The Difference Between Modernization and Incrementalism in IT

Written by Kayla Coco-Stotts on April 23, 2020

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With a vast number of IT departments rushing to instantiate safe remote work for their users, many IT admins wonder which approach they should take: an incremental one, or a modernized one?

Below, we’ll go over the pros and cons of both approaches when adjusting IT infrastructure to be conducive for newer, cloud-based technology. 

Why Change Now?

For many organizations, IT infrastructure centers around an on-premises domain — usually Microsoft® Active Directory® (AD) — that both secures and federates user identities to their on-prem resources. The on-prem model worked well for many years, yet admins now struggle to make legacy directory services meet modern demands.

Cloud-based offerings like web apps, file servers, Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) platforms, and other IT services decentralize admins’ IT infrastructure. These offerings also introduce security threats like shadow IT, which can have devastating financial consequences.

When employees are in-office, this segmented setup — though inefficient and costly — may work for some IT departments. The problem arises when admins need to enable their users to work from home for extended periods of time, since legacy IT architecture doesn’t cater to remote environments.

So, the question becomes this: Should I modernize my identity and access management (IAM) infrastructure, or should I use point-fix solutions to incrementally update my legacy hardware?

Incremental Changes

Incremental innovations within IT involve making improvements or upgrades to existing infrastructure to improve efficiency and agility within an IT department’s processes. Many organizations take this approach of slowly introducing cloud-based infrastructure to their organizations, and it’s estimated that in the near future 90% of companies will utilize cloud software in some way.

Using an incremental approach to update existing infrastructure does have positive impacts on organizations. It enables them to slowly transition their users to a new way of working, which allows IT to thoroughly troubleshoot any kinks that may come up along the way. It’s also easier to get approval on a smaller budget request rather than an overhaul on existing architecture.

Incremental changes assure that both users and IT teams aren’t overwhelmed by any changes, and IT departments with stricter budgets may find that this “add as you go” model works in an ideal setup. 

However, taking the incremental approach often further engrains admins in their legacy infrastructure. With each addition, IT teams manually provision users and configure their environments, and they will have to do so with each new software request. And, many of these tools (such as web application single sign-on solutions) exist to solve only one problem.

So if an organization wants to offer cross-platform functionality for their systems, multi-factor authentication to protect users and their machines, virtual private networks (VPNs) for remote workers, etc. they need to layer any number of point solutions on top of their legacy hardware. Infrastructure maintenance spending remains higher on average compared to modern cloud-based products, since any change or update to legacy hardware requires time and effort — neither of which comes free. 

While the incremental approach works well for organizations looking to add one or two modern offerings on top of their legacy IAM platform, it may not be sufficient for admins wanting to enable secure remote environments, or those that want to offer cloud-hosted or platform-agnostic solutions.

Modernizing Legacy Infrastructure

The other option admins can choose when deciding the best way to enable users to work with newer technologies is to modernize their existing IAM infrastructure. Like incrementalism, modernization in IT is accomplished by analyzing existing processes and platforms, and by re-engineering them to increase flexibility and efficiency. Often this is accomplished through data and workflow automation, and through moving legacy on-prem infrastructure to the cloud. 

Where modernization differs from incrementalism is that it is strategic, not simply tactical. Tactical changes made in IT represent incremental “business as usual” changes that do not interrupt the status quo. For modernization to occur, there must be a transformational change that enables IT to do new things in new ways.

An example of modernization in IT can be found in replacing on-prem IAM platforms with cloud-based directory services. By leveraging a core directory service in the cloud, admins can transform their existing IT infrastructure, eliminating the need for extensive manual configuration, manual user provisioning or deprovisioning, and on-prem data management. 

Modernizing an existing identity provider (IdP) offers any number of benefits for organizations because it enables them to become more effective in serving their users. With a modernized approach to identity management users can leverage a single set of credentials for all their resources, regardless of platform or provider. For IT teams, this means that not only are they utilizing newer, more adaptable technology, but they’re saving money by eliminating the need for numerous add-ons and on-prem hardware.

Before moving to an entirely new identity provider, admins will need to thoroughly evaluate both the old infrastructure and the new. Admins can also leverage something like JumpCloud® AD Integration to bridge their legacy infrastructure to the cloud, effectively allowing their users to adapt to a new platform before significant changes occur. 

We’re Here to Help

In a digitally competitive and isolated world, it’s important to remain agile and adaptable. No matter whether your team prefers incremental changes or complete IT modernization, we’re here to help. 
Feel free to reach out to one of our representatives to learn how JumpCloud can modernize your IT. You can also watch our webinar on how JumpCloud’s IT team transitioned our entire workforce to an entirely remote model in three days.

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