IT modernization has always been high on the agenda of government CIOs. Following the Modernizing Government Technology Act becoming law, US Government agencies now have a $500 million fund they can use for their modernization projects. This gives the potential for great progress if agencies view their IT modernization project as a means to enable better government services.
There is an intrinsic problem with funds. Whether for modernizing government IT or staging a city’s summer festival, everything we do tends to be shaped to meet the funding requirements. It is easy to confuse the goal with its purpose, rather than aligning its purpose with the goal. The purpose of the Modernizing Government Technology Act is pretty clear. Three of its key objectives are:
- Improve, retire, or replace existing information technology systems to enhance cybersecurity, and to improve efficiency and effectiveness
- Transition legacy information technology systems to cloud computing, and other innovative platforms and technologies
- Assist and support efforts to provide adequate, risk-based, and cost-effective information technology capabilities that address evolving threats to information security
There is no question about the value of these objectives and no one could argue that they’re not worthwhile. But they are very tactical and technical in nature. While we talk about digital transformation, the need for innovative digital services and agile business processes, the Modernizing Government Technology Act needs to be firmly set in the context of improving services to realize efficiencies.
No one doubts IT modernization has to happen
It may not be an over-estimation to say that the IT infrastructure of the US government – and many other governments – is in a precarious state. It’s estimated that, in 2016, 75% of IT spending was on the operations and maintenance of IT systems that were already obsolete or were quickly getting there. Tony Scott, former federal US CIO, has estimated that $3 billion worth of federal IT equipment will reach end-of-life by 2020.
Spending so much on legacy system maintenance means that money can’t be invested on new systems to improve operations and service. Those applications that are operating, are less and less fit for purpose and are becoming more vulnerable. In addition, they are simply not capable of the open data and content sharing that is required today between agencies and with wider stakeholder communities.
This is news to no one. The question is not why modernization is necessary, but how best to modernize.
IT modernization – Flip it to Government services modernization
To date, a key shortcoming of many IT modernization initiatives in government has been a lack of tying IT projects to the business strategy of the agency. The projects have taken an IT-first approach. It’s time to flip things. Start by envisioning how you want to modernize your operations and services and then do the calculation about how you need IT to fit into that strategic direction.
Tony Scott put it much more colorfully: “If we continue to do the same things we’ve done before, we’re just making the situation worse. A good friend once told me if you’re riding a dead horse, best dismount, and I think it’s time for us to dismount.”
Even where government has used modernization efforts to improve their digital services and citizen experience, the lack of a complete end-to-end vision of what they do and how they do it has held them back. Widely praised for its Digital Transformation efforts, the UK Government’s Rt Hon Ben Gummer MP admits that “many departments have started to transform how they deliver services. This has improved citizens’ experience of a significant number of services, but in many cases it has not changed the way government organizations operate to deliver them. It has meant that organizations without public-facing services have not benefited from the same degree of focus on digital transformation.”
More focus has to be given to mission and strategic direction. Rather than looking on the Modernizing Government Technology Act as simply a means to address the challenge of legacy systems, you should set it in the context of your wider digital transformation initiatives. Align its purpose with your agency’s mission and goals.
Taking the holistic approach to IT modernization
Everyone wants to replace legacy systems and applications. The ability to replace them gives us the opportunity to make some strategic decisions that build a foundation for service improvement and increased citizen engagement moving forward. Key points to consider include:
Select the appropriate deployment model
The Modernizing Government Technology Act places an emphasis to cloud-first services. There are real advantages to cloud services especially cloud-as-a-managed service. Instead, it is best to look at what you want to achieve and select a deployment model that meets your performance, security and accessibility requirements, whether that is on-premises, in the cloud, or a hybrid strategy.
Move towards shared services
The Report to the President on IT Modernization makes it clear that it sees shared services as the future for the federal government. It says: “Shared services can enable agency efficiency by reducing duplication and costs through consistent delivery of standardized capabilities of functions in ways that make the most of innovative processes and commercial solutions.” This expansion of the use of government-wide, reusable services, applications and platforms (in acquisitions and procurement, financial management, payroll management, human resources, e-mail, collaboration solutions and other back-office services) is a trend I’m seeing globally: it just makes good sense and good cents.
Consolidate application portfolios
You can reassess your application portfolios and evaluate their ability to meet mission requirements today and tomorrow. Obsolete and duplicate systems can be retired or replaced with modern technologies. Shared services gives the potential to extend this beyond the organization’s firewall to embrace the applications of other agencies – especially where joint service delivery makes sense. This gives you the opportunity to ensure that your IT infrastructure is driven by interoperability and compatibility across systems, applications, databases, platforms and devices.
Embrace AI and analytics
Legacy systems have created silos so data and content becomes almost impossible to locate, access and analyze. IT modernization should include investment in automated data collection techniques and tools to rapidly synthesize, normalize, and analyze data across data repositories and systems. This enables you to apply advanced analytics and AI capabilities, enhance decision making, optimize operations, increase business process automation, and boost innovation in the development and delivery of government services.
Addressing cybersecurity concerns is another key element of the Modernizing Government Technology Act. The systems and platforms you select need to have built in security. Use a robust process to identify, assess and prioritize risks, backed by standards and technologies that are able to accommodate evolving network and data security needs.
IT modernization can help drive digital transformation if government agencies focus on how their modernization efforts tie to the strategic goals for digital operations and services. By implementing a comprehensive Enterprise Information Management (EIM) infrastructure, government agencies can begin to introduce many of the transformative services they need while ensuring a smooth and manageable migration path from their existing IT environment.
IT modernization and digital transformation are major topics at this year’s Innovation Tour and Enterprise World events. It would be great if you could join us there. In the meantime, if you’d like to know more about how OpenText can help, complete the contact form on this page and we’ll start the conversation.