Federal agencies are facing critical needs for information technology upgrades and enhancements. Not only are many of today’s government systems antiquated, they are also expensive to maintain and manage. The core systems have undergone so many changes over the years that the source code has become virtually obscure. Add to this tardy application response times, clumsiness in data handling, problems with connectivity and integration, lack of flexibility to add new services and functionalities, lack of web capabilities, growing license fees and maintenance costs, and the dwindling number of resources capable of supporting these systems, and you have the perfect recipe for impending disaster. There is a general recognition that IT infrastructure modernization is necessary for meeting today’s expanded federal government needs.
A modernized IT infrastructure that is architected appropriately, would be much easier for Federal agencies to maintain, and less costly to secure. Since a modernized IT infrastructure would consist of components that cost less, last longer and require less labor to operate and maintain, the total cost of ownership would also be considerably lower. In addition, modernization would improve the interoperability of government IT and provide unified real-time access to information, as well as visibility across agencies to data residing on disparate systems. This will create a collaborative environment and contribute to faster and better decision making.
What Modernization Entails
Modernization often entails migration from legacy systems and determining ways to achieve greater collaboration and interagency sharing, dealing more effectively with unstructured data, and consolidating silos of information. Modernization will involve migration of large volumes of data and complex business rules to new systems. An effective migration strategy needs to be put in place for identifying master and transaction data and moving them from existing systems to new enterprise systems or custom applications. To maintain a technological edge, Federal agencies must adopt an enterprise-wide service oriented architecture that is interoperable with systems in other Federal departments and can share information with non-traditional partners. Successful enterprise-wide solutions generally drive down the total cost of ownership while offering a single source for real-time online data that is available when needed.
Modernization: Available Options
Most legacy environments are expensive in terms of both hardware infrastructure, as well as software license fees. The need to reduce this expense is a significant driver for many organizations to modernize their legacy systems. CIOs have multiple options for application modernization, including redevelopment of applications, divestiture, and outsourcing. Redevelopment of such complex applications to be at par with modern industry standards would be a monumental task in terms of the costs involved, and the time it would take to complete development. While divestiture may meet key business needs in many cases, they often do have limitations, and here again, the cost will be prohibitive. Outsourcing may not be an option open to the Federal CIO, and even if it is, it can have serious disadvantages including loss of quality and scheduling control. There are various other available options however, that can be examined as a means to modernizing existing technologies. These include Cloud Computing, Unified Communications, Services Oriented Architectures (SOA) and Virtualization, all of which can also contribute substantially to reducing overall costs.
By using Cloud services government agencies can gain access to powerful technology resources faster and at lower costs. Government departments can save scarce resources for mission critical programs rather than spending it on purchasing, configuring and maintaining redundant IT infrastructure. Federal departments can significantly reduce their IT costs and complexities, optimize workload and improve service delivery by adopting Cloud Computing. It provides a way to increase capacity or add capabilities on the fly without investing in new infrastructure, training new personnel or licensing new software. Incorporating cloud computing into the data center consolidation plan can minimize the government’s carbon footprint, reduce IT fragmentation, improve resource utilization, and conserve electrical power and fuel.
Government agencies can transition to the Cloud at their own pace. Security risks are often cited as the number one concern while transitioning to Cloud Computing. Modernization offers a step-by-step approach that enables government agencies to move non-core functions to the Cloud first, and once that has been successfully accomplished, move core functionalities as well. Transitioning to a private cloud is one option – providing the same web benefits from within the boundary of an agency’s own firewall. A private cloud enables agencies to leverage benefits like pay-as-you-go licensing and elasticity – from within their own data centers, at their own pace. Another option would be to move a single application into the Cloud environment. Moving a single application will demonstrate the ease with which applications can be transitioned to a different operating environment while maintaining full agency control over the data.
New technologies like unified communications offer exciting opportunities for expanding human collaboration within organizations and hold tremendous potential for supporting business strategies that rely on increased customer self service, enhanced employee productivity and streamlined processes. Unified communication provides government workers with the flexibility to reach their colleagues and access the information they need anywhere, anytime. It enables faster, better informed, collaborative decision making, which allows governments to improve the way they serve and protect the citizens. Combining unified communications with Web 2.0 technologies, such as mash ups and blogs can enhance service delivery to citizens. When successfully deployed, Unified Communications helps organizations reach their goals and meet deadlines by enhancing communication and access to data. It increases efficiency and reduces the time taken to share information. Because these technologies are IP-based, existing infrastructure investments can be leveraged, new features can be added as and when needed, and under-utilized network capacities can be tapped. The best way to reap the benefit of Unified Communications without having to deal with the complexity of integrating and managing the different technologies involved, is to leave the heavy lifting part to a managed services provider.
Service Oriented Architecture
Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) is useful for all major agencies because it offers the flexibility for rapid deployment of new software applications with minimum relative cost impact. SOA Integration involves re-using existing legacy systems by wrapping them with SOA interfaces. SOA Integration provides Federal agencies with increased agility as legacy components can be used as part of a new SOA based architecture. It allows government departments to adapt new technologies while responding to changing user needs. SOA reduces system complexity and deployment risks through a shared development style, uniform standards and common interfaces. By adopting a service oriented approach agencies can achieve the following benefits:
- Improved agility and responsiveness
- Ability to support net-centric operations and secure information sharing
- Ability to enhance and maintain management visibility and provide decision support
- Reduction in cost of application development as well as that of operating an enterprise
Virtualization abstracts software from hardware and enables greater flexibility in processing IT services on different resources, at different locations, and at lower hardware and maintenance costs. In addition, server virtualization can extend the use of existing data center space and existing power and cooling capacity while increasing operational efficiency. Using a standardized platform is another option for government agencies to cut costs and boost performance. Standardization allows service providers to deliver utility IT services to a number of clients, thus helping them achieve better economies of scale. This will enable them to provide the services at lower prices.
Benefits of Modernization
Government agencies can expect to realize a number of benefits through modernization of their IT environment, including the following:
- Significant reduction in cost
- Reduced dependency on legacy skill sets
- Elimination of data silos resulting in greater flexibility
- Extended ROI from existing systems
- Better connectivity and integration
- Improved application response times and data handling capabilities
Legacy systems are an organization’s biggest assets. The amount of data that these systems have accumulated over the years is invaluable and irreplaceable. Many Federal organizations depend on legacy systems for day-to-day operations. Though most of these systems have become obsolete and unwieldy, doing away with them altogether will be like throwing the baby out with the bath water. It is not an economically viable option. What is required is to leverage existing investments in IT applications so as to be able to address changing business requirements with agility. Legacy modernization using options like Cloud Computing, Unified Communications, Services Oriented Architectures and Virtualization is the answer.