Insight by GitLab

What are the modernization challenges now for state and local government?

In the age of digital services, many state and local government organizations still rely on COBOL-era applications running in terminal and mainframe mode.

“It’s still hanging on. It’s hanging on pretty well, in fact,” observed Joel Krooswyk, the public sector chief technology officer at GitLab.

If not modernized, such applications can present obstacles on two fronts:

They make it difficult to improve digital services to constituents.
They can slow down productivity and the...

READ MORE

Shape

Modernization and Other Trends within State and Local Governments

What does it look like to modernize today versus what maybe we would have thought modernization was in 2019?

In the age of digital services, many state and local government organizations still rely on COBOL-era applications running in terminal and mainframe mode.

“It’s still hanging on. It’s hanging on pretty well, in fact,” observed Joel Krooswyk, the public sector chief technology officer at GitLab.

If not modernized, such applications can present obstacles on two fronts:

  • They make it difficult to improve digital services to constituents.
  • They can slow down productivity and the general employee experience for remote employees and teleworkers.

No less than their federal government counterparts, Krooswyk said, state, county and municipal officials must deal with crucial data in their legacy systems, devise a strategy for modernizing their code and establish a plan for greater commercial cloud adoption. They also must take into account how the pandemic changed how employees feel about the workplace and how citizens feel about in-person visits, he said.

“What does it look like to modernize today versus what maybe we would have thought modernization was in 2019?” Krooswyk said.

For any modernization, IT teams must ensure continued security of data, he said. Legacy applications might be inflexible, but they are well understood and secure. Modernization introduces new architectures, new code and new approaches to networks. It also opens new potential cybersecurity vulnerabilities.

“If you’re moving to the cloud, for instance, if you’re doing so with all your data first and then putting the applications on top, do you have everything set up correctly — where somebody can’t sneak in and grab a token and now expose all that data to the internet?” Krooswyk said, adding, “We’ve taken ourselves out of that secure world with the mainframe, and now all of a sudden, there’s a lot of new attack vectors.”

Because so many programs administered at the state and municipal level originate at the federal level with funding, he said, federal security policies will flow down.

“If we’re modernizing our technologies and our applications, we’re opening new windows to new threats,” Krooswyk said. “And we want to make sure that we follow all the zero trust guidelines and the scanning guidelines that are pouring forth today on the federal side.”

Tech recruiting challenges at state and local level

When working with state and local agencies, Krooswyk said two common themes have emerged. One is the need to retain or recruit the talent required to carry out IT modernization. The other is need to create an environment attractive to the people the organizations need.

People generally want to work remotely to the extent they can, and that can run counter to state or local government policies.

“Getting people to come back into the office in a post pandemic era can be really challenging,” Krooswyk said. “And attracting top talent and keeping it in an era of some pretty rampant inflation – it’s been interesting. Talent retention is a really big situation that a lot of locales are dealing with.”

Presuming other conditions are conducive to recruiting and retaining IT talent, the issue becomes whether the technical environment is up to date or whether people with contemporary IT skills will turn their noses up, he said.

When getting calls from state and local government IT officials about a skills gap, Krooswyk says that his first question is what tools they’re using to tackle digital transformation.

“When we’re asking those questions, what we’re finding out is, ‘Well, some of my tools are from the ’90s,’ ” he said.

The development platform is more than a simple talent retention issue though. Users of new digital services, whether external or internal, have high expectations stemming from what they experience in the best of the private sector. Krooswyk cited a personal example of an interstate move. In one state, a transaction concerning an automobile license plate typically takes six weeks. In the new state, an online purchase had the new plates delivered in two days.

But in the domains of permitting, professional licensing or benefits applications, too many states are still in the mode of having people print out forms and mail them in, Krooswyk said.

“If the expectation is, ‘We’ll be able to get a passport online,’ the expectation will probably also be looking like, ‘Well, I just need to get a permit for construction. Why can’t I do that online?’ ”

Featured speakers

  • Joel Krooswyk

    Public Sector Chief Technology Officer, GitLab

  • Tom Temin

    Host, The Federal Drive, Federal News Network