The mission of government is to provide support, information, and services to citizens. When digital platforms are absolutely essential to achieve this, outdated legacy systems, approaches, and skillsets create challenges to effectively deliver these key services and meet constituents’ expectations. This is when updating or modernizing government legacy systems with more scalable solutions becomes increasingly necessary.
What is a legacy system?
Legacy systems are digital software or hardware that are outdated. They still may meet the needs that they were originally implemented for but do not have the capacity to adapt or grow with new requirements and needs. This generally means that they will be unable to interact with any newer systems or adapt as the agency and user needs change.
Tell-tale signs that a government legacy system is problematic:
- It cannot integrate with new systems
- It doesn’t meet modern security requirements
- Data is becoming increasingly siloed
- Maintenance is costly and in some cases wasteful
- Compliance with regulations (such as GDPR) is becoming increasingly more difficult
How IT modernization can help agencies tackle their legacy systems
Government IT modernization is the process of updating outdated approaches, skill sets, and legacy systems that are limiting an agency’s ability to deliver on its mission. It is an essential process that many agencies are faced with now more than ever. In addition to issues of improving security and operational efficiency and increasing staff productivity, modernization is also an important long-term strategy to reduce overall IT costs.
Six approaches to effectively replacing a legacy system
1. Know what you currently have in place
As with most digital strategy projects, the best place to start with an IT modernization project is to take inventory and map out the existing systems and processes. An audit of current systems and processes will help paint a picture of your current infrastructure, both in terms of its successes and unmet needs. Having a precise picture of your current state of systems will allow you to identify where there are inefficiencies so that you can make the necessary changes.
2. Develop a change management plan
Alongside a systems and process audit, identify where changes need to be made in order to track and communicate and move forward internally. An effective change management plan will help you affect and control change and help staff and stakeholders adapt to these changes through clear communication and guidelines.
3. Take an agile approach: start small and scale up
IT leaders are understandably wary of making large investments in technology that require major operational changes and training. Most of today’s technologies are built to easily scale as needs increase or effectiveness is proven. By starting small, such as implementing a new tool or approach within one department at a time, government agencies can determine if the updated system technology is working as it should. Scaling and optimizing can then take place from there. By starting small you are also able to create buy-in across internal teams through success stories and lessons learned. This is key to the success of future and much larger legacy system updates.
4. Focus on accessibility for all users
No new technology is worth the investment if users aren’t able to adopt the new system or functionality. To help drive adoption, make sure you are taking a user-centric approach that provides support to all users. This includes creating and offering ongoing training, education, and background information on how improvements are and will affect them. Also, make sure you collect input and feedback early on from those who will be using these new systems, which includes both internal and external users. Together this will help ensure adoption by involving users in the process and better educating them on the benefits of any new technologies put in place.
5. Ensure that security is maintained
Security is, and will always be, a critical part of a functioning government IT system. Some systems may require a higher level of security than others, and it’s important not to mix low-level security components with high-level security components when developing any new infrastructure. Doing so may lead to gaps in security which ultimately affects the integrity of the IT system and the end-user, in this case, the people who really depend on your services for their daily lives. Security and trust go hand-in-hand and modernizing a government IT infrastructure that ensures security is essential.
6. Leverage vendors and partners for support
Most government legacy systems are very large in both scope and technology, which can make an internal modernization exercise extremely challenging. Many digital strategy and IT vendors specialize in updating and modernizing government legacy systems and can provide valuable insights to taking the process forward. Leverage their knowledge and expertise, especially if this is a large-scale modernization need that has major consequences for the agency’s operations and services.
From legacy systems and beyond
If the current state of affairs has taught us anything, it’s that modern digital systems and platforms are no longer a nice-to-have but a necessity for government agencies to deliver their services and information to the people they serve. These six approaches, as single or combination efforts, will help agencies move away from outdated legacy systems to modern digital platforms that allow them to effectively support the people that rely on their services.