From fighting fires to shaping the future: 4 steps to IT modernization

A sense of urgency is important, but agencies must map a clear path forward before rushing in.

machine data (pluie_r/Shutterstock.com)

There’s no doubt that IT modernization is essential to reducing costs, improving security and optimizing outcomes. Yet plenty of questions remain about where and how to start. Too often, answers come in the form of firefighting -- systems are doused with modernization when they’re “on fire” or fail.  

While it’s important to maintain a sense of urgency, rushing modernization efforts can lead agencies to repeat past mistakes and miss opportunities. A better approach to creating a clear strategy is outlining a clear, actionable path forward, grounded in enhanced customer experience upgrades and recognizable improvements in major program operations and service delivery.

Experience points to four essential steps to creating an effective strategy:

Step 1: Create a baseline. When agency CIOs inherit large, complex and opaque environments it can be challenging to determine which systems are modernization priorities. Application Portfolio Management, which combines benchmarking and analysis of the current state, can help. In addition to evaluating system health and performance, APM often uncovers system interdependencies that span across the portfolio. It also helps uncover “shadow IT” and other program-maintained applications.

Leading with APM enables a more complete understanding of current strategies, drivers, commitments and liabilities -- all of which are essential for more effective planning. Additionally, it provides tangible talking points to support cost-versus-value discussions between IT and the business.

Step 2: Define a mission-driven strategy. IT environments don’t operate in a vacuum. Systems and applications are closely tied to the business operations, services and processes they support. In fact, they move in concert with each other -- making it crucial that a proposed modernization strategy earn the full backing of the business.

That backing won’t come through technical benefits alone. Program leaders will want to know about the business dividends of modernization, and CIOs must be prepared to educate executive management on the strategic goals of their proposed modernization programs. Explain how improved agility, more-actionable insight and lower total cost of ownership can impact leadership’s ability to meet mission goals by using APM data to highlight current constraints and illustrate future objectives.

As much as possible, agencies should create a joint strategy for simultaneously modernizing not just IT systems but also the business processes they power. (My colleagues and I have created a playbook that details a “hot list” of issues likely to draw the attention of senior decisionmakers.) Emphasize the value of simplification, consolidation and standardization -- and consider introducing human-centered design or service design as frameworks for integrating user requirements consistently across the customer journey.

Step 3: Build the roadmap. Once armed with stakeholder input and buy-in for individual requirements and overall priorities, CIOs can transform application gap analysis into actionable modernization roadmaps. Modernization can take many shapes financially and technically. Some of the most common options include rearchitecting, remediating or refactoring legacy systems to deliver more modern performance and interoperability; re-platforming systems from high-cost hardware to cloud-ready platforms; replacing systems with new COTS, SaaS or custom applications; or simply retiring systems that no longer have value to the agency.

When modernizing monolithic legacy systems, consider a hybrid strategy -- with critical capabilities layered in near term while working to unlock core business data, logic and rules for use in new applications. Using application discovery tools, CIOs can identify and map “black box” functionality for easier export and use.

To determine which systems to modernize and when, weigh the potential impact or benefits -- cost savings, improved performance and/or better cyber hygiene -- against project complexity and, by extension, cost, time requirements and risk. It may make sense to pursue a two-track strategy where the primary focus is advancing the mission with more agile, transformative capabilities while lowering long-term sustainment and operational costs. As a secondary focus, consider chartering a dedicated team to pursue quick-win opportunities that deliver rapid ROI by rationalizing and retiring redundant systems.

A two-track strategy lets agencies pursue and provision each objective appropriately -- ensuring that tactical cost savings don’t come at the expense of more strategic objectives.

Step 4: Organize for success. When it comes to long-term, sustainable success, how you execute is as important as how you build. Scale and industrialize efforts by creating dedicated teams and centers of excellence for core aspects of IT modernization. Adopt agile and other iterative approaches to help manage risk -- especially when looking to migrate static implementations to very dynamic cloud environments. And, ensure strong governance with active participation of business stakeholders to ensure forward momentum and alignment with the mission.

Although it may be impossible to eradicate modernization “fires,” agencies are wise to focus resources on crafting a more thoughtful, proactive approach. These four steps will help agencies craft a strategy that empowers them to stretch limited funding -- and to maximize the technical and mission benefits of modernization.

NEXT STORY: New DOD CIO talks cloud

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.