Insight by Pegasystems, Inc.

Automation and orchestration can turn legacy systems into “jet fuel for achieving your mission”

This content is sponsored by Pegasystems, Inc.

There’s a prevailing narrative that legacy systems are quickly becoming an impediment to federal agencies accomplishing their missions. They’re not designed for the pace of today’s digital ecosystem, and they’re not intuitive for users, be they citizens on public facing systems or government employees trying to get their work done. But that narrative may be an oversimplification.

“Government legacy investments in information technology should not be negatively viewed. Those legacy systems are jet fuel for achieving agency mission, if they’re orchestrated correctly,” said David Marsh, Director and Industry Principal for Federal Government at Pegasystems, Inc. “Substituting ‘rip-and-replace’ with a ‘wrap-and-renew’ approach, translates into both procuring a contemporary technology and enhancing your current IT investments by orchestrating them and getting maximum value from the data within. This is the least disruptive approach to agencies making their data tell their stories.”

To be fair, legacy systems are not without their challenges. They’re often designed as silos, and on average are more expensive to maintain. The original software manufacturer may no longer be supporting the versions agencies currently have implemented and can become a barrier to consumption and adoption of those systems.  Why is this an issue?  When looking to attract, recruit and retain new IT talent, an IT ecosystem comprised mostly of legacy systems can be an impediment to those looking to expand their knowledge base and advance their IT careers.

That said, they’re expensive investments that agencies are hesitant to abandon, because they tend to be well-contained, secure and robust systems that are deeply entrenched in the ways and means of getting work done.  In other words, they’re as vital as they are “sticky”. From a budgetary perspective, a rip-and-replace approach would involve significant upfront capital investments and inject risk for agencies that already face challenges with their IT budgets.

That’s why agencies should consider turning to the wrap-and-renew method when modernizing their systems. An agnostic, athletic platform like Pega, which plays well in any environment, can help agencies improve their workflows and business processes without fully abandoning their legacy investments. Pega can apply automation on a small scale, maybe only a transaction or two, while also being able to scale up to streamlining entire workflows with intelligent automation and decision-making. That can enhance visibility into the data and enable better decision-making.

“Prior to joining Pega, I was working in an environment where we were developing a roadmap for cloud alternatives to an existing inter-agency, data-sharing initiative.  It boiled down to one agency ingested data from multiple external sources to conduct initial scoring, or risk score for requested benefit.  While some data was digitally transferred, much relied on a manual process of either hand-carrying or using third party media (email) to perform and extract, transfer, load or ETL transaction.  This could have potential negative impact on data fidelity.  This highlighted a need for a flexible solution that could be dropped into the workflow, without disruption, and leveraging intelligent automation capabilities such as single and multiple use APIs and chatbots in between the two systems to have them talking to each other,” Marsh said. “Both of these disjointed systems are rich with data and very secure, but lack of a fully digital and end-to-end process flow makes it very difficult to satisfy on-demand status inquiries.  Inquiries from both agency employees and the U.S. citizens requesting government services – because the working parts are not orchestrated in an optimal fashion.”

Marsh said the emphasis should be on loss avoidance, rather than cost avoidance. Agencies have their budgets, and they will obligate, commit, and expend according to their strategic plans. But greatly reducing the time and administrative workload during legacy process workflows spanning multiple systems is a direct opportunity to get more out of that same budget – or do more with the same. Processes that require human intervention like sending an envelope between two agencies loses time, and even elevating that interaction to the level of email risks security losses. That’s not even getting into the potential for human error that leads to data degradation, or the overhead paid on storage space to maintain physical copies of required records.

“The movement, duplication, and storage of paper-based records is an avoidable loss.  Retention periods vary, but even at five-years it’s a compounding budgetary issue.  From the perspective of avoidance,” Marsh said. “We sit in between those systems, so we can say, ‘we’re going to give you a fantastic User Interface (UI), a unified user experience, where agency employees and citizens can access a system or solution and receive a consistent presentation of data and transparency from the moment a request is submitted, or a case is initiated.  An omni-channel experience where systems can be accessed via media of choice.  The ability to show progress and answer the questions of:  Where is it?  Who was the last person that acted on it?  When can I expect a final resolution?  Why is it taking longer than previously communicated?  Answer these questions with holistic insight and you’re taking a digital sledgehammer to a very frustrating process.”

The frustration of these processes affects not only the citizen interacting with agencies, but also the employees as well. That begins with their very first interaction with government agencies: the hiring process, which is legendarily lengthy. Marsh said that’s because, again, the process involves multiple systems that don’t directly – or digitally interact. So, one system performs background checks while another handles knowledge, skills and abilities, and another schedules interviews, etc.  In the end, someone must manually parse that all together.

“I think that frustration is going to grow exponentially as it doesn’t translate to or register with the workforce generation coming up now who were born in a digital world.  A fully digital life experience has reduced tolerance or patience in decision making processes,” Marsh said. “Attracting and maintaining top talent is not going to get easier. So, agencies have a need to automate, orchestrate, and streamline the hiring and onboarding processes.  Lastly, the transparency that comes with this digital transformation will provide a candidate for government service with a thorough understanding of what’s going to happen and how long it will take for them to go through the hiring and onboarding processes.”

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