Legacy technology and a status quo approach to IT has become a common theme holding back many government departments. Here’s how to recognise if yours is one of them, and the impact it could be having.

Legacy technology is prevalent in the public sector and a headache for many IT leaders. So much so, a recent Gartner survey of government CIOs around the globe found that 13% of public sector technology budgets were allocated towards legacy modernisation in 2017.

In Australian and New Zealand government circles, there’s been much discussion around the need to and benefits of replacing outdated, legacy IT, transitioning to modern and sustainable cloud-based technology. Yet despite these conversations, some agencies still don’t realise they’re operating on a legacy system and the extent of the impact.

What is legacy technology?


Legacy technology is considered any of the following:

  • On-premise technology solutions, where information is stored in physical data centres.

  • Rigid software that forces teams to react to changes, rather than plan for them. Have you ever had to absorb a new kind of data set by finding a way to plug it into an existing template?

  • A to Z billing, which is where you pay for a dedicated instance of the application or infrastructure (and the maintenance costs), versus paying for monthly access.

The impact of legacy technology


While legacy IT affects all organisations, across all industries, the impact is more profound in the public sector, where agencies are responsible for providing the most basic – and critical – social, economic and public health needs. Legacy technology makes these mission-critical services that much more difficult to deliver.

Outdated technology infrastructure also inhibits the public sector’s ability to deliver the kind of innovation and experience today’s connected citizen has come to expect from other industries. Modern technology is a fundamental enabler of this.

6 signs your government agency is pained by legacy IT

1. Employees are asking for more

Is your IT team often apologising and saying, “no, we can’t support that,” when employees ask for real-time access to information, mobile applications or smartphones to be enabled on the network? Or even worse, have you come across rogue IT projects? These types of requests or activity are often a sign that frontline teams need more modern, productive ways of working.

Legacy systems tend to be more clunky and less agile, which makes it hard to upgrade existing infrastructure to meet new needs, ultimately creating a time capsule-like effect that hinders IT’s ability to support the department.

2. Upgrades are costly and time consuming

If and when your team does decide to upgrade current IT infrastructure, do you plan for an 18-month timeline? If so, you might be suffering from the weight of a legacy system.

When a legacy IT system is upgraded, it often turns into more of an overhaul because yesterday’s technology was built with a certain set of capabilities, designed to satisfy needs at that time. In order to both modernise dated infrastructure, IT teams frequently add new capabilities, which then require a whole new workflow to be built into the foundation.

3. Upgrades involve complicated, custom fixes

Such upgrades are prone to layers of custom coding, point solutions, homegrown fixes and jerry-rigged ideas. This is because as an application or infrastructure gets stretched further and further beyond its intended design, it requires more resources to meet new demands.

4. Your IT fixes solve one problem only

Do your latest-and-greatest IT projects solve a single, isolated task, without supporting the task’s inputs and outputs? Do more comprehensive, multifaceted solutions, like managing all aspects of complex cases on one platform or assigning next steps directly from a dashboard, sound like distant goals from the future?

Custom solutions typically solve one problem only. This only forces IT teams to repeat the cycle: build more solutions, point-by-point and layer-upon-layer, without ever pausing to find the strategic, comprehensive, adaptable and reliable IT approach for the long-term.

5. You can name the specific person(s) that everyone turns to when they need to pull a report

If you have teams on the frontline that frequently reach out to IT for data pulls and reports on a deadline-driven basis, chances are your data is locked away in a legacy system.

Legacy technology systems are infamous for locking data away in the back office, making it hard for anyone without a background in data science to gather and analyse reports. This is because dated technology often uses schema-based templates that can only combine so many types of data fields, requiring someone with the expertise to stitch together report types on a one-off basis.

Many of these custom data manipulations can only be done manually, requiring another expert to surface the insights buried in a spreadsheet by pivot tables. None of this is conducive to real-time reporting or executive engagement.

6. Teams live and die by traditional, desktop tools

How often are quarterly reports delivered via spreadsheets or PowerPoint, as opposed to live, clickable dashboards? How much of your department’s communication is reliant on having the right people copied in on an email?

Many legacy IT systems were designed before social and mobile technology became ubiquitous. This means they’re unable to support modern employee communication tools, like digital forums, self-service knowledge base software and mobile accessibility.

Learn how high-performing IT teams around the world are addressing their legacy IT systems and rising to the challenges around them. Download the State of IT report.