1. Modernization of Legacy IT Will Get a Boost
The pandemic exposed many state governments’ legacy IT systems, which are still used to manage critical systems such as the distribution of unemployment insurance. States had to move these systems to the cloud on the fly in the spring amid a crush of claims, and such migrations are ongoing.
“While the pandemic brought these issues to light, many of these states’ legacy systems were problems waiting to happen,” Brandon Edenfield, the managing director of app modernization at Modern Systems, an Advanced company, writes in StateTech. “It is vital that all states find solutions to these challenges before the next disruption knocks their systems offline when they’re needed most.”
Most often, Edenfield says, government agencies will choose to rehost applications, conduct automated refactoring, rewrite legacy applications or replace an entire system.
“Many policymakers at the state level had no idea what this even meant until this year,” says Meredith Ward, director of policy and research for the National Association of State Chief Information Officers, referring to legacy modernization. “While states won’t be able to fund every modernization effort, the issue is likely to get more attention in 2021.”
NASCIO Executive Director Doug Robinson tells StateScoop he was surprised that legacy modernization dropped off the organization’s list of top 10 state CIO priorities for 2021, after being ranked seventh in the 2020 edition of the list.
“Another challenge that was clearly exposed was the fragility of the legacy environment and a lack of scalability from the states,” he says. “I made an assumption that legacy would be on the list.”
Edenfield notes that the right approach to modernization 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,” he adds.
2. The Shift to Digital Government Will Accelerate
The pandemic highlighted not only the multitude of services that citizens rely on government to deliver but also the fact that, when offices are closed or people are discouraged from being in close proximity to one another, those services still need to run.
That led to a significant shift to digital services, as state and local governments have enabled digital signatures for documents and for driver’s license renewals, among many other applications. Experts say that trend is likely to accelerate in 2021.
Alan Shark, executive director of the Public Technology Institute, says there is even more of a citizen-centric focus in government service delivery than normal. He also expects that “digital infrastructure will replace physical infrastructure.”
“Now, as never before, there is a recognition that we wouldn’t be operating the way we are today without recognizing the importance and significance of digital infrastructure,” he says.
That extends from the complex down to basic government services, Shawn McCarthy, IDC’s research director for government infrastructure and systems optimization strategies, says. “Being able to support online connections for education, town meetings, etc. will be important for small to midsize towns. Some already do this well. Some are laggards.”
Many citizens interacted with their state government online for the first time this year, Ward notes.
“The increased demand and necessity for socially distant service delivery did two things,” Ward says. “First, it showed that many services that haven’t traditionally been offered online can be, and largely successfully. It also shed light on the importance of expanded online digital services, especially for those who couldn’t travel to a state office because it was closed or had a hard time doing so even pre-pandemic. Expanded digital government is here to stay.”