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Legacy Systems Modernization to the Cloud: 5 Lessons Learned

Modernizing legacy systems to the cloud is a hot topic for many government agencies as they strive to increase operational efficiencies and cost effectiveness in carrying out services on behalf of the American people.

The experts at Highlight Technologies have worked on key government legacy system modernizations to the cloud and have learned some important lessons in the process. We share our lessons learned here in hopes they can help improve government legacy system modernizations going forward.

1. Help users see how the new system better enables their business processes

Although technology advances rendered by cloud platforms offer clear advantages when modernizing systems, user skepticism about the new features of modernized systems often exists, especially among users accustomed to a single legacy system with outmoded features. Such users are prone to perceiving what the system does (system workflow) and business process as the same – a view that often leads users to conclude that system feature changes represent unacceptable process changes. To overcome resistance to new system features, it is crucial to effectively communicate to users the efficiencies enabled by the new system and to highlight how the new features are aligned to their agency’s business processes.

In modernizing a government emergency responder deployment system, our team met with user resistance to new features that differed from legacy system features. To address this hurdle, we conducted repeated in-person user education sessions that demonstrated how the new system aligned to the agency’s business processes. Motivated by these sessions, one user decided to confirm for herself the new system’s efficiencies by performing emergency responder dispatch functions on both the new system and the legacy system. She discovered that, although the newly designed features differed from those she was accustomed to in the legacy system, the new system performed emergency responder dispatching in just 13 minutes compared to over 60 minutes for the same function on the old system – a more than 400% time saving. This user’s experience served as testimony for other users about the new system’s increased capacity to enable critical agency business processes.

Key Lesson Learned: Help boost user acceptance by enabling stakeholders to understand how the new system better enables their critical business processes.

2. Enhance exploration of potential new features and system design with Agile software development

Using Agile software development in modernizations to the cloud encourages exploration of new system features which accelerates the development of system efficiencies. Because the cloud platform enables faster system feature builds than in non-cloud environments, it facilitates Agile software development testing features. As a result, development teams are able to provide more frequent opportunities for users to “test drive” system features and provide valuable feedback that will inform design and strengthen integration capacities of the new system.

At the start of one government legacy system modernization to the cloud, user stakeholders found themselves unable to envision any system requirements beyond “make the new system features identical to those in the old system.” By conducting numerous system feature trial runs for user stakeholders – and encouraging their frequent and honest feedback – our team helped create a climate conducive to experimentation. As they experienced firsthand the new system’s efficiencies, stakeholders’ ability to think through system design possibilities expanded. Capitalizing on the testing advantages of Agile software development in the cloud not only facilitated user feedback that informed development efforts but it fostered stakeholder exploration of new system possibilities.

Key Lesson Learned: Capitalize on testing advantages of Agile software development in the cloud to facilitate user feedback and foster stakeholder exploration of new system possibilities.

3. Don’t overlook license requirements

Just as car buying involves elements beyond the vehicle itself – like auto insurance, parking permits and vehicle maintenance – successful legacy system modernizations to the cloud take into account implications beyond the platform itself. Especially critical in this regard is the area of software product licenses. Since any cloud-based system can only function optimally when appropriate licensing requirements are in place, it is crucial to help the client agency’s IT department ascertain all licenses required to enable the new system to function as expected.

One of our government clients with a Software as a Service (SaaS) cloud platform in use prior to their legacy system modernization assumed that all licenses required for user operation of the new system were already in place. This turned out to not be the case – and our team stepped up with research and expert advice to help the IT department determine all licenses required for effective functioning of the modernized system.

Thanks to their experience with the licensing structure complexities of the SaaS cloud product in use by our client, our experts knew what questions the agency’s IT department should ask in order to determine the right license purchases. These questions included: How many users must access the new system? What functions must users be able to perform and are the right licenses in place to enable this? Will there be other applications on the same cloud platform and, if so, what licenses facilitate integration of these multiple systems? Through this dialogue, our team helped the client agency envision the long-term benefits of addressing all licensing needs and assess the full range of associated costs. As a result, the IT department was able to present a compelling business case for additional license purchases that won the approval of agency decision-makers.

Key Lesson Learned: Make the technical and business case for all licensing requirements – and their associated costs – so that client agency budget approvals and acquisitions can proceed.

4. Factor government-mandated IT security considerations into your project plan

Because incorporating cloud-based systems into the Federal government IT infrastructure entails assessment and authorization (A&A) through the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP), effective communication with the appropriate Security Department and IT Department stakeholders is a crucial step toward obtaining the necessary Authority to Operate (ATO). Since approaches to leveraging the FedRAMP process vary widely – with some agencies extensively involved and others less so – it is vitally important to learn from your client agency’s Security Department and IT Department stakeholders what they specifically need to meet all government-mandated IT security requirements.

Realizing our government client was relatively new to security considerations in cloud environments, we met with lead stakeholders early on to learn details about their agency’s ATO process. We soon discovered our client agency followed more stringent FedRAMP requirements than anticipated and that this would result in the target cloud platform and products used in the modernization needing additional certifications. Our team mobilized with the appropriate IT and Security stakeholders in coordinating the efforts to ensure all government-mandated IT security requirements got met so that new system release could proceed without delay. This experience highlights the importance of ascertaining at project outset your client agency’s approach to meeting applicable government-mandated IT security requirements and of incorporating these considerations into your project plan.

Key Lesson Learned: Engage early on with IT and Security stakeholders to determine their agency’s approach for addressing government IT security mandates and factor those considerations into your project plan to help ensure on-time system release

5. Establish appropriate legacy system permission controls for the development team to facilitate seamless data migration

Modernizations of legacy systems to the cloud must not only take into account permission controls that enable stakeholders to effectively access and operate the new system but also those required by project developers to access the old system during the development phase. Establishing the correct legacy system access permissions at project outset significantly improves the likelihood of seamless data migration – a cornerstone of successful legacy system modernizations.

When tasked by a government client to consolidate two legacy systems and modernize the unified system to the cloud, our experts started by identifying permission controls needed by all stakeholders to access the new system as well as those required by developers to access the legacy systems during the development phase. At first, our client denied legacy system access to our development team because they assumed their IT people could readily extract the old systems’ data and import it into the new one. Only after failing in their attempts to extract “importable-friendly” data did the client agency decide to reassign this task to our team and grant them the necessary legacy system access. Using the accesses provided, our team quickly developed data migration software scripts, exported all legacy system data and imported it in readable form into the new system.

Key Lesson Learned: Address the full range of legacy system permissions requirements for the modernization development team to help ensure seamless data migration