Why Federal IT Modernization is a Big Deal

Apr 08, 2021

Aelaf Midekssha - Cisco, CCNA, CCIE and CCDA

Consultant Engineer


Businesses across all industries have traditionally been reluctant to migrate to new technologies and processes while leaving behind their tried-and-true practices. For sectors that are heavily regulated, it is even harder to modernize their hardware and software infrastructures due to the number of considerations and challenges that can be introduced.

It's no surprise, then, that parts of the federal government have been slow to upgrade and are still gradually making changes to their IT portfolios. In general, significant headway has been made in terms of data center consolidation efforts and cloud migration, but how much progress is the government making on other aspects of its IT infrastructure? Let's take a look at the movement of federal IT modernization and how agencies are being impacted by these shifts.

Lots of Focus on Legacy

As much as some government agencies want to move to better solutions, many of their services and operations still rely heavily on legacy technology. In fact, as recently as FY 2019 the Federal government expected to spend about 80% of its IT budget on older systems, according to the GAO. This money mostly goes toward support and maintenance for this infrastructure, leaving little in the way of funds for integrating, modernizing and enhancing available solutions. To aide in the effort of modernization, the Biden administration has increased the IT modernization fund by $1 billion with the recent COVID-19 relief bill. This would go toward improving skillsets, developing better infrastructure and evolving current applications and hardware.

The aspect to understand here is that none of this change will happen overnight, and it certainly won't come easily. Federal organizations are dependent on their outdated systems because they are familiar, and they just work. A briefing by the Government Business Council noted that some agencies are working with network infrastructure that is over 20 years old. By updating this area alone in 2016, the federal government could have saved $7 billion by 2020. Although the journey will be a challenging one, by using open standards and virtualization, government institutions can make great strides toward modernization.

The Risks of Transitions

Although government groups can take advantage of a number of benefits when modernizing, this journey does have some risk involved. A Norton Security study found "legacy applications require employees with special knowledge
to maintain" so when agencies do not plan their modernization journey or plan for modernizing legacy applications correctly there can be security gaps. Respondents also noted that complex management tools and a lack of training forced many of these initiatives to be left incomplete. When it comes to successfully modernizing, organizations must have sufficient budgets and tight collaboration efforts. These abilities will help lower the overall risk and address potential security concerns.

Introducing New Concepts

Although a number of trends like the cloud and mobile devices may be commonplace to commercial enterprises and the public alike, many government entities still consider this technology to be 'new'. In fact, more agencies are jumping in to support mobile efforts, but there are still improvements that can be made. In 2019, The Government Accountability Office found that those agencies that invested and carried out modernization efforts gained a wide range of benefits and improvements. When the efforts made by the 24 agencies were compared to IT modernization best practices, they had a total of 94 examples of successful modernizations.

In addition to the new ideas around technology and software, government organizations should consider the human element as well. This approach should not be new, but many agencies typically design processes to suit their workflows rather than placing public service as a main priority. In many cases, government agencies are creating applications and websites that provide the public with information, services and feedback portals, so keeping the needs of constituents front and center is key. This type of initiative will be essential in improving federal IT modernization efforts and overall civic satisfaction.

Federal IT is continually advancing to keep up with agency and civic demands. However, there is still a long way to go. By understanding the technology and being willing to try something new, government organizations can create a smoother transition and deliver better services across the board.

Category: Technology