Application Modernization Lagging in Federal IT: Survey

A survey by Unisys and MeriTalk found that although the federal government spends more than $35 billion maintaining legacy applications, modernization efforts are running behind.

The federal government spends about half of its annual IT budget maintaining older legacy applications, and almost half of all the applications are based on legacy technology that needs to be modernized, according to a recent study.

However, the problem, according to the survey conducted by the Unisys Center for Innovation in Government and federal IT online community MeriTalk, is that only one-third of the 166 respondents said their government agencies are making application modernization a priority, and that only half of those who said it was a priority noted that their agencies are in the discovery or planning phases of implementing such change.

Overall, the survey, released Jan. 11, found a federal government that spends about $35.7 billion maintaining and supporting these legacy applications and systems, that seems to some degree to understand the problems and yet is reluctant or unable to make the necessary changes, according to the authors of the survey, titled "Federal Application Modernization Road Trip: Express Lane or Detour Ahead?"

"Federal IT leaders see application modernization as vital to their agencies' ability to successfully meet current and emerging needs," Mark Cohn, CTO at Unisys Federal Systems, said in a statement. "In an age of tightening budgets, application modernization can free vital resources and budget currently allocated to maintaining legacy systems that are often duplicated across an agency. While many agencies have launched discovery and planning activities, pressure will grow to implement modernized applications for functionality and security benefits and to retire redundant systems to reduce cost."

The survey indicated that federal IT leaders see application modernization as a key way to reduce waste and improve performance. Application redundancy-which agencies are running multiple systems for the same workloads-is a problem at federal agencies, in such areas as IT governance and risk management, enterprise document and content management, and business process management systems. In all but business process management, progress in modernizing the technology is lagging, despite federal IT leaders recognizing the immediate need for modernization, the survey found.

Dogging the agencies are lack of communication and understanding. Just more than 56 percent of respondents said their departments clearly understand the application modernization goals for their agencies. When asked what would help them most accelerate modernization at their agencies, respondents most often cited greater support among leadership and prioritization of their initiatives-along with more money and people.

"Application modernization can and must be a direct route to greater productivity and efficiency, but current approaches to modernization require years to produce results," Cohn said. "We believe federal agencies should adopt commercial best practices that will produce results more quickly and without extensive upfront capital expenditures. To jumpstart progress, it is imperative for agencies to develop a clear roadmap for modernization and to focus on initiatives with the greatest potential for return, such as cloud computing-based models."

The 166 federal IT leaders were surveyed in October and November 2010, according to Unisys and MeriTalk. For the full study results, go to the MeriTalk Website or Unisys' government IT site.