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WaTech Proposes Legislation to Create an IT Modernization Fund

Washington state CIO Bill Kehoe said the agency would like to create a fund to help state government take the necessary steps toward modernizing old, legacy technology systems.

Washington state CIO Bill Kehoe
Government Technology/David Kidd
Technology leaders in the state of Washington want to make it easier for state government departments and agencies to modernize old, legacy technology systems.

Washington Technology Solutions, the state’s consolidated technology agency — known as WaTech — is proposing legislation that would establish a “legacy modernization fund” to supply grants to agencies as they undertake the modernization process. The fund would be administered by a multidisciplinary leadership group, which would review applications and make a determination on funding.

“If governments are going to move forward with transformation of their services to the public, they must have a plan to modernize their legacy systems. You can no longer push this issue down the road for others to deal with,” said state CIO Bill Kehoe, who also serves as the director of WaTech. He made his comments during a Nov. 23 Coffee with Bill podcast episode.

Departments and agencies, working in tandem with IT departments, should develop modernization strategies to sunset outdated legacy systems, which Kehoe describes as “any system that presents a constraint or risk to the line of business that it supports.”

Governments may give the “legacy” designation to a system because of its age or lack of vendor support, he added. These legacy systems range from mainframe systems using COBOL to other languages that are no longer supported or may be outdated. They can be client-server applications, database systems, or systems written in dated operating system languages.

Some 40 percent to 60 percent of government applications are considered legacy, he said.

“This is a result of many years of not addressing the problem, due to lack of budgets, and the complexity of modernizing systems that, in some cases, have been in place and performing well for 30 or 40 years,” said Kehoe. “It is easy to kick the can down the road to the next CIO or agency to deal with the problem, given the risk of the modernization process.”

When systems are not modernized, data is often siloed, difficult to access and not used to its fullest potential.

A greater concern revolves around the security risk legacy systems present, due to their dated operating systems, lack of vendor upgrades, and a lack of vendor and government expertise to maintain the system.

“We are urging each agency to develop a legacy modernization strategy that is aligned to agency strategic goals, and to prioritize the modernization of your legacy systems, and also look to align their modernizations with their data strategy, security requirements, and address business process improvements so they are not putting a modern system in with legacy business processes,” said Kehoe during the podcast.

Editor's note: The headline of this article has been adjusted for clarity.