3 common reasons IT modernization efforts fail

2021/09/10 Kyle Tuberson

3 common reasons IT modernization efforts fail

Editor’s note: The following is a guest article from Kyle Tuberson, public sector CTO at ICF.


For decades, outdated IT infrastructure has held government agencies and private enterprises back. 


These systems continue to slow down business processes and no longer deliver on mission objectives. Moving forward, we’re seeing great strides towards digital transformation, especially in the public sector. It’s projected that between 2020 and 2024, the direct investments into digital transformation will reach a total of 7.8 trillion U.S. dollars


But with such a high national budget for these efforts, there’s now more than ever the need for organizations to approach digital transformation with a specific lens, keeping a close eye on what could potentially fail.


Many agencies and enterprises have ambitious goals for modernizing information systems. In response to data fragmentation and a severe lack of interoperability, mission leaders are seeking agile platforms to create needed applications and improve end-user experiences. 


CIOs recognize that advanced technology is out there and want to optimize their business practices. However, these decision makers can be poorly prepared for potential roadblocks along the way.


For the best results, it’s important to fully understand the snags of digital transformation and how to mitigate them, since even slight errors can derail these efforts. By avoiding three typical mistakes, transformations are more likely to succeed.

Mistake No. 1: Not holistically assessing your organization

Often, CIOs are so eager to embark on modernization efforts that they take the plunge without taking a holistic assessment of their organization. Before modernizing, a leader should examine the current system’s strengths and flaws, and acknowledge the workflows and processes that are already in place. 


Without understanding this, CIOs will not know how to alleviate the pain points. 


They should consider if they have the right resources to effectively modernize, the talent and roles present within their organization, and if their organization will change after infrastructure is modernized. Skipping this assessment can jeopardize time and leave CIOs without an accurate picture of their organization.


Education is another key part that is commonly neglected. It’s believed that automation will replace employees’ jobs, which can cause tension around transformation. In fact, modernized infrastructure can actually create more jobs. Mission leaders must take time to educate employees around the new opportunities digital transformation will bring. 


For example, low/no-code technology allows those with little to no programming experience to fulfill roles that were once only available to software developers. Now, business analysts can take on programming jobs, and current programmers can focus on more advanced projects. Successful modernization requires an ecosystem of partners working in harmony. 

Mistake No. 2: Not aligning on the proper strategy

Strategy is at the core of successful digital transformation. Mission leaders must closely analyze desired outcomes at the start of a mission and work backwards to determine a best path forward.


The strategy component allows decision makers to have a clear approach to modernizing infrastructure. Just like driving a car, a destination is needed to know where to go, and step-by-step instructions are needed to know how to get there. 


Digital modernization is no different: a CIO should consider how principles are brought to strategy, how the work is delivered for implementation, and how success is measured. A major mistake is not critically thinking through the final outcome and creating a strategy to match that.


While a thorough strategy is necessary, it’s also crucial to choose an IT vendor who can translate the strategy into action and deliver immediate value. An effective IT vendor will know the federal space and understand how to orchestrate the right mix of technologies to achieve mission success, quickly. To ensure successful modernization and avoid further slowdowns, CIOs should carefully choose an agile and experienced partner who is fluent in the domain.


Mission leaders must also align on which components must be modernized first. For many organizations, especially those dealing with highly sensitive information, cybersecurity is a major risk. CIOs should calculate their strategy with a risk-based approach and tactically plan what parts of the current system need to be prioritized.

Mistake No. 3: Routine maintenance

Once modernization is enacted, routine maintenance is required. This involves consistent portfolio reviews that allow mission leaders to assess their infrastructure and determine what needs an upgrade in the future. This allows for modernization to not just benefit the organization today, but also ensures that the system will be future-proofed for years to come.


This maintenance process heavily involves governance. It’s tempting to think that once a modernization effort is complete, the heavy lifting is done. However, modernization is not a one and done situation, but a constantly evolving effort. CIOs should conduct monthly check-ins to ensure there are no areas of technical risk or failing parts, but also identify places to advance. 


A crucial part of routine check-ins is the ability to act quickly and efficiently if there is an area that needs to be fixed. This can be accomplished through CI/CD pipelines, which allow for continuous integration/delivery. CI/CD pipelines enable teams to deliver newly developed ideas in a timely fashion. 


With legacy systems, including those utilized by the government, the process of deployment for a new system could take up to a month, whereas systems operating on CI/CD pipelines could be imagined and built within the same day.


The integration of CI/CD pipelines allows for ideas to actually be delivered on. 

Made a mistake? Let the data talk

Modernization can be a long, detailed process with potential obstacles along the way. If you veer off course with one of these mistakes, don’t panic. Instead, you should take a step back and analyze. An efficient way to do this is analyzing the data around what’s working on a weekly basis. 


CIOs should ask themselves questions about what their mission is, and how they are measuring up to what they want to accomplish. This discovery factor relies on collecting data to figure out the problems. This can help identify problem areas, and in doing so, put your mission back on course.


This article was written by Kyle Tuberson from CIO Dive and was legally licensed through the Industry Dive publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@industrydive.com.

Related Contents