RESEARCH REPORT

In brief

In brief

  • Legacy systems are putting agencies in danger. Fifty-eight percent revealed their agency had 2-3 major disruptions in the past decade.
  • Technical debt impedes IT innovation and agility. Eighty-three percent said it severely limits innovation and 79 percent report it inhibits the ability to change.
  • Agencies must implement decoupling strategies to unlock legacy IT's value. Eighty-seven percent say they want the best of new IT, but only 36 percent have a clear strategy.


New research reveals how federal agencies can unlock IT value and agility by remediating technical debt.

There is widespread consensus across the federal government to the need for IT modernization. However, overcoming often decades of underinvestment and the subsequent constraints of legacy systems requires new thinking on how we manage and remediate technical debt.

In making the case for IT modernization, federal executives too often fail to consider the full impact of technical debt. While many recognize the cost to upgrade legacy system, they fail to account for current inefficiencies, strategic liabilities, and lost opportunities to innovate, improve performance and realize economies of scale. Thus, the status quo continues to linger despite real threats to business continuity and real potential to transform.

New approaches can enable a more strategic understanding of technical debt, including assessing potential paths forward for optimal outcomes. Fueled by the increasing maturity of DevOps, agencies can pursue hybrid strategies that iteratively add new functionality while core business logic and data is decoupled, exposed via APIs and migrated to new platforms. These hybrid digital decoupling or continuous modernization strategies allow agencies to transform themselves at a pace that they require and can sustain.

RELATED: Dave McClure discusses leading IT modernization in government

What’s blocking IT modernization? Technical debt

Drawing on the responses of 185 federal IT leaders, the Accenture Federal Digital Decoupling Survey serves to clarify and quantify these issues. Among the key findings:

  • Legacy systems are putting agencies in danger.  Fifty-eight percent revealed that their agency experienced between 2-3 major disruptions or outages over the past decade, with just 4 percent avoiding any discontinuities over this time period.
  • Technical debt and resulting IT discontinuities impede innovation and agility. Eighty-three percent indicated that technical debt severely limits their ability to be innovative and 79 percent report that it inhibits their responsiveness to change.
  • Agencies need to implement decoupling strategies to unlock the value inside legacy IT. Eighty-seven percent responded that they want the best of new IT and legacy by navigating to new technologies in a way that secures the best of both worlds, but only 36 percent said they have a clear strategy.
According to Accenture analysis of CAST Appmarq data, government had the highest technical debt per application—up to five times greater—of 11 industries examined. The analysis also found that it is 2.5 times more expensive to manage applications that are ten years or older compared with new applications.

Dave McClure

Principal Director – CIO Advisory ​

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Get the Essentials

Accenture Federal Services’ CIO Advisory and IT modernization teams worked with Accenture Research to survey 185 federal IT executives to learn how technical debt is impacting federal agencies.

Decouple to Innovate

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Full research report

Learn how technical debt constrains agencies.

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Dave McClure: Accelerating IT modernization

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Federal CIO strategy leader Dave McClure explains how IT executives can drive & sustain transformative change.

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Key Findings

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Get an overview of key research findings.

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