Even as cloud computing, automation, and artificial intelligence became common features in IT systems, the federal government was using systems that in some cases, used floppy disks and were programmed with computer languages that are essentially extinct. The costly, continued use of some older systems has accelerated the movement toward digital transformation. Across agencies there are countless examples of new solutions that provide better security, accessibility, and customer experience to stakeholders and citizens. For example, the Department of Treasury has used AI to detect and prevent fraud and the U.S. Army has incorporated cloud based services that improved security, compliance, and hybrid working conditions.
Achieving these successes has required overhauling systems with legacy architectures that are more than 50 years old. The enormous scope of this task can be broken down into a manageable approach call pragmatic modernization, according to, Larry Reagan, Vice President of Federal Services at Maximus, and Ray Lefebvre, former Director of Data Delivery Services at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
“With pragmatic modernization,” explained Lefebvre, “organizations solve the problem of how to implement their robust strategies.”
The pragmatic modernization approach starts by identifying elements that require modernization. Then agencies can plan out steps for each of these modernization efforts and prioritize them accordingly. This process allows agencies to implement their modernization efforts on an incremental timeline reducing the risk of system failures and technical rework.
“The transition from massive legacy systems to new, more streamlined ones is not as simple as switching the old off and turning on the new,” Larry Reagan explained. “There are often connections that must remain between the legacy systems and the new ones for a time period before the transition can be declared a success.”
To ensure a successful migration, these experts recommend using agile methodologies, such as the strangler pattern. It takes complex legacy architectures and works to separate the individual layers. This allows agencies to modernize each individual layer over time, without interrupting the legacy architecture from delivering their mission-critical functions. Over time, the large and complex legacy base is retired and replaced by more agile, modernized software.
In addition to being agile as a central enabler of pragmatic modernization, this approach must have access to experts who understand the intricacies of an agency’s legacy program during this process. Their insight into how the programs function will allow agencies to implement modern technology while minimizing risk and increasing sustainability.
Reagan explained that using “this approach is not just about the modernization of agency legacy programs, it’s about creating an optimized citizen experience that reinforces trust in federal agencies. Especially for the IRS, the taxpayer must trust that the IRS has appropriate cybersecurity measures and sufficient identity protections in place across all channels.”
Just as implementing the first federal computer programs presented many technical challenges for agencies and cultural challenges for users, digital transformation comes with its own set of difficulties to overcome. With guidance from the right experts and proven techniques such as pragmatic modernization, agencies can mitigate the risks and complexities so that today’s IT systems can maintain their viability decades from now.
Learn more about creating and implementing a pragmatic digital transformation plan for your agency here.