Are legacy apps a ticking time bomb?

Are legacy apps a ticking time bomb?

In government IT, legacy applications are a fact of life. But that doesn’t mean IT managers are happy about it. The majority say they believe it is urgent for their agencies to modernize legacy applications to improve security, reduce the time spent managing and maintaining systems and improve flexibility and integration capabilities.

That’s according to a recent MeriTalk survey, which report found that federal IT managers feel legacy applications threaten mission-critical capabilities with security  breaches, performance issues, increased downtime and an overall failure to deliver on agency missions.

And while that might sound mildly alarmist, there are similar warnings from the top. U.S. CIO Tony Scott said the threat posed by the government’s legacy IT systems is bigger than that of the Year 2000 computer glitch, FCW recently reported. Scott’s concerns about legacy systems also hit on the retirement of those who built these older systems and the ability of incoming IT professionals to understand and maintain them.

For the most part, a complete overhaul of systems is not necessary, as more than half of those surveyed by MeriTalk feel their applications could be modernized, renewed or re-platformed, rather than completely replaced.  And 66 percent believe application modernization efforts will increase in the next 18 months.

The need to modernize legacy systems is felt by IT managers at the state and local level as well. An August survey conducted by the cloud software company Socrata of over 500 government technology leaders found that 79 percent of respondents said their agency’s software is mostly or entirely on local machines. This is especially true at the county level, as 47 percent of all technology is almost fully installed on local machines or internal networks, rather than on newer, cloud-based solutions.

However, modernization needs to be a priority before changes are made. In April 2015, Gartner's 2015 CIO Agenda revealed that legacy modernization did not make the top five priorities for the 343 state, local and regional level CIOs. It did, however, make it onto the list for federal CIOs.

To overcome roadblocks to legacy app modernization, MeriTalk recommends that IT managers start now by developing a roadmap and app inventory and determining which apps most need updating -- prioritizing those dedicated to security and mission-critical capabilities.

About the Author

Amanda Ziadeh is a former reporter/producer for GCN.


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