Overcoming legacy limitations: A pathway to public sector application transformation

16th January 2024

Civica’s Richard Shreeve offers a route to success for civil servants whose government departments are saddled with technical debt and are struggling to innovate.

Civil servants overwhelmingly see wholesale replacement of legacy systems as the single most effective way to transform outdated central government IT platforms, according to Civica’s Transforming for a digital future: Progress, priorities and roadblocks, a report published in September.

Mission four – of six – in the government’s 2022 to 2025 roadmap for digital and data, launched over a year ago, is focused on delivering efficient, secure and sustainable technology. This involves developing a common approach to buying technology, overhauling outdated systems, and embracing new technologies.

Yet 71% of respondents in Civica’s report cited complete legacy system replacement as the top priority action, versus just 18% who favoured attempting to repurpose and reuse elements of existing ageing systems long-term. As the research states: “There is clearly an ‘all or nothing’ view among civil servants with replacement by far the preferred solution.

This conclusion aligns closely with the experience of Richard Shreeve, Technical Director for Central Government at Civica, who has found that accumulated technical debt and legacy IT across government actively make undertaking substantive business change extremely difficult.

The closed proprietary nature of many legacy platforms, coupled with great difficulty reliably extracting clean data from these fragmented systems built up over decades, currently significantly hampers the government’s ability to innovate, improve services and reduce costs, he explains.

“There is a huge amount of technical debt that has been accrued across government,” says Shreeve. “Part of that is pandemic-related, with change freezes across applications and technology. However, honestly, it goes back much further. So, how do you pay down that technical debt? How do you modernise applications – ensuring they are on cloud infrastructure, scalable and resilient – and built in modern (coding) languages, using modern components and skills to give you an platform for agile transformation?”

With nearly half (47%) of respondents in Civica’s report citing budget limitations as the number one barrier digital transformation and data initiatives – despite the UK government’s increased investment in transforming its digital operations – Shreeve advises public-sector organisations to take an agile approach, laser-focused on identifying and delivering key user needs when planning change programmes.

He suggests that by breaking modernisation into many small, iterative changes directly shaped by in-depth user research, departments can demonstrate tangible value incrementally while building the quantified evidence-based case for securing further vital funding tranches.

Shreeve says that enabling joined-up services also means better cross-system integration and genuinely accessible data are essential ingredients for successful transformation projects. And Civica can help. “We offer modernisation services to a) move solutions into the cloud, and then b) optimise those solutions,” he continues.

Application transformation goes far beyond modernising ageing infrastructure and code, underlines Shreeve. Once solutions are migrated to the cloud and tap into its inherent scalability and resilience, they unlock significant new potential. “You can then focus on optimising and automating workflows, embedding analytics or using intelligent automation and AI to improve efficiency,” he says. “Adding mobile access broadens usage, and completely reimagining user experience (UX) design, centred on user needs, delivers more intuitive services.”

With widely available skills using mainstream languages and components on robust cloud platforms, Shreeve says this also reduces costly vendor lock-in and simplifies enhancing systems.

With over 30 years of experience, Civica possesses substantial expertise, built working closely with many complex government bodies, to assess unwieldy application portfolios and develop pragmatic transformation or retirement plans targeting their highest-risk applications first.

Shreeve explains that a critical element of Civica’s expertise stems from its proven integrations to many of the government’s most deeply entrenched legacy platforms. He stresses that Civica provides extensive support at every step of these complex projects, from initial cloud migrations through optimising systems leveraging cloud-native capabilities to delivering intuitively redesigned apps that better serve end users’ needs.

A pathway to successful application transformation

Shreeve outlines the key steps Civica recommends public sector organisations take to smooth and accelerate their application transformation programmes.

  • Aggressively prioritise identifying and addressing business risk and user needs. “Always focus first on your users’ real-world problems to guide requirements,” he advises.
  • Enable joined-up data and services through APIs and data integration. “Smooth data sharing between modern and legacy systems is an essential enabler of change,” he says.
  • Move to cloud infrastructure to gain scalability, resilience, and agility. “Cloud’s innate flexibility and robustness accelerates transformation journeys,” according to Shreeve.
  • Optimise apps to exploit cloud capabilities like automation and AI. “Leverage cloud-native features to enhance legacy-modernised apps,” he recommends.
  • Focus on great user experience and mobile access to broaden reach. “Well-designed interfaces for all common access methods are key to user adoption,” Shreeve concludes.

Key takeaway:

Technical debt and legacy IT create a massive innovation bottleneck across the UK government. But by embracing commercial off-the-shelf solutions, civil servants can be freed from the shackles of the past by prioritising user needs and accessing cloud scalability, resilience, and integration capabilities through smart, iterative modernisation programmes.

With over three decades of experience, including proven integrations into many core legacy platforms, Civica is well-positioned to help smooth public sector application transformation journeys to more agile, efficient, and user-focused future systems.

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