Legacy systems and applications present multiple challenges for North Dakota and other state governments. For one, they are not as scalable as modern cloud-based applications. The state “had to throw a lot of additional infrastructure” at older applications to keep them running, Schell says, and had to create more modern user interfaces to support self-service options for citizens.
“As we look across the technologies and the different services that we had to provide, I think there’s a very clear delineation between modern technology and legacy technology,” he says. “As I look at the amount of effort that we had to put forth for a number of these legacy technologies to be able to survive, in comparison to some of the other areas where we’ve got a more modern technology, it was almost a non-conversation. It was simply a monitoring conversation, and let the cloud do what it does.”
Cloud-based applications can simply scale up and down based on demand. Legacy systems have fixed infrastructure that cannot easily be altered, he notes.
Security is another factory spurring agencies to replace legacy systems. As technologies age, agencies run into risks related to whether vendors will continue to offer technical and cybersecurity support, and in those situations “the risk factors can climb very, very quickly,” Schell says.
Malicious actors may not target older systems because the volume of transactions or potential profit is not high enough to justify the investment in an attack, according to Schell. However, that would not matter for a truly motivated actor. “If they’re targeting you specifically, they’re going to find a way, and you’ve got to continue to care and feed for that technology regardless of its age,” he says.
LEARN MORE: How have counties modernized the tech they use to provide public benefits?
How North Dakota Plans to Modernize
There are multiple paths forward for agencies that want to update legacy systems and applications, including rehosting them in the cloud, using automated refactoring that migrates a system’s procedural code bases to modern languages, and rewriting the application or replacing the system entirely.
Schell notes that many states are launching modern, citizen-facing portals to help improve the customer experience of legacy applications. Such portals, he notes, can also “dramatically improve government operations. If you’re taking advantage of new ways of automating and providing a much more orchestrated experience for the citizen, you see the benefits on both sides.
However, refreshing the customer-facing web portal “doesn’t take away the core fundamental problem from an IT support perspective of maintaining that skill set, maintaining that platform, maintaining the infrastructure associated with it.”
Ideally, Schell says, North Dakota would look to modernize its legacy systems from end to end “using cloud technologies, leveraging low-code/no-code-type technologies, getting into the very segmented architectures, getting away from the large monolithic architectures, taking advantage of microservices in that distributed approach.”
Leveraging those tools would give North Dakota “the agility that we’re looking for” and also allow legacy systems to be replaced incrementally.