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Submission #38

Submission information
Submitted by Donnald Becker
Fri, 07/20/2018 - 1:49pm

Innovate IT or Lose IT- Think Big, Act Small, and Deliver Modernization

Change is in the air! Laws have been passed that promise to change the fundamentals of government investment in modernized Information Technology-FITARA, Data Act, MGT Act. But laws don’t guarantee action. The imperative of IT modernization is the forcing function for government. Laws can support innovators pursing that imperative. Laws allow us to “think big” about overall improvements in government. But successful execution requires us to smartly “act small”.

ACT-IAC has been at the forefront of helping organizations consider how best to take advantage of these opportunities and execute through the collective expertise and work products of its government and industry members.

Through this experience we see some truths to hold as self-evident…yet challenging to enact. New funding from the Technology Modernization Fund will jump start a few programs. Beyond that, new Working Capital Funds promise to provide needed flexibility in spending and retention of returns, over time.  How will we select the opportunities with significant innovation and near-term return?  What are some opportunities to accelerate building-block results?

Applications modernization has become a critical building block as the maintenance of “mature” applications has increased—consuming a disproportionate share of resources and starves new investment. A Modernization Program that aligns critical applications and infrastructure with agency objectives can change that mix.   A targeted applications portfolio strategy can unlock funds through applications and data rationalization, modernization, and transformation-to-cloud. The goal is to improve agility; shift more resources into innovation; reduce costs; mitigate cyber threats; and ensure the alignment of IT to the mission. 

The benefits of investing in applications modernization dramatically outweighs the cost of doing nothing. The task of applications modernization may seem daunting and complex, but it doesn’t have to be. Think big; act small.

Think Big. First, assess the environment top-down and bottom-up to produce a prioritized, executable transformation plan based upon the organizations goals and objectives. Next, organize the modernization journey into smaller, manageable steps. Identify the key legacy applications to bring into new environments, while reducing total cost of ownership and increasing agility.   In doing such “micro-modernizations” of key applications, we’ve seen between 25 and 45 percent savings from reductions in operations costs, development costs, and overall portfolio size.   

Act Small.  Retain the years of business knowledge that exists in legacy system business logic.  Incrementally reverse-engineer the original application baseline requirements, then forward-engineering those business rules to a new IT environment based on a modern architecture. This incremental approach decomposes legacy systems into re-useable components (for component reuse and/or reconstruction for subsequent releases).

This incremental approach can provide significant bang for modest bucks. It can reduce risk and costs (and costly oversight attention), by incrementally laying the building blocks toward a modern IT architecture. This point was beautifully made recently by George Hoffman, CIO CMS, when describing the “micro-modernization” of the CMS FISS Apps Modernization initiative. He stated that incremental modernization allows them to think big, act small, and deliver significant progress.

For the inspired reader, there is an hour long video that includes more such practical wisdom from Hoffman. 

You may also find timeless insight in the ACT-IAC paper, “Addressing the Challenges on the Path to Success”,


Stu Hammer, Industry Chair, ACT-IAC IT Management & Modernization Community of Interest, and Director Applications & Advisory Services, Perspecta

Judy Douglas, Chair, ACT-IAC Institute for Innovation, and Client Industry Executive, Perspecta