People and processesChange ManagementLegacy IT – the biggest barrier to transformation?

Legacy IT – the biggest barrier to transformation?

Is legacy IT one of the biggest barriers to public sector transformation - and how can it be overcome?

Legacy IT — inflexible on-premise systems that are difficult and costly to maintain and improve — is still all-too prevalent in the public sector. Indeed, a statistic from Global Data shared at the recent OpenText Innovation Tour event in London suggested that a whopping 64% of public sector IT spend is consumed by legacy IT. What’s more, a recent Gartner survey of government CIOs around the globe found that 13% of public sector technology budgets were allocated towards legacy modernisation in 2017.

That figure probably doesn’t surprise most people involved with government technology. Peter Ford, Public Sector Industry Principal at Pegasystems comments: “In the UK, the government and the service it provides has an enormous historical legacy to contend with. UK Government service provision started over 400 years ago with basic services such as defence of the realm and law and order. Service demand has increased to the point where some 40% of GDP is now consumed in the provision of public service. In the UK the gradual evolution of service and provider has led to a complex set of organisations, processes and policies that make transformation difficult. If we had to start again, we would not choose to start from here!

“Government departments and local authorities have to maintain their legacy estates as well as reduce costs. Simultaneously, they need to deal with the ever-increasing pace of change and different service demands from either politicians or constituents. Today’s constituents expect to interact with the government just as they would with their bank or online retailer, and expect a similar level of service.”


Legacy IT and data security

Those thoughts are echoed by Andrew Brickell, Director of Public Sector at Ivanti, especially from a data security perspective.

Arguably, the three biggest barriers at the moment are budget, legacy and siloed systems,” he says. “That’s in addition to regulations such as the GDPR and NIS Directive, which may detract from transformational work, or encourage work to be focused on very specific areas surrounding data protection.

“However, not transforming systems arguably introduces even more challenges because cloud, third party apps, bring your own device (BYOD) and mobile working introduce a whole new layer of IT and security threats every day. The most widely used legacy security tools pre-date them, meaning they are now being asked to address problems that they were never developed to encounter in the first place. As well as this, all too often, a hotchpotch of legacy solutions like firewalls, anti-virus and intrusion prevention, are all that stands between an organisation’s data and a security breach. These solutions can only detect ‘known’ threats and, in isolation, are no match for the increasingly well-planned, well-funded attacks that modern organisations have to face.

“I believe that public sector organisations have a responsibility to digitally transform because they have access to some, if not, the most sensitive data in the UK and are responsible for creating a trusted and safe environment for citizens. Unlike commercial organisations, public sector IT professionals seldom have the luxury of a dedicated security department and are operating with limited internal bandwidth and resources. So, the austerity agenda drives the search for new technologies that can do more for less; relying on legacy tools that require a large amount of manual input simply isn’t good, or efficient, enough.”


Holding back transformation

Another problem with the prevalence of legacy systems is that it can become an immovable barrier to effective transformation.

Public sector respondents to Couchbase’s survey were asked what factors were holding back their digital ambitions. Respondents answered:

    • Lack of resources – 53%
    • The complexity of using multiple technologies – 45%
    • Reliance on legacy database technology – 43%
    • We have nothing holding back our ambitions – 7%

Perry Krug, Principal Architect at Couchbase explains: “Local authorities are certainly not excluded from the digital revolution. Just like their counterparts in the private sector, they can use data to provide a truly modern experience and engage with citizens effectively. However, digital transformation is not without challenge. In Couchbase’s 2017 Digital Innovation Survey, 93% of digital decision-makers in the Public Sector said they are having their ambitions to use data for new digital services held back.

“The biggest barrier to successful digital transformation is a lack of resources – including having the funds to get the project underway and the right people to implement and manage the process. Other barriers cited included the complexity of using multiple technologies and, crucially, a reliance on legacy database technology.

“Databases underpin most digital transformation projects, so working with old or outdated technologies can reduce the scope of a digital project, delay it, or in some cases, mean that is it outright unfeasible. Of course, legacy databases still have their place, but a more modern, engagement database can help to overcome many data challenges and could help local authorities deliver projects that provide brilliant customer experience.”


Overcoming the barriers

With the above in mind, how can public sector organisations overcome the barriers? According to Brickell, a good place to start is to provide the right digital tools and break down departmental silos.

“The long-term benefits of digital transformation arguably overcome the barriers. A digitally transformed public sector will operate at a far higher level of efficiency, and so will save money. Furthermore, citizens will be happy with the better service that they receive from the public sector, so may even be willing to pay slightly higher taxes if they are able to see the benefit.

“As well as this, updating legacy IT and Security tools and systems, whilst smashing siloes between these two departments, will help protect the public sector from cyberattacks. This is because if IT and Security are working more in conjunction, fewer issues will slip between the cracks, which will prevent small issues from escalating into major problems.

“Security breaches are impossible to prevent 100% of the time – but by making the right tools and processes available to the right people we can greatly minimise risk. In many ways, IT service management teams form the IT frontline and have fantastic visibility over devices, which means they may be able to spot the early signs of a co-ordinated attack.

“This brings with it a more preventative approach to the GDPR and NIS Directive, which focuses on stopping attacks ever getting through. If an attack does still get through, a unified approach can also help streamline the detailed process that an organisation must follow to comply with these regulations.”


Enterprise platforms

Ford adds: “Councils and local authorities have some real challenges to serve constituents as they expect and deserve. The key is to implement change incrementally using Unified Enterprise Platforms that can provide single solutions to meet multiple similar, but not identical, needs.

“These platforms exist but care must be taken to select one that is built using the latest IT capabilities available and that can easily adjust to future change. These capabilities will deliver efficiencies though automation, self-service with contextual guidance supported by artificial intelligence, and an application that can keep pace with policy changes. By doing this, government can become proactive to constituent needs, offering “any door” to the services that they are entitled, making it easy for these to be claimed and delivered.”


Legacy thinking

However, before investing in relevant tools, Chris Bartlett, Business Unit Director – Public Sector at COMPAREX UK suggests the public sector needs to get rid of its ‘legacy thinking’.

“A barrier is, without doubt, legacy thinking. Too often, IT departments approach digital initiatives without considering the needs of end-users – be they constituents or employees. If this happens, grassroots ideas are often killed in the weeds, and projects will be misaligned or poorly-defined. Often, councils are not asking fundamental questions – what are we trying to achieve, what is our strategy, how does technology help us achieve this – at the beginning, meaning projects fail to deliver tangible benefits.

“Local authorities need to ensure they view digital transformation projects in light of the longer-term savings to justify short-term investments. Public sector CIOs need to put in place the right skills, and clear, robust planning, and understand that complexity is both inevitable and surmountable.”

The solution, according to Bartlett, centres around the fact that better digital services are fundamental to engaging with internal or external users.

“For instance, implementing a self-service IT portal for staff, or sophisticated online chat systems for incoming queries from citizens. CIOs in councils need to embrace innovative thinking, rather than being concerned with getting everything ‘right’ first time.

“Overall, local government bodies undertaking digital transformation projects need to focus on the digital destination, rather than being fixated on the journey, by challenging legacy mindsets and improving communication of goals of the council and the goals of IT.”

Legacy technology and a status quo approach to IT has become a common theme holding back the public sector’s digital transformation. However, as the above highlights, those barriers need to be overcome – and there are some relatively straightforward ways to do it.


DON’T MISS: We continue the discussion about barriers to digital transformation, including a look at why employee skills, funding, the need for speed and fibre can all help. Watch this space!

NOW LIVE: Breaking down the barriers to transformation

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