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Modernizing the Legacy Infrastructure of the USA Government

USA GovCloud Computing charts the adoption of Cloud across the USA public sector, a massive scale of challenge requiring a factory-like production line to realize a modernized Digital Government.

USA GovCloud Computing charts the adoption of Cloud across the USA public sector, a massive scale of challenge requiring a factory-like production line to realize a modernized Digital Government.

Addressing these challenges and accelerating the rate of Cloud migration presents the USA with a historic scale of opportunity.

Wholly embracing the full scope of transformation it represents, not just “lifting and shifting” IT from one data to another, will act as the catalyst for a monumental scale of deep systems modernization, and with that the business processes those systems are used to implement.

Enabling agencies to reinvent themselves and fundamentally change how they operate and deliver services can impact every facet of government and the citizens they serve.

Background

In their blog the U.S. Government’s long road to adopting the cloud Increment provide a detailed synopsis of the history of the adoption of GovCloud computing in America.

This charts the 20 year evolution from the early 2000’s e-commerce directives through the watershed moment of Vivek Kundra’s ‘Cloud First’ policy, through to today’s ‘FedRAMP’ initiative, a program to vet and authorize Cloud providers as being compliant with the many required security policies.

The potential growth market is staggeringly huge. The US Govt spends $86 billion on tech per year, but as of 2017 only 3% of this spending was on the Cloud. They operate over 6,000 data centres.

Legacy Modernization

The heart of the challenge is a process of Legacy Modernization.

As the GAO reported much of that $86 billion is spent on legacy systems. Their research of 65 federal legacy systems identified technologies ranging from 8 to 51 years old, and as NextGov reports the costs of maintaining these systems is substantial. Those 10 most in need of modernization cost $337 million a year to operate and maintain.

It presents other serious issues as well. Many depend on ancient programming languages like COBOL, have unsupported hardware or software, and operate with known security vulnerabilities.

For example the Air Force “System 1” supports the wartime readiness of aircraft, via a 14-year-old COBOL mainframe, and the department struggles to find the staff who can maintain the code and infrastructure, swelling costs from $21.8 million in 2018 to $35 million in 2020.

NextGov reports the service awarded a contract to get the system to a cloud environment and incrementally update COBOL into a modern language. The ballpark savings: $34 million annually. Some government agencies are undertaking automated refactoring, which converts legacy code into modern languages such as Java or .NET. This approach can maintain user interface and functionality while eliminating dependence on the mainframe.

On the 12th December 2017 President Trump signed the Modernizing Technology Act into law, with it’s execution being driven by the Technology Modernization Fund. To date, the TMF has received $175 million through the annual budget process and $1 billion through the American Rescue Plan to fund modernization projects.

Digital Government

The ultimate goal of modernization efforts is to deliver better online services for citizens.

The 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act was signed into law in December 2018. The Act aims to improve the digital experience for government customers and reinforces existing requirements for federal public websites.

On December 13, 2021, the President signed an Executive Order on Transforming Federal Customer Experience and Service Delivery to Rebuild Trust in Government, to ensure the Federal Government serves its customers better by putting people at the center of everything we do, recognizing that it is technology that underpins the Government’s ability to deliver a more simple, seamless, and secure customer experience for the American public.

These efforts are supported by resources and expertise such as Digital.gov, which offers a knowledge base of best practices such as a Customer Experience Toolkit and a Design System Maturity Model.

The US Digital Service deploys small, responsive groups of designers, engineers, product managers, and bureaucracy specialists to work with and empower civil servants. These multi-disciplinary teams bring best practices and new approaches to support government modernization efforts.

Each agency is responsible for setting and implementing their own Digital Government modernization roadmap. For example the Treasury documents theirs here, listing their efforts to achieve compliance with the executive orders.

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