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Legacy Modernization – A Critical Requirement for Public Sector Digital Transformation

The public sector is yet to master the challenge of modernizing their vast estates of legacy applications, hampering their Digital Government ambitions.

The Legacy Modernization practices described in the previous article are especially relevant to industries that operate large estates of older applications.

Notable examples include Government and Banking sectors, who have long operated technologies such as mainframes.

As The Register writes the UK government has committed to ending its reliance on legacy applications by 2025, describing how the costly issue of technical debt had been allowed to build up over multiple financial cycles and was now a barrier to the delivery of policy and services.

Rishi Sunak blamed legacy IT for his decision not to increase social security payments, and it has plans to tackle the situation, with a report identifying that half of it’s budget is spent simply to ‘keep the lights on’, incurring cumulative annual costs of £2.3bn to maintain this legacy estate.

In the US, according to a report by the GAO, the government spent over $100bn on IT in 2021, most of it operating and maintaining legacy systems.

The GAO analyzed 65 federal legacy systems, and identified systems that were eight to 51 years old, with three agencies – the Department of Education, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Department of Transportation – having no documented plans to modernize.

US senators Maggie Hassan and John Cornyn are attempting to get the US to bring some transparency to its own legacy goverment IT problem with the Legacy IT Reduction Act of 2022.


The nature of the challenge is evident through the fact it has persistently been a long standing issue.

In Canada it was identified in 2010 that aged IT was a major problem for the government, and still in 2019 remain unaddressed with critical systems at risk of collapse due to a chronic lack of IT investment and a lack of skills still in 2022. In the USA the Federal Govt spends nearly $100 billion annually on IT, much of it allocated to sustaining aging applications, with only 10 systems alone consuming costing $337 million per annum.

In the UK in 2013 the National Audit Office conducted a comprehensive review of their legacy IT estate and identified that the public sector is still struggling to master and realize the potential of digital transformation, despite the citizen and cost benefits it’s known to deliver.

Fast forward to 2019 and they were still warning that the government must sort out it’s “crap data and legacy IT”, through to 2022 when they announced that specific agencies like Defra were still struggling, saying that despite progress with a programme to replace ageing legacy applications, the department does not have a wider digital transformation plan and lacks sufficient funding, issuing this report.

Their reports have identified a chronic challenge for a government seeking to harness new digital capabilities to modernize their services, highlighting a situation of a variety of aged technologies, some originating as far back as 1973 running on a mainframe computer, with other agencies from the HMRC to the DWP operating applications costing £ hundreds of millions to maintain.

Case Study Presentation

In this presentation David Colebatch and Jason Hurlbut share a case study and answer questions regarding a recent Canadian public sector client who embarked on a cloud migration journey for legacy applications. As a result this organization used 95% less code, and realized a faster time to value with greater ROI.

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