Government IT Modernization: Four Tips for Writing an RFP for Replacing Legacy Applications with Modern Technology

As businesses and consumers rapidly advance in their use of cloud, mobile, and web 2.0 technologies, governments, and sectors such as energy are navigating their own IT modernization initiatives. They have a precarious balancing act of embracing digital strategies and mobile initiatives to serve the people while safeguarding sensitive information and using technology in smart, secure, and affordable ways.

Maintaining legacy systems is expensive. Over the last decade, the U.S. federal government spent roughly 75-80% of its IT budget on the operation and maintenance of its outdated legacy systems. Recently the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has codified IT modernization as a key objective and is working closely with participating agencies to establish funds that can help replace legacy IT systems and produce modern IT equipment and services.

The U.S. federal government is not alone. U.S. state and local governments and governments around the globe are also striving to serve their constituents with modern technology while reducing the amount they spend on legacy systems. Their efforts to move to a digital, mobile-first engagement model often are held back under the weight of legacy systems—and, in many cases, smaller budgets.

Slavik Zorin, CEO of Synchrony Systems, has been in the software modernization field for over 20 years. He has worked closely with trusted government partners such as IBM and the “Big Four” firms helping government organizations transform their legacy applications, thereby reducing costs while gaining the benefits of modern architecture. He offers these tips when developing an RFI or RFP for your modernization initiative:

1. Look for Options Other Than Rip-and-Replace Proposals

In today’s age of digital transformations, something even more disruptive to the organization than the upkeep of its monolithic legacy systems is a monolithic, big-bang approach to modernizing these systems. Many of the default, go-to large System Integrators that respond to RFPs are continuing to offer antiquated, wholesale rip-and-replace solutions. At the outset, the time, resource, and dollar estimate of these approaches appears reasonable. However, the eventual cost is significantly higher than anticipated because of change requests arising from the continuously shifting requirements of an evolving legacy system during the modernization project. These change requests introduce a high risk to the modernization project and compound the cost and time to complete it. RFP reviewers need to be mindful of a proposal that offers a low initial price but has a contract designed for unlimited change request triggers.

In contrast, a new approach to modernization driven by 100% automation, provided by companies such as Synchrony Systems, changes the status quo. They offer a highly transparent, efficient, and predictable modernization solution at a fraction of both the price and the risk of the traditional rip-and-replace solutions. Not only does this new approach fit within the shrinking budgets of the public sector, but the process requires little to no internal IT involvement and no end-user retraining once the modernization project is complete.

2. Ask How Vendors Will Preserve the Functional Equivalence

Your government IT professionals have spent years building systems specialized for your agency, department, or office. The final application was probably developed organically, adding functionality as needed and modified as the needs of the organization changed. Your IT “subject-matter experts” certainly know your systems inside and out, and those systems contain critical functionality to support your agency’s operations.

The challenge with legacy applications is not the functionality but the aging technology that the functionality is built upon. What necessitates the modernization are your maintenance costs, skills shortage, technical requirements imposed by the regulatory compliance changes, and overall inability to provide modern digital experiences to your constituents. The move to modern technology is no longer the debate. The question is whether the modernized system will be one that your IT department can recognize and continue to maintain as efficiently and effectively as it has been to date.

By looking for modernization solutions that focus on the preservation of the original investment into legacy applications, your organization will end up with modernized systems that have equivalent functionality and a recognizable user experience. Therefore, the transition plan to take ownership of the application in a new platform will be more immediate, operationally frictionless, and will have significant cost savings.

3. Understand the Potential Impact on the User Experience

As mentioned before, rewrites or wholesale replacements of mission-critical applications inevitably leave the organization with an entirely different system. In addition to the cost, time, and effort of the traditional rip-and-replace modernization, your IT department would also be required to re-train all the end-users on the new system and update all internal processes and documentation. This hidden cost, which is often quite high, gets overlooked.

User experience (UX) equivalency means that the modernized system would remain recognizable to the end-user and would be 100% equivalent from a usability perspective. One modernization that Synchrony Systems performed was a mainframe application for the New York Police Department. Due to a tight budget, NYPD wanted to avoid any additional retraining that would typically follow a modernization project. Synchrony Systems offered a solution that would mimic exactly the look and feel of the 3270 green screens, but in the modern, native, browser-based technology. The modernized application was delivered within the promised timeframe and budget, without any change requests and, as promised, without any end-user retraining.

Some may argue against having the modernized application look and feel like the dated application, but the benefits are far too great to ignore, especially for the government. These benefits include no end-user retraining for internal or external users; no need to update support, knowledge bases, training manuals, or any other documentation; and no productivity loss because UX equivalency preserves all the known productivity shortcuts already developed by end-users. Only a modernization that guarantees UX equivalency can ensure no disruptions to the government’s operations.

4. Ask Vendors How to Avoid Code Freezes

Mission-critical legacy applications are typically in use every day (and sometimes 24/7). More often than not, these systems require frequent code changes to address the numerous changes in regulatory compliance and government operations.

Vendors that offer traditional manual rewrite modernization approaches are forced to impose “code freezes,” i.e., periods of time where no changes can be made to the application. Such is the nature of a wholesale rewrite; for the rewrite to have any chance to complete, the system must remain unchanged while it is in progress. For many organizations, this is simply prohibitive, hence the reason legacy applications remain on aging technology.

The ability to maintain and update the legacy application while it’s being modernized to a new technology entirely changes the dynamics of modernization projects. At Synchrony Systems, we are able to support the coexistence of modernization activities with ongoing development activities without any code freezes. Powered by our Modernization Lifecycle Platform, ongoing new releases of the legacy application are continuously synchronized by replaying all the recorded automation that has taken place up to that point. For companies like SoCalGas, with a proprietary system that had daily pricing changes, the elimination of code freezes was essential.

In reviewing the bids from your RFP, be sure to fully understand if code freezes are a part of the modernization process and how it may impact your organization.

In Summary

The move to digital is an opportunity for the government itself to become more agile in its operations and service to its constituents. And, more than any other organization, the government must be completely transparent and ensure continued fiscal responsibility to spend taxpayers’ dollars wisely.

Using these few tips can put your organization on the right path for digital transformation.

The antiquated rip-and-replace and manual rewrite practices of traditional System Integrators are opaque, very expensive, and risky. Synchrony Systems offers a modernization process and platform that is fully transparent and predictable, rooted in technology and automation, and enables us to provide reliable and unchanging fixed prices that do not rely on hidden change-request practices that have been the status quo in this industry. If your organization or agency has this need and is looking for a guaranteed success that is fast, cost-effective, and risk-averse, send us an email or give us a call at (203) 355-3636.