Reframing legacy technical debt

13th December 2023

How an application health check can shift mindsets and drive change

In our recent Lunch and Learn epsiode, we introduced a health check for driving a roadmap to application modernisation. Neil Barnsley (Customer Solutions Consultant) and Gabor Soltesz (Solution Architect) explored what a health check can cover and what benefits it can bring to an organisation.

In this follow-up post, Neil Barnsley delves deeper into an important aspect of application modernisation: getting over the first hurdle.

9 in 10 UK firms struggling with outdated technology (i)

85% of UK office workers could be more efficient with better technology (ii)

28% of IT budgets in public sector and education are spent addressing technical debt (iii)

Most organisations I work with are aware of the issues they’re facing due to technical debt. Like them, you probably know the challenges. You know the costs. But perhaps you’re thinking: why bother scrabbling for budget to tackle a problem that might not cause serious issues for years to come? There’s no way we can solve this.

That’s the mindset I’m challenging.

The best time to tackle technical debt was years ago. The next best time is now. Finding out what steps you should take to modernise your systems will help you make informed decisions before it’s too late. Gaining that knowledge isn’t expensive or time consuming – but it could mean a much faster design and delivery process for future modernisation.

Hide it and hope it goes away?

Here’s an example of a typical client struggling with technical debt. How much sounds familiar?

The large estate (around 6000 users) is using technology from as far back as 2010. There are huge numbers of databases and spreadsheets – 40,000 wouldn’t be too high an estimate. Much of the enabling technology hasn’t changed much since the days of physical servers. Technical debt takes up around 40% of the IT budget.

The user experience isn’t up to scratch. There are security vulnerabilities. There’s a real lack of scalability. The organisation can’t respond to market forces or exploit new developments. Huge amounts of time are being wasted working around the technical complexities.

It can’t last much longer.


Many of the estate’s applications just aren’t suitable for cloud computing. The monolithic beast of a system has had more and more functions added to it to extract maximum value from that initial investment. Change one component and the whole lot comes crashing down. The best anyone can do is freeze it and hide it behind some firewalls and virtualisation.

How can anyone possibly solve this situation with budgets stretched thin and little time to spare?

Let’s break it down

With any complicated project, the key is to take things one step at a time.

In a Civica Application Transformation Health Check, we look at security. Technology. Apps. User experience. Data. Most of all, we’ll look at what you need the technology to do, measured across 11 dimensions of change.

What value does your system bring to business decisions? If the processes are working for staff, customers, suppliers, what can we do to improve the underlying infrastructure? Some organisations simply assume that modernisation is too big a problem – they won’t spend considerable sums to move from their existing enterprise resource planning, for example. We believe that you can improve what you already have if you’re happy with the basic processes.

In as little as a few weeks, a health check can clearly set out:

  • Challenges you’re facing in your organisation
  • Which sequence to tackle them in, with which teams and in which structure
  • The outcomes you can expect to see

You’ll no longer have something at the back of your mind you keep putting off. There’s no looming weight on your shoulders due to unanswered questions about budget or capacity. At last, you’ll have the evidence you need to make the case for change.

An easy first step

A health check is simply a vehicle to get you to the next stage of your modernisation journey. It shows clear steps for managing your way out of your technical debt – something you can take to other execs to explain what needs to happen next.

How immediate are your issues? How likely are they? How severe will the consequences be? Once you know the answers, you can start thinking about a more material discovery process, looking at accurate costs for remediation as well as timelines that suit your goals and capabilities.

Up-to-date applications bring better security. Better experience. Better compliance. Better decision-making. You know that legacy systems won’t last forever. The time to start planning for a better future for your business is right now.

Learn more about how we are helping to deliver the public sector services of the future.

Or, you can take a look at our Lunch & Learn schedule here.