Application Modernization has been recognized as a major initiative for the US government for at least a few years now. The Modernizing Government Technology Act enacted in 2017 created the Technology Modernization Fund that provided a new funding model for federal agencies to apply for a budget to update their legacy applications. And the President’s Management Agenda for 2018 identified the number one cross-agency priority goal as IT modernization given the recognition that over 2/3 of the federal IT budget has been spent on running and supporting legacy systems.
However as of April 2021 according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), only 2 out of 10 critical federal systems that need to be modernized have fully developed plans to that effect. Some of the challenges have included appropriately planning and budgeting for modernizing legacy systems, a lack of suitable leadership, and acquiring a deep understanding of what systems look like and what paths are available to create that plan in the first place. Many of these are complex, critical systems where attention to detail is paramount.
Given potential security vulnerabilities, the benefits of cost reduction for running these applications, and the ability to move these applications into the cloud and reap those advantages once modernized, it is important for government agencies to prioritize funding these projects. To mitigate some of the perceived and associated risks, we recommend some of the following:
Don’t skimp on getting the full picture of your legacy applications
We’ve spoken before about the importance of documentation and gaining the foundational understanding of your application set. This becomes even more important the more complex and interconnected systems are. These details provide you with the knowledge base for which to determine your entire modernization plan on including which applications to keep, which ones to move away from, and which ones need to substantially updated. In addition, it is important that this information is available to both technical and business focused personnel. Business requirements are just as important as the technical requirements and modernization projects will require strong collaboration between the two parties.
Deeply consider your modernization options to optimize for long-term success
In general, there are two paths to modernization – business rules extraction or code optimization and migration. While direct code migration may seem attractive and a less time consuming way to quickly go from your legacy code to a newer programming language, this may not always be the best solution. Depending on the state of your original code, the logic inside, and your target application objectives, it may instead make sense to extract the business rules. For example, if there have been changes in regulations that may have changed or programs that have evolved, it is valuable to understand what exactly needs updating in a future version of the application. And in order to facilitate doing this in the most efficient and accurate way possible, it is important to find a tool that uses automation in the business rules extraction process along with the help of your subject matter experts (SMEs).
Go step by step and validate your desired outcomes
One of the most important things to recognize is that this is a learning game. It is imperative to start small and test out your desired outcomes to ensure that the process and tools you’ve chosen make sense for your final objectives and budget and resource planning. With this being the case, we recommend doing a proof of concept prior to committing to an entire modernization project. In that way, you can test the waters and adjust as needed without sacrificing a huge part of your budget or having to cancel large contracts if the outcomes are not as expected. Having taxpayer dollars and precious funding go down the drain is never ideal and this is one way to mitigate the extent of it and guide your project to success.