6 Signs Legacy IT Is Holding Your Government Agency Back (Industry Perspective)

The complexity and cost of legacy IT systems limit how governments can serve their constituents now and prevents investment in the future.

by Kevin Paschuck, Senior Vice President and COO of Public Sector, Salesforce / August 22, 2017
A legacy system is a business-critical system implemented prior to Oct. 25, 2001 and is currently unable to meet user demands, in part because this is the date Microsoft released Windows XP, and Windows Vista support ended on April 11, 2017. Flickr/Andy Melton

Legacy IT — inflexible on-premise systems that are difficult and costly to maintain and improve — is still quite prevalent in the government space. In fact, the Center for Digital Government* reports that cities are spending $35.7 billion, or half their IT budgets, maintaining and supporting legacy systems.

It’s important to understand why agencies and departments are keeping with the status quo, instead of investing in cloud technologies that are secure, affordable and enable more rapid innovation. This is a phenomenon that we call the digital dilemma — the complexity and cost of legacy IT systems limits how governments can serve their constituents now and prevents them from investing in innovation that will be critical to future success.

Here are six ways government leaders can recognize if their mission is being hindered by legacy IT.

1. Employees are asking for more.

When employees ask for real-time access to information, or request mobile applications and smartphones to be enabled on the network, do you often find yourself or your IT team apologizing as they say they can’t support that functionality? Have you come across any teams bypassing IT?

These types of requests and rogue projects are often a sign that teams on the front line of the mission need more modern, productive ways to engage with customers, data and workflows to support their efforts.

2. Upgrades are costly and time-consuming.

Because legacy on-premise systems tend to be more clunky and less agile, it can be hard for an organization to upgrade its infrastructure and applications to meet new requirements. When a legacy IT system is upgraded, it’s often a costly and time-consuming project. Upgrading dated infrastructure and adding new capabilities and workflows is more complicated and requires more time than with more modern multi-tenant, cloud-based platforms.

3. When you hear “Frankenstein IT,” you let out a knowing chuckle.

Whether the upgrade is a timely project or a lengthy overhaul, such initiatives are prone to layers of custom coding, point solutions, homegrown fixes and jerry-rigged ideas. This is because as an application or infrastructure gets stretched further and further beyond its intended design, it requires more resources and workarounds to meet new demands.

The result is often a confusing, complicated, messy architecture that puts organizations at greater risk for increased spend, impedes collaboration and misses opportunities to turn new ideas into business growth opportunities.

4. You celebrate the “donkey apps.”

Do your latest-and-greatest IT projects solve a single, isolated task without supporting all the task’s inputs and outputs? Do more comprehensive, multi-faceted solutions, like managing all aspects of a complex case on one platform or assigning next steps directly from a dashboard, sound like distant goals from the future?

The lack of a modern, flexible platform leads to “donkey apps,” which typically fill a particular need, but aren’t part of a larger strategy and architecture that takes future needs into account. This forces organizations into an unproductive cycle: build more solutions, point-by-point and layer-upon-layer, without ever investing in a more strategic, comprehensive and reliable IT approach needed to stay relevant long-term.

5. You can name the specific person(s) that everyone in the department turns to when they need to pull a report.

Legacy IT systems are infamous for locking data away in the back office, making it hard for someone without a background in data science to gather, analyze or explain reports.

Schema-based templates can combine only so many types of data fields to produce reports, which often requires an expert to stitch together reports on a one-off basis to surface insights buried in the data. This kind of manual process is not conducive to the real-time reporting needed to turn insights into action, making it more difficult for managers to justify asking for more resources or provide stakeholders with clear transparency.

6. Teams live and die by traditional desktop productivity tools.

How often are quarterly reports delivered via spreadsheets or slideware, as opposed to live, clickable dashboards? How much of your daily communications rely on having the right folks copied on an email?

Many legacy IT systems were designed before social and mobile technology became ubiquitous. Such systems are unable to support modern employee communication tools like digital forums, self-service knowledge base software, and mobile, social and intelligent interactions.

These symptoms are common and have critical impacts on the public sector. If you recognize your organization is suffering from the digital dilemma, it’s time to consider moving from legacy IT to the cloud.

Kevin Paschuck is the chief operating officer and senior vice president of enterprise sales for Salesforce's Public Sector Business unit. He is responisble for the strategy, execution and success of sales, marketing, solutions engineering and business development for federal, state, and local government, as well as aerospace and defense, and commercial system integrator markets.

*The Center for Digital Government is part of e.Republic, Government Technology’s parent company.