Texas Looks to Revitalize Tech Infrastructure

Assessment prescribes a modernization process to make legacy IT systems more nimble.

by / October 13, 2014
A new report has shown a large part of Texas' state IT infrastructure to be obsolete. Shutterstock

More than half of Texas state agency mission-critical systems are outdated and in need of replacement or upgrade, according to a new report issued by the Texas Department of Information Resources (DIR).

Released on Oct. 1, the Legacy Systems Study revealed that many of the hardware and software components supporting the Texas’ 4,130 business applications are considered “legacy” and no longer supported by vendors. The lack of support could expose the state to a higher degree of security risk and increased expense to address technical issues with the systems.

As a result, the DIR has identified a number of steps to fully modernize the technology infrastructure across all state agencies. One of the first moves should be a transition to cloud-based products and shared services, according to John Van Hoorn, director of enterprise solution services for the DIR.

“State of Texas applications in place today originated before many of these [cloud-based offerings] were considered stable, viable options,” Van Hoorn said. “With the aging inventory identified by the Legacy Systems Study, there is an opportunity for agencies to seriously consider these packaged solutions as an efficient path to modernization and consolidation.”

Other recommendations included in the report include:

  • Developing an impact analysis and mitigation plan to address security risks in agency legacy systems.
  • Amending Texas Government Code to authorize the DIR to develop a comprehensive modernization strategy in collaboration with state agencies.
  • Furthering the DIR’s ability to build upon the modernization strategy by establishing a statewide application development framework and focusing on technology standardization.
  • Enabling the DIR to create a voluntary statewide application portfolio management pilot program for agencies with best practices and toolkits.

Data Collection

The Legacy Systems Study was conducted over an 18-month period and was mandated by the Texas State Legislature through House Bill 2738. The measure required an evaluation of the state’s current technology status, excluding the systems operated by state colleges and universities and those agencies that are statutorily exempt from reporting information to the DIR.

Work started in June 2013, as the DIR developed a stakeholder engagement plan and worked with more than 85 agencies to collect data on their applications and IT systems. That took about a year, at which point the DIR and Gartner Consulting Services analyzed more than 13,000 physical and virtual servers, and 100,000 software products that support state services. Each agency was also queried about the business, technical, financial and architectural value of their business applications.

The process wasn’t easy, however. Van Hoorn said it was challenging for the agencies to gather and provide complete data on their hardware and software. Not every office had tools in place to collect the information. But the end result was beneficial for the DIR, as the assessment was a key component of the analysis work.

“It merged hard facts with a business perspective, allowing us to weigh technical state, financial commitments, and business value – driving to options for remediation and recommendations for processes or tools that could improve the state’s IT service posture,” Van Hoorn said.

Next Steps

If state leaders and lawmakers move forward with the report’s recommendations, Van Hoorn cautioned that the changes will take time – years, not months. He explained that modernization has to address the cumulative effect of outdated and unsupported technology from the last several years.

Van Hoorn also noted that there are a number of competing priorities within an agency between the business and IT groups that make the need for fact-based decision-making about technology important. He encouraged business leaders within state agencies to partner with their tech counterparts to better understand how the choices they make in deployment can impact IT maintenance efforts.

Right now, a model for that communication between the parties doesn’t exist, Van Hoorn said, and it’ll take collaborative work from all parties and a committed vision from leadership to get there.

One of the low-hanging fruits that can be accomplished fairly rapidly is identifying where agencies can “start first” in terms of standardization. The Legacy Systems Study’s comparative analysis used a framework under the moniker of TIME – Tolerate, Invest, Migrate, Eliminate – to assist agencies in figuring out how to proceed with IT modernization.

“Ultimately the approaches must have a clear method of tracking and reporting on progress,” he said. “The activity is a cycle, and we must be able to manage the life cycle of all the state applications.”

Brian Heaton

Brian Heaton was a writer for Government Technology magazine from 2011 to mid-2015.