Ohio CIO Katrina Flory seeks improved scalability, better responsiveness and new features when planning to modernize government applications.

Jun 17 2024

Application Modernization Helps Governments Boost Performance and Improve Citizen Services

State officials strive to increase scalability and responsiveness when updating legacy programs.

For statewide, mission-critical resources such as enterprise resource planning, Ohio agencies rely on centralized applications. But for others, agencies manage their own apps, a number of which were built decades ago to run on now-dated application architecture.

“Twenty years ago, we didn’t really look at the user experience or human-centered design, these things we think about when we’re designing applications today,” says Katrina Flory, state CIO and assistant director of Ohio’s Department of Administrative Services. “We have legacy applications going out of support, and many of the employees who maintain these applications are nearing retirement age, so we know we need to modernize.”

Like many states, Ohio is working to update its fleet of applications before significant problems arise. Eric Sweden, program director for enterprise architecture and governance at the National Association of State Chief Information Officers, notes that outdated applications can result in not only performance problems but also glaring gaps in security.

“Outdated apps can lead to benefits being paid to the wrong person, inadequate coordination across agencies, and wasted time and effort toward correcting problems and mistakes,” Sweden says. “This can go from an inconvenience to some pretty serious problems. When systems fail, processes fail. And if our processes fail, then we’re failing our citizens.”

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Ohio Embarks on the Path to Modernization

Ideally, Sweden says, governments should be constantly assessing their application environments and updating them to meet evolving demands.

“Imagine never being in a reactive mode and instead engaging in ongoing modernization,” he says. “That’s what we’re prescribing.”

In Ohio, IT leaders have been using tools such as Red Hat OpenShift, Amazon Elastic Container Service and Amazon Elastic Kubernetes Service to build, revamp and deploy modernized applications. These apps are often deployed in public cloud environments such as Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services, Oracle and Google Cloud Platform.

However, the state takes a cloud-smart (rather than cloud-first) approach, working through a robust application rationalization process that helps identify the best path for modernization — and the best eventual home for updated apps.

Katrina Flory
We look closely at cost and latency for modernizing mainframe apps.”

Katrina Flory CIO, Ohio’s Department of Administrative Services

“We look closely at cost and latency for modernizing mainframe apps,” Flory says. “We also look at staff skills. Beyond the functional and technical requirements, we want to know if we’re going to need to upskill our team to support the applications.”

In addition to moving applications off dated architecture, Flory says, Ohio’s modernization efforts are yielding benefits such as improved scalability, better responsiveness and new features.

“A lot of our contact centers were somewhat overwhelmed, so we’ve been implementing things such as queuing, callback, virtual assistants and other tools to modernize that experience,” she says. “We’re always looking at how we can simplify, how we can retire our technical debt and how we can leverage our resources better.”

EXPLORE: State and local governments prioritize IT modernization.

Texas Modernizes to Improve Citizen Services

In Texas, agencies utilize Software as a Service solutions and low-code or no-code development toolsets where possible, often working within environments such as GitHub to enable version control and collaboration, says John Hoffman, deputy state CIO at the Texas Department of Information Resources. When one agency leverages an application programming interface to integrate an app with a platform such as Salesforce or ServiceNow, the state makes these new features available to other departments, as well.

“We don’t want every agency to have to figure things out on its own,” Hoffman says. “Instead, we put those tools on the shelf to give others a running start.”

One of the state’s most ambitious app modernization efforts is Texas by Texas, a personal government assistant that brings together citizen-facing workflows such as driver’s license renewals and vehicle registrations. The portal, which citizens can access from any device, required the state to migrate mainframe-hosted applications to public cloud environments.


The percentage of states with a formal IT project review board or steering committee to guide modernization efforts

Source: National Association of State Chief Information Officers, The 2023 State CIO Survey, September 2023

“It’s a one-stop shop for constituents,” Hoffman says. “You log in with your unique identifier, and then you can renew the registration on your truck or see that your driver’s license expires at the end of the year. We’re working to get other components into it, too, such as boat trailer registrations and hunting licenses.”

IT leaders in Texas use the state’s biennial budget process as an opportunity to plan for critical modernization initiatives, including app modernization, Hoffman says.

“That two-year cycle is an opportunity to put all of our thoughts together. But the challenge is, you’ve got to get out your crystal ball,” he says. “When we’re talking about modernizing an app, it may be next spring before it gets approved and then two more years to implement. You really have to be thinking with a three- to five-year vision.”

LEARN MORE: Citizens demand digital services from government agencies.

Washington, D.C., Embraces Application Evolution

Like Texas, Washington, D.C., is taking steps to pull together disconnected legacy apps onto a modernized, unified platform.

“We’re trying to make things simpler, fairer and faster for businesses, residents and families,” says Stephen Miller, interim CTO for the district. “And we’re tying our modernization initiatives into those goals with our work on a one-stop portal.”

The district is starting with a business portal, making it easier for business owners to navigate what Miller calls the “alphabet soup” of agencies involved in commercial licensing and regulation.

“In some cases, it’s taking apps that may have gone through modernization in the past year or two and putting them into a single portal,” Miller says. “In other cases, it’s modernization of legacy IT systems that were put in place 10 or 20 years ago. And then, there are cases where we are finally digitizing paper or manual processes that previously required people to come into a building and stand in line.”

Washington, D.C., uses GitHub to help developers coordinate and collaborate. Where possible, developers build on existing platforms such as ServiceNow rather than writing new applications from scratch. When the district replaced its small-business licensing application — a legacy custom solution that required specialized knowledge to maintain — IT leaders turned to Salesforce. Building from an existing, off-the-shelf platform not only accelerated the development process, it also helped the district halve the number of steps required to obtain a business license.

“I don’t want to hear, ‘This is the way we did things in the past,’” Miller says. “Instead, let’s think and let’s challenge ourselves. Modernization isn’t a matter of launching something new, and now we’re done. It’s about what we can do next on an even bigger scale.”

Top Benefits of Application Modernization

The National Association of State Chief Information Officers asked state IT leaders to identify the top expected benefits of app modernization initiatives in a 2022 report.

  • 88% Improved security
  • 76% Prompt and efficient response to constituent needs
  • 71% Better program outcomes
  • 71% Reduced enterprise risk
  • 71% Easier and faster to make changes
  • 67% Better integration with other applications
  • 33% Reduced infrastructure costs
  • 24% Continual evaluation and renewal
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