Modernizing Legacy Systems for State, Local and Education Agencies

Kelly Nevius | Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Modernizing Legacy Systems for State, Local and Education Agencies

Between the shift to remote work and the United State’s president’s agenda to improve customer experience and service delivery for the American people, state, local, and education departments (SLED) government agencies realize they need to modernize their technology. Crashing aging mainframes and dying hardware put a hardship on SLED agencies and the community they serve. Agencies stuck in legacy systems need the ability to handle desired digital demands, and that can only come about with modern technologies and IT professionals with the skills to operate them. 

The SLED market consists of states, cities, boroughs, parishes, cities, towns, municipalities, public schools, higher education, and special districts. Each of these independent organizations has its own unique needs, and the rules governing them differ. For example, the City of Los Angeles conducts procurements differently than those of the County of Los Angeles. However, for the different organizations in California, California Multiple Award Schedules (CMAS) offers a wide variety of commodity, non-IT Services, and information technology products and services at prices which have been assessed to be fair, reasonable and competitive.  

Modernizing Legacy Systems

SLEDs have been talking about digital transformation for more than a decade but have been slow to move to cloud computing. This caused hardships for people seeking relief during the pandemic as many states couldn’t handle the numerous claims for unemployment, causing payments to be delayed. Getting legacy systems back up and running takes days or weeks, whereas modern systems that go down can get back up quickly or never go down at all as other instances of the system take over. While there’s a cost to modernizing your systems, the cost to wait may be even more.

IT modernization decreases the costly need for maintenance and management and frees up time to focus on innovations to reach your objectives. Rhode Island modernized its unemployment insurance (UI) contact center, using cloud technology to respond to the surge in claims. Within 10 days of migrating to the cloud, the state went from a capacity of 75 concurrent calls to 2,000, according to an AWS cloud report Rhode Island .

Using the Cloud

SLED agencies around the country have experienced an increased demand for services like financial assistance, remote work opportunities for employees, and remote learning for schools. To meet these needs, many government agencies have moved to the cloud for greater flexibility and scalability. Those agencies are now looking to improve their core mission services and cloud capabilities while other SLED organizations are looking to move to the cloud. Whether these agencies are using a virtual private cloud or a commercial government cloud like Microsoft Azure Government, agencies have a lot to learn about the different cloud technologies and architectural practices that are needed to provide automation and scalability.

Cloud Analytics

Government agencies are adopting big data analytics and recognize the need to manage unstructured data. With big data, you need accurate statistics and granular information to make informed business decisions. With the right systems in place, independent users can have one source of truth with built-in machine learning capabilities for all data, and they can create their own reports with data visualization using user-friendly technology.

The Maryland Department of Human Services (DHS) designed and built Maryland’s Total Human-services Integrated Network (MD THINK), which allows multiple state agencies to share and manage data in one convenient place. This first-in-the-nation cloud-based platform provides Maryland agencies with a holistic view of citizens receiving benefits, allowing them to analyze data across agencies to design better assistance programs.

When your data is housed in a cloud, you can take advantage of cloud-based data analytics with machine-learning capabilities and visibility across your entire environment. You also can collect, process and distribute data to your various databases and other destinations in milliseconds with real-time stream processing. Cloud analytics saves time and can be accessed anytime, anywhere, without the need to install any hardware.

If your agency is running a number of separate legacy systems, data is not centralized, so there’s no one place to go for all the data. Data extracted from different sources can be overwhelming or difficult to obtain, leading to inaccurate or incomplete reports. When this data is housed in the cloud, where virtual machines are unlimited, you have one source of truth to obtain all your data and unlimited virtual machines that can analyze data in a fraction of the time it takes one legacy machine.

Cloud Native Applications

Your legacy applications were created using a monolithic architecture. The word “monolith” refers to a single block stone of considerable size. Monolithic apps are built so that everything regarding that application is all in one piece. Modern apps are built in small independent chunks of code. In a legacy app where everything is interconnected in one piece, when there’s a failure with one part of the code, the application suffers and can go offline until it's repaired, which can take days. With a cloud native application that is built in chunks, users may never see any difference in their experience.

When you move a monolithic application into the cloud, because it was all built in one piece, it still operates as one unit. Developers can make simple changes to existing apps in minutes without ever taking them offline. Whereas a cloud native application that is built in separate chunks, each chunk is responsible for its own function, so when one function breaks, the rest of the application continues to work fine. If there were only one instance of the application, only that one chunk of it would need to be repaired and every other function of the application would stay up online and continue to function. But in the cloud, organizations usually have at least a few instances of every application. This means that if one chunk of one application were to break, it would not affect users because that same function would be handled seamlessly by another instance of the application.

Unlike monolithic applications, cloud native applications have elasticity, scalability, and resiliency.  Elasticity refers to the ability to quickly expand to meet changing demands for peak usage. There may be certain times of a day or a week when usage is extremely high for an application but is generally low during other times. Cloud native applications have the ability to handle those peak times without a change in performance, providing a high-quality user experience.

Scalability refers to the ability to increase or decrease your virtual servers as needed. With a monolithic app housed on hardware in your database, as the number of people using it increases, you may need to spend thousands of dollars to buy and install a larger server. With a cloud native application, with just a few clicks you can create another virtual server to handle the load. And as that app nears the end of its life and fewer and fewer people are using it, in seconds you can decrease the number of virtual servers handling that application.

Cloud native is a technical and business approach to using the cloud to create business applications quickly and more frequently than ever before. It’s building applications in new ways to take advantage of new technologies, automated services and development processes like agile, continuous integration and continuous delivery, that help get new products to market quickly. Cloud native apps can be developed in days or weeks as compared to months that it often takes to create a monolithic app.

Tech research and consulting firm Gartner predicts that by 2025, more than 95% of new digital workloads will be deployed on cloud-native platforms, up from 30% in 2021. Governments can take baby steps to get on board now.

DevOps

Cloud native architectures encourage modern development practices like microservices and DevOps. Rather than working in silos with developers building applications that are then sent to operators to deploy and manage in production, modern software development environments have developers and operators working much closer together, creating the term DevOps. This new style of working together shortens the software development lifecycle, using fast feedback loops to deliver features, fixes, and updates more frequently. Agencies may need help learning these techniques, but there are numerous training courses from the beginner to the advanced level to help your organization learn Devops practices for a variety of technologies.

Modernization vs. Stagnation

While there is a cost to upgrade systems, there’s also the cost of maintaining out-of-date equipment and spending hours trying to get older systems and applications that have failed back up and running. It can also be expensive to find IT professionals with the knowledge to work on older systems. When New Jersey’s unemployment system was hit with a two-week torrent of pandemic-driven claims a, it put a strain on the mainframe applications causing outages. The state put out the call for IT professionals skilled in COBOL, a programming language initially developed in 1959, but it was extremely difficult finding programmers.

With legacy systems, you need ongoing management, resources and customizations and integrations so disparate systems can communicate with each other. Reports must be run across different systems to extract data, and you must build and install system extensions that exist alongside and integrate with current systems. This all costs time and money.

Upskilling IT Skills

To take advantage of new technologies, applications must be built in new ways. Government agency IT personnel accustomed to working with legacy infrastructure often lack the skills required to manage newer technologies. Without having the experience needed for new styles of deploying apps, securing data in the cloud, and collaborating with other IT teams, this skills gap can hamper agencies looking to embrace innovation. Whether you’re just beginning or are in the midst of modernizing your technologies with virtual private clouds, public clouds or hybrid clouds, your IT teams need new skills. The biggest hindrance to adopting modern technologies already within any organization is the lack of IT knowledge and skills.  

IT Training for SLED Agencies

SLED agencies around the country are investing in upgrading aging legacy systems and increasing their use of cloud technologies. Whether it’s law enforcement and educational agencies that need real-time data and analytics, or states and cities looking to provide applications that always remain online for citizens, these agency IT teams need unprecedented skills and training programs that empower them to become proficient at operating these technologies.

ExitCertified works with federal and SLED agencies to build high-performing technology systems. Our CloudCentrix suite of courses deliver the diverse skills needed for operating government and virtual private clouds. U.S. government contracts are run through the U.S. General Service Administration and the California Multiple Award Schedules (CMAS).

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