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Modernizing Legacy IT into IT of the Future: Part 4 - Managing modern systems

In part 1 of this series, I discussed the key characteristics of modern IT systems and the various approaches for building such systems - Re-host, Re-write/Reengineer, Replace, Retain.

In part 2, I outlined how to understand the legacy system better and how to select the right modernization approach.

In part 3, I listed the various factors that should be considered by an agency as it chooses a modernization approach and how should such a complex program be executed and tested.

In this last part, I'll discuss how to deploy modern systems, the importance of having a comprehensive change management plan for successful adoption, and how should agencies manage these modern systems.

Organizational Change Management & user-training

A modernization program is successful only when people are able to use the new systems effectively.

Agencies are generally understaffed. Caseloads are overwhelming and users are hard pressed for time. When an IT landscape is modernized, it's not easy for users to learn the new system or processes.

Facilitating this change is crucial. This is why Organizational Change Management (OCM) is important. OCM is a systematic approach that helps an agency understand the scale and scope of impact on key stakeholders (both business users and customers), develop strategies to manage that impact, and employ various tools to facilitate the change/adoption. Four factors that form the critical part of an integrated organizational change management approach include:

 

Figure7 - OCM.png

Figure 7: Organizational Change Management

 

  • Clear expectations - People should be clear on what they must do, both during the project and in the new business environment. Change impact assessments will help identify the extent of change. There should be regular communication on what is happening and what will change. 
  • Skills and tools - People need to have the right skills and tools to achieve expectations - the new system introduces new ways to do the work. Extensive training and development exercises should be conducted so that the people have the right skills to use the system correctly.
  • Incentives & disincentives - People should have incentives and disincentives which create accountability and motivation to meet expectations. Roles and responsibilities should be fleshed out. There should be a clear definition of what constitutes a SLA success/failure and what the rewards or consequences will be in each case.
  • Managed plan - Modernization exercise should be approached as a planned, proactive, and carefully managed program that is focused on enhancing user adoption. Organizational change management activities should be closely tied up with overall program planning and implementation

An OCM program enables users to take complete ownership of the new systems. However, it's unreasonable to expect all users to adopt the new systems as soon as they are deployed. Complete ownership takes time. Agencies should keep this in mind while developing their OCM programs.

User-training is an essential sub-component of the OCM program and a key to success of any modernization initiative. Agencies should consider the following parameters while creating and executing their training plan.

  • Identify the stakeholders who will be impacted and outline how will they be impacted.
  • Analyze and document the extent of change to identify what should users be trained on
  • Develop training material that is user-centric (i.e. personalized for each stakeholder), modular (can be easily updated/changed/modified), and standardized
  • Define multiple ways in which the training material can be delivered or accessed by the users across channels (class-room, online etc.).
  • Define a centralized system to track enrollments, participation and completion of various modules.
  • Setup a command center or a support team that can be called upon by the users when they face issues while learning or using the system, and define SLAs for the support team so that users' queries are resolved quickly.

Deployment

Deployment of the new system involves multiple teams working seamlessly to ensure that the system goes live without any glitches. This is where a program management office becomes extremely important. PMO needs to develop a detailed plan that outlines the key activities that should be completed, due dates, key stakeholders, dependencies etc.

While planning the modernization exercise, agencies should also decide how they want to roll-out their systems - big bang, phased, pilot or parallel processing. Each option has its pros and cons and applicability. For example, Pilot is a critical phase for some programs, like SNAP, where the new system is initially made available to only a subset of member population. During this phase the legacy system has to continue to work for all the members and programs. This makes data synchronization extremely important.

An agency should choose the approach based on the modernization tactic and its needs.

Managing modern systems

Modernization is a continuous process. Agencies have to constantly assess and evolve their modernized applications to incorporate new technologies and address new requirements.

Also at any given time only a few systems or components may be modernized. This means that an agency has to use both the legacy as well as new systems for service delivery.

Doing both of these things in tandem is difficult for agencies that are already understaffed and constrained for resources.

One way to manage this is by splitting the IT team into two distinct teams, one which focuses on managing the existing enterprise IT systems (both legacy and modern), and the other focusing on rapid experimentation with new technologies - the high-speed IT team.

The building blocks of a high-speed IT team include a well-established rapid experimentation process, best practices from agile and DevOps, lean governance structure and common guiding principles that can help in integrating the high-speed IT team with the traditional IT team.

Many commercial-sector organizations have successfully set up this two-speed structure. Public sector agencies can learn from their commercial peers and be more agile. Read our point of view, Two-speed IT, for more details on how such a setup can be implemented.

Conclusion

A modernization initiative is like an orchestra, requiring perfect synchronization of many moving parts to deliver the right symphony. Through these four blogs, I outlined some of these moving parts and what should agencies do to manage them successfully. An agency should carefully consider each of these while planning its modernization exercise and contextualize them as necessary. What do you think?


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