date process your legacy app demands, in a modern digital workplace? Furthermore, are you the C-level/VP/Dir happy with using it?

It’s now possible to build PWAs that are indistinguishable from their native counterparts. Consumers love them, lower bandwidth offices love them, BYOD companies love them, and service workers across a multitude of gig and/or industrial jobs love them … and guess who your users are? At least one or more of these.

If you’re ready to optimize for future users and rewrite that old app written in Visual Basic, or .NET, or for desktop Windows into a Progressive Web App, get in touch.