Cloud app modernization: What is it, why should I care and how can I do it?
Unlocking additional productivity, improving flexibility, and creating long-term value for taxpayers—all good reasons why state and local governments should invest in cloud app modernization. At the same time, tight budgets, complex IT infrastructures and an overly cautious attitude to change often prevent agencies from extracting maximum value from the cloud.
Let’s examine why state and local governments should prioritize cloud app modernization and see how they can get it right.
What exactly is cloud app modernization?
The term cloud app modernization gets thrown around a lot – sometimes incorrectly. The truth is that simply migrating existing infrastructure to the cloud in a lift-and-shift approach is not enough. Instead, unlocking the true benefits of the cloud is an ongoing, iterative process that involves re-examining the entire application portfolio.
With legacy applications running in the cloud, changing or scaling a component means updating the entire app, which isn’t much different from running the same app locally. Instead, by deconstructing and rebuilding apps into a collection of microservices, agencies can quickly and independently reconfigure and redeploy the modular components. These can be enhanced by cloud-based technologies such as containerization, serverless architectures and DevOps.
Why should I care?
I could talk about the exciting features of cloud application modernization until the cows come home, but that approach isn’t convincing state and local government decision makers. Instead, the decision usually boils down to the following macro benefits.
Autonomy: With modern, cloud-based applications, teams can build, test and release new functionality without depending on other teams – building a culture of ownership and autonomy.
Agility and speed: By removing complex interdependencies and sign-off processes, teams can move faster and solve problems more easily.
Reliable: Occasional system failures are inevitable in any organization. But for state and local governments, any power outage can affect essential services such as law enforcement, local schools and even emergency medical services. The advantage of modern cloud-based apps is that any failure is localized to specific microservices, minimizing the impact on the rest of the system and maximizing uptime.
Scalability: State and local governments often deal with unexpected spikes in demand for their services. Perhaps the most memorable example of this in recent times was the covid-19 vaccine rollout, as so many states struggled to keep appointment booking apps online. But demand peaks can also occur after natural disasters and, for example, around elections and tax season. Modern, cloud-based apps are perfect for these scenarios. Instead of scaling an entire app, it’s easy to scale only the relevant microservices.
Cost-saving: State and local governments are laser-focused on getting maximum value for citizens’ tax dollars, a fact that has only been exacerbated by recent inflationary pressures. Although it involves some initial expenses, a recent study found that migrating to cloud-based microservices can improve cost-effectiveness by as much as 29%. These savings come from eliminating cloud resources wasted on inefficient, legacy, unoptimized processes. Reduction of IT maintenance, increased reliability and digitization of core processes also contribute to cost savings.
How can we do that?
While the case for cloud app modernization in state and local government is clear, it can be a difficult road to walk. A report by the Cloud Security Alliance found that 90% of CIOs had experienced at least one aborted or failed modernization project.
To maximize the chances of success, agencies must take the time to plan, navigate, engineer, and stage their cloud app modernization projects. The following steps are a good place to start:
Know the application portfolio: Most state and local governments have a large library of software resources. Some may have been made to run on mainframes in the early days of computing, written in languages like COBOL and assembler that are outdated and difficult to maintain now that programmers with the necessary skills are reaching retirement age. Many of these apps are mission critical, while others are forgotten.
It is critical to document which hardware apps are running on, any interdependencies, the language they are written in, their age, and any known security risks. Since doing this manually is extremely time-consuming, many organizations are investing in software to automate the process. Whatever the approach, try to avoid cutting corners in the discovery process, as this can undermine any future efficiency gains.
Remove unused software: Once a complete picture of the agency’s application portfolio is available, it’s important to remove unused and outdated software—state and local governments are notorious for hoarding these. Doing this makes it much easier to track and manage your remaining assets.
Consider future needs and goals: The benefits of cloud-based apps include near-infinite computing power, AI-powered tools, and plenty of storage space. To take advantage of these benefits, agencies must think about how to turn these rich capabilities into tangible operational benefits.
Find quick wins: Don’t try to modernize all applications at once: It will lead to chaos. Instead, start by choosing the fastest wins. This can mean modernizing applications that will help solve pressing problems, run faster, or even mitigate serious security vulnerabilities. Remember that data and expertise should support these decisions.
Develop a roadmap for the overall infrastructure as well as each app: Having a clear plan (on both the macro and micro level) will help prevent unpleasant surprises.
Make continuous improvements: Creating a cloud-based app portfolio isn’t a case of “set it and forget it.” Ensure app data is captured across the technology ecosystem to monitor performance.
The bottom line?
For state and local governments, cloud app modernization is not easy and will not happen overnight. But IT decision makers have the responsibility to make it happen to unlock productivity, ensure ROI and increase resilience. Choosing a partner with the necessary experience, technology and skilled staff will make the process easier – minimizing setup times and upfront costs.