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Modernizing Legacy Systems Is Ultimately User-Centered Work

In 2023, we checked in with states on where they are with updating their major systems of record, from DMVs to ERPs. Many are overcoming tech debt with the end goal of a better resident experience.

server room with green data lines
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Flashy tech terms like “generative AI” and “quantum computing” tend to grab a lot of headlines on But behind all that, state and local governments are still hard at work on the nuts and bolts of what it takes to do the people’s business efficiently and effectively. And those people are what lay at the heart of much of the work jurisdictions put into modernizing legacy systems — both internal and public-facing — as agencies strived to put the user experience at the center of their work in 2023.

In a series of stories published in March, our reporters reached out to 18 states to see where they were with those major system overhauls, and without exception everyone was working on something big. Missouri went live in July with the first phase of an enterprise resource planning overhaul, focused on moving its budgeting functions to a cloud-based system. Idaho updated its tax portal, enabling taxpayers to apply online for property tax relief, just one of many improvements that has moved the state’s Tax Commission off paper systems while ensuring filings are on time and on budget statewide. And the proverbial bogeyman of government, departments of motor vehicles nationwide are working toward being more customer-friendly. In Oregon, for example, a new online license and vehicle registration system is now accessible on any device and accepts electronic signatures, with plans to add self-service kiosks and online exams late this year.

“From the very beginning, Oregon DMV treated this effort as a business improvement project: a way to re-envision how we serve customers,” said Ben Kahn, manager of innovation and planning at the Oregon Department of Transportation. In other words, maybe soon we won’t have to wait in line at the DMV.

That momentum is happening elsewhere as well. In February, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis recommended roughly $128 million be earmarked for cybersecurity, technical assistance grants for local governments, data sharing and three dozen new full-time IT positions. In its One Minnesota Budget, the state’s IT agency sought legislative support in seven categories, including shoring up cybersecurity, targeted application modernization, expanded accessibility and improved data-driven decision-making through GIS. A new strategic plan in New Jersey pointed toward more cloud services by 2025, and Utah released an RFP to upgrade its human capital management and payroll systems as part of a larger effort to address technical debt.

Overcoming that tech debt served as a motivator for many states, as did the continued flow of federal dollars from funding packages like the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and American Rescue Plan Act. An analysis from the Center for Digital Government (CDG)* predicted $134.4 billion in gov tech spending across verticals in 2023, up about 3 to 5 percent over 2022. CDG also forecast an upturn in managed services as agencies worked to keep up with the staffing that would be needed to oversee all that growth. When we asked CIOs at the National Association of State Chief Information Officers Midyear Conference about managed services in May, the general consensus was that there are advantages to hiring outside help, whether it’s for security monitoring or email maintenance or business intelligence expertise. Crucially, however, interviewees agreed that the responsibility for services needs to stay within government. After all, they’re the ones ultimately accountable to the people.

Much of this work comes back to a question GT Associate Editor Ben Miller asked in a column he wrote this past spring: Can government catch a break? The prevailing notion is that from the resident perspective, government is slow-moving and hard to do business with. But there are signs that things are improving. The public sector is noticeably getting better at providing a good constituent experience.

A lot of that progress comes from improvements to these major systems, the underpinnings of what makes government go. Updating those big acronyms — ERP, DMV, HCM, the list goes on — is what ultimately makes it so that the average person can have a better interaction with their state or city or county than they did in the past.

“Clearly there’s still a lot to do,” Miller wrote. “But in the meantime, the level of service provided by the government has reached a point where average people are beginning to see working with the government as something bearable — maybe even pleasant. There’s power in that.”

Click here to read the rest of our 2023 Year in Review coverage.

This story originally appeared in the December issue of Government Technology magazine. Click here to view the full digital edition online.
Lauren Kinkade is the managing editor for Government Technology magazine. She has a degree in English from the University of California, Berkeley, and more than 15 years’ experience in book and magazine publishing.