Practical, agile approaches build momentum for IT modernization

The study showed that 81 percent of agencies indicated that they would tear up and replace all of their organization’s core systems if they could, but they remain dependent upon them, especially the large systems that operate their core functions. These systems possess an agency’s DNA, and they cannot be simply abandoned.

According to the survey, 82 percent of respondents indicated that their “legacy systems contain trapped value—data and capabilities that can be used for innovative new products, services, processes and business models but are not being leveraged.” They also overwhelmingly believe (87 percent) that although legacy systems hold information that is critical to their organization, they must navigate to new technologies in a way that secures the best of both worlds.

So what’s needed? Agencies need to adopt digital decoupling, which is a hybrid approach that allows legacy systems to run in parallel with new technologies as modernization initiatives roll out over time, steadily reducing technical debt.

Digital decoupling uses new technologies, development methodologies and migration methods to build new systems that execute on top of legacy systems. Using this approach, organizations can gradually decouple their core systems, migrating critical functionality and data to new platforms at a pace the agency requires and can support.

At its core, digital decoupling emphasizes three key elements:

  • Creating a Platform or Ecosystem Vision—Make smarter decisions related to needed enhancements and target architecture by understanding the future mission, business or operational requirements as well as plans for the agency’s digital environment.
  • Prioritizing Near-term Constraints—Identify current chokepoints, liabilities and risks to establish where near-term intervention can have the most significant and immediate impact.
  • Adopting Continuous Modernization—Reduce risk while accelerating time-to-value by shifting to an agile model using DevOps for iterative development and incremental delivery.

The shift to digital decoupling will allow agencies to:

  • Be more responsive to changing requirements, shifting priorities as needed to deliver capabilities more quickly.
  • Guard against the accumulation of additional technical debt through a regular and ongoing process of updating core components as needed.
  • Capture benefits incrementally so that initial cost savings can be reinvested to fund subsequent phases of the project.

Given the scope and scale of the federal government, building momentum for modernization efforts can be daunting. However, there is reason to believe that agencies can adopt the necessary practices and techniques, such as digital decoupling, required for modernization. These practical, agile approaches provide a way forward for government agencies that control costs, mitigate risks, and deliver critical new capabilities.

Dave McClure

Principal Director – CIO Advisory ​

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