Oct 09 2020

How States Can Avoid Potential Pitfalls Within Their IT Systems

State IT leaders need to consider how to best modernize their legacy systems and develop an action plan.

If there’s ever a time when citizens need to rely on state governments for essential services such as unemployment insurance, healthcare and more, it’s during a global pandemic. However, what happens if these systems crash?

For a variety of states, that’s exactly what happened during the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. As a result of increased traffic and reliance on services such as unemployment insurance, some of these systems crashed entirely, leaving citizens without access to much-needed resources and states without the tech talent required to solve their problems.

While the pandemic brought these issues to light, many of these states’ legacy systems were problems waiting to happen. It is vital that all states find solutions to these challenges before the next disruption knocks their systems offline when they’re needed most.

Why States Need to Act Now to Update Legacy IT Systems

It’s no secret that modernizing government systems has been a long, drawn-out process that has often resulted in no immediate action being taken at all. However, even as various agencies lay the groundwork for long-term plans to address these issues, the pandemic has proven there’s not another free moment to waste on avoiding this process.

Modernization is no easy feat. To get ahead of any potential outages, system crashes or downtime, government agencies need to get started on their journeys as quickly as possible. These projects can’t be completed in a day, or even in a few weeks or months, and these extended timelines grow even longer without a solid plan in place. As a result, it’s vital that states set clear, measurable timelines to keep projects on track. Since not all modernization projects are successful, these set timetables will help government agencies to remain on task, address any potential issues as they arise and bolster their overall chances of success.

EXPLORE: How can states address their legacy IT?

Next Steps for Modernization Vary from State to State

No two systems are alike, so government agencies can’t address the shortcomings of their IT infrastructure with a blanket approach. Each individual IT system has been updated, edited and built upon by numerous individual developers.

Many of these systems are running on mainframes that are 60 years old or more and that have been haphazardly patched since they were deployed. Additionally, much of the talent with knowledge of how to operate and address their issues and shortcomings have long since retired. In order to ensure a greater chance of success, states need to turn to the experts.

Any strong modernization journey should begin with conducting deep fact-finding assessments of the systems in question. These assessments are best delivered using automated tools in the hands of industry experts, ensuring rapid results and valuable context for decision-making. Following these processes, states will be better positioned to identify the best course of action to address their specific needs and to lay the foundation for next steps.

LEARN MORE: How have counties modernized the tech they use to provide public benefits?

Choosing the Right Approach to Modernization

Most often, government agencies will rely on one of the following modernization approaches:

  • Rehosting: In this process, states do away with their outdated mainframes by transferring procedural code bases and primary functions unchanged into a new computing environment. This ensures that states retain key legacy knowledge from within their existing systems while ensuring they are capable of meeting the business demands of today.
  • Automated Refactoring: This approach involves IT experts migrating a system’s procedural code bases to modern, object-oriented languages using specialized tools crafted specifically for the job. This tends to be the most effective strategy for rapid migration to the cloud and cloud-ready application stacks.
  • Rewriting: Sometimes, it’s easier to hit reset and start over. In this process, professional developers manually re-create the existing legacy system within a newer, more optimal environment for business function. However, this approach can be extremely risky and tends to hold a significantly higher price point and longer project duration than other strategies.
  • System Replacement: This strategy is often viewed as an emergency exit. When pursuing a system replacement, the entirety of the legacy system and its applications are taken offline and out of service and is instead replaced with software solutions from third-party vendors, which are expensive and not designed to meet an agency’s unique needs.

The right approach will vary from state to state, so it’s important that state IT leaders look inward to determine the strategy that best fits their needs. Even though these strategies can take significant time and financial investment to complete, the payoff is leagues better than continuing to build upon aging technologies and systems that are essentially held together by duct tape — and run the risk of crashing altogether.

The time to act is now. Following the fallout of key systems that cost citizens access to essential services, states need to recognize that addressing the issues hidden within the legacy systems can’t afford to wait a moment longer.

However, by setting a clear strategy and timeline for solving these challenges and improving the overall function of their IT systems, states will be better positioned to continue to provide much needed resources to their citizens. What are they waiting for?

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