Dec 07 2021

2022 Tech Trends: Cloud Migration for State and Local Agencies Will Be Measured

The pandemic has accelerated cloud adoption for many government agencies, but hurdles remain that may stand in the way of migrations in 2022.

The coronavirus pandemic has undoubtedly accelerated migrations to cloud architectures in state and local agencies. Colorado launched a cloud-based unemployment insurance system this year, Pittsburgh announced plans to move its legacy IT infrastructure to Google Cloud and New Jersey adopted IBM’s Mainframe as a Service approach for its legacy mainframes.

As 2022 dawns, many state and local agencies will continue to move applications off on-premises systems to the cloud. However, experts say, there are technological, cost and operational challenges that may inhibit cloud adoption next year.

There are still many agencies using mainframe technologies at this late date. A biennial study by the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) and Accenture, “A fresh look: Capitals in the Clouds,” which included data from 35 states, found that many states are still using legacy mainframe technology.

“The switch from mainframe on-premises to a mainframe as a service (MFaaS) is slow — as nearly all states, 89 percent, report that they have a mainframe computer and 71 percent indicate that they have not moved any applications to MFaaS,” the report notes. “The primary driver for moving to MFaaS is cost savings.”

Eric Sweden, program director of enterprise architecture and governance at NASCIO, notes that moving from on-premises mainframes to cloud-based MFaaS is “not an easy journey.” 

“This involves a number of disciplines, including procurement,” he says. “We’re seeing states moving from capital expenditure models to operating expenditure models — but that movement requires changing procurement and budget discipline to accommodate a new operating model.”

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The Hurdles to Cloud Migration in Government

There are several reasons state and local governments stay with legacy IT instead of moving to the cloud. For one, mainframes “offer tremendous throughput,” Sweden says, and many state governments “rely on them for heavy transaction processing and analytics, and they are extremely durable, adaptable, reliable. Security is a real strength regarding mainframe computers.” 

States may want to move to MFaaS, Sweden says, “but when we see the cost of security and data management costs related to cloud services, it starts to erode the list of advantages related to cloud services.” 

Alan Shark, executive director of CompTIA’s Public Technology Institute, says that local government IT leaders are starting to tell his organization that “the cloud is not so inexpensive.”

He adds that “there are many local governments that are ill-equipped to this day to move from a CAPEX environment, and that to me is rather significant.”

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In other words, local agencies “still find it better, budgetingwise, to expense things over a period of time, as opposed to paying yearly or monthly by usage,” Shark says. IT leaders and the elected officials they work with “feel they have better control of their costs if they keep things on-prem.”

Many state and local governments will likely move to adopt a hybrid IT approach, Shark says, keeping some applications on-premises and moving others to the cloud. Ultimately, the economics will drive the decision, he adds.

“There has to be a compelling business case to enter into a migration project. There must be commitment to participate on the part of the business,” Sweden says. “This kind of project cannot be successfully accomplished without strong partnering and commitment.  It is critical to show the business the value proposition, the cost savings, the new capabilities for innovation and adaptability.”

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Cloud Migrations Will Continue Apace, but Agencies Must Retool

All of this is not to say there won’t be continued cloud migration among state and local agencies. There will, but it will likely be more measured and deliberate than in the private sector.

“The momentum to move into the cloud is there,” Shark says.

However, following the widespread shift of apps such as email and geographic information systems to the cloud, further migrations will be more piecemeal, especially for local governments, Shark says.

“The moment of truth comes when you start looking at end-of-life issues for your mainframes,” Shark says, and governments need to decide whether they will replace those systems, come up with something better or move to the cloud.

Many government agencies are deciding to shift their enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems to the cloud, Shark says. ERP systems are integrated solutions that manage a number of main business processes.

If an agency moves some core business operations, such as finance administration, to the cloud, that may spur other major applications or functions to be shifted as well, according to Shark.

RELATED: What are the challenges agencies face with hybrid cloud?

Another factor that will determine the pace of cloud migrations in 2022 is whether agencies equip employees with the appropriate skill sets to manage them.

“On one hand, we are losing the necessary mainframe skills, like COBOL skills, as we see people with those skills retire,” Sweden says. “But we are also seeing the advent of conversion capabilities to convert COBOL to Java. Then, to accomplish a migration from on-premises mainframe to a cloud services solution, we need specialized skills just to do the migration. This is more of a one-time endeavor.” 

Agencies then need to ensure they have workers with specialized skills to manage and maintain the new cloud services portfolio. “Moving data from an on-premises mainframe to a cloud service requires a whole other set of skills,” Sweden adds. 

Those include skill sets related to cloud architecture, DevOps and application development, which represents “a very different mix of skills from what a state required when it had its own mainframe on-premises with a host of applications written in COBOL or CICS.”

EXPLORE: Follow these tips for migrating government services to the cloud.

Illustration by Jacey

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