The recent budget handed down by the federal government offered fairly slim pickings for the IT industry. The e-Health reforms are still on the table, while other projects such as new passport issuing systems, defence data centre upgrades and efforts to combat money laundering and organised crime were also announced.
But, generally speaking, in an effort to bring the budget deficit back into the black, the government has taken a pretty conservative approach to IT spend. Which poses the question: Has there been any consideration taken towards modernising legacy IT systems? Could this be one sensible way to cut costs and, at the same time, bring some of these ancient systems — and let’s face it, many government bodies are running on some pretty archaic infrastructure — into the 21st century?
Application modernisation can offer an attractive alternative to expensive, time-intensive and risky re-write or replacement strategies. Whether the end goal is to Web-enable user interfaces, migrate applications to more cost-effective platforms or to pursue cloud computing, application modernisation allows legacy applications to integrate with newer technology, while preserving existing code and business logic that still delivers value. Why should government departments consider application modernisation? Three main reasons:
Not only does it avoid the significant costs, effort and interopability risks that departments would otherwise face by choosing to upgrade legacy systems, it allows government bodies to change at a pace which suits them and their organisational goals.
Unlike a complete overhaul of a system — say a re-write or replacement project which are enormous undertakings and often result in finished products which don’t live up to a department’s pre-defined goals — a modernisation approach allows these agencies to cherry pick the applications to upgrade. This allows for incremental modernisation deployments which better align to a department’s goals and are less overwhelming for those involved. But, however a department chooses to upgrade, it nonetheless faces a critical question: Where do we start?
As always, a well researched and planned investment will reap better rewards than an ill-prepared, cobbled-together one. Choosing which legacy applications to modernise for maximum return is no different. By following a simple, four-step process, government bodies can identify those legacy applications that are intrinsic to their services and that will deliver the most return once modernised.
Step 1: Work out what you have
Before you even think about modernising any applications, you have to know what you actually have. A thorough inventory of your applications should identify the resources an application uses, who uses the application, the purpose of the application, how large it is, the complexity of the code, and all key performance indicators related to the department’s performance. There are numerous testing and analytical tools which can streamline this process and allow for a more accurate record.
Step 2: Eliminate the waste
This is a perfect opportunity to determine exactly what you need and what you don’t. For example, you might have two applications performing similar tasks that can be combined. You might opt to migrate data to one of those applications and shut the other down. Or, there might be some applications whose level of use simply doesn’t justify their cost. Through training and awareness, you can ensure your resources are being used as efficiently as possible, giving you greater ROI.
Step 3: What’s it worth?
Now that you’ve figured out what you actually have and weeded out all the redundant applications, it’s time to assess the business value of the surviving applications. There are a number of ways to do this, but the important thing to remember here is to involve all key stakeholders in the process. Your detailed inventory of applications will help, but it’s critical to get buy-in from all concerned to ensure you get an honest assessment of what is truly valuable.
Step 4: Prioritise projects
Every government department will have a different approach to ranking projects — it all depends on your goals and objectives. Some agencies will differentiate projects based on cost; others will do it according to ‘low hanging’ fruit to actually get the whole process off the ground. In some cases, modernising applications within the IT department may provide a solid first step, especially if it means the team can then more effectively complete modernisation projects down the track. Through this process, you may well discover some investments aren’t cost effective — that’s ok. It’s better to know upfront than meeting a nasty surprise at the end of a project.
At the end of the day, change can be hard to implement. No one likes it, even when we know it’s the right thing to do. But, through application modernisation, government bodies have a unique opportunity to not just minimise risk, but to avoid unnecessary costs, while still taking advantage of new technology. By taking the four-step approach into consideration, governments can remove inefficiencies, build on the resources they already have and reveal those ‘jewels in the crown’ which will provide the most return on their modernisation investments.
Bruce Craig is general country manager for Micro Focus Australia/New Zealand
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