Digital Transition is an Imperative to Modernize State IT Systems

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In today’s age of digital transformation, where limited integration with modern apps and the potential for significant bottlenecks exist, it’s important to recognize and roll out new solutions that interact well with existing systems. At the same time, agencies are challenged to reduce IT costs while improving system performance and software quality.

The National Association of State Technology Directors (NASTD) told the Wall Street Journal in September that, “a backlog of legacy software applications has many state government agencies clinging to costly mainframe computers, despite growing pressure to shut them down.”

The findings of this report echo the warning issued by former U.S. CIO Tony Scott when he spoke at CyberWeek one year ago this month.

“I think it’s a crisis that’s bigger than Y2K. It’s just creeping up on us slowly, month by month, year by year,” said Scott. “But there is a point in the future where there’s just not going to be the knowledgeable resources to keep the old stuff going on the one hand, and then not enough resources to migrate off of those old things on the other hand.”

Mainframes were once the state of the art solution. CAST’s recent Software Intelligence Report on CIO Priorities in the Digital Age, found that 25 percent of legacy systems – including mainframes – are still supporting critical business operations. That number is even higher among government agencies where the NASTD study found an average of 21.6 agencies per state were still using mainframe computers managed by a central IT department.

It’s hard to imagine 50-year-old technology keeping pace with today’s business demands. Government entities still reliant upon mainframes are looking for new tools to touch-up and fix these systems. Unless done properly, the result could be fragmented systems riddled with software complexity, comprised of faulty components and written in countless languages.

And there are more complications:

  • Attrition: A recent note from Forrester reported that 23% of specialized mainframe staff at organizations using mainframe systems have left over the last five years, and nearly two-thirds of those positions remain unfilled.
  • Expense: It is far costlier to maintain these systems than it is to maintain modern IT alternatives, yet the NASTD found 95% of its survey participants had to keep mainframe systems running to support legacy applications.
  • Knowledge Gap: The Software Intelligence Report from CAST found that barely half (54%) of developer teams fully understand legacy system architectures.

To reach broad-spectrum success, states are paying close attention to digital transformation. The State of Texas is a great example, leading the charge to digitally transition IT systems while increasing their efficiency and effectiveness.

Consideration for IT Modernization not only relies upon a solid vendor management plan, especially in the case of cloud migration efforts, but also on securing support from State leadership. It’s nearly impossible to execute on modernization plans if leadership is not on board. Teams should be cautious to prove that they are working with reliable vendors that also demonstrate solid cybersecurity capabilities.

The first priority for moving workloads to the cloud should be proprietary applications, followed by other ancillary applications that may not be good candidates for the cloud. More states need to practice Software Intelligence by incorporating system-level analysis along with existing IT Modernization efforts. Doing so should yield stronger, more efficient and more robust systems to power the future of government.

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Philippe Guerin
Philippe Guerin Software Analytics & Risk Prevention specialist. Domain Expert in ADM Sizing and Productivity Measurement
A well-rounded technologist with over 15 years of leadership experience in ADM Productivity Measurement, Product Development/Management, Program Management, Solution Architecture, Sales, and Services, and more than 5 years of leading teams.
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