Legacy migration or platform and process renewal?

28 June 2012 | Glenn Berg, Provincial Government Industry Manager, Microsoft Canada

​From my many conversations with public sector leaders, when the topic of "IT challenges" comes up, inevitably, we spend a lot of time talking about legacy systems. More specifically: what to do with them. More than ever, public sector organizations are facing budget pressure and heightened citizen demands. Yet, at the same time, these organizations continue to grapple with systems that are either too inflexible to deliver modern services or simply too costly to keep them running for the long-term.

One of the areas in which this challenge seems to be particularly prevalent is with systems used to handle licensing and permitting in the public sector.

Beside tax collection, these systems often represent the largest interaction governments have with their stakeholders, and they are often the single largest factor that determines whether a business or individual is able to perform some form of economic activity. Given the desire around the world for governments to facilitate economic growth, cut red tape, and streamline processes, the ability to issue licenses and permits is of great interest. In short, these systems are critical.

Despite the importance of these systems, many licensing and permitting systems are mired with a variety of challenges:

  • Many are still paper-based and require users to mail-in their applications, which can slow the process and is, by nature, more costly to operate.
  • The legacy back-end systems that run licensing and permitting are often some of the first ones developed, using technology from many decades ago.
  • As regulations over time have become more complex, so have the demands placed on these systems.
  • Systems are not always updated at the same pace as new regulations or changes to the business, creating a patchwork of fixes that, over time, become unstable, complex or prohibitively expensive when making broad changes to the system. In some cases, governments must spend millions of dollars for even simple changes such as applying a new tax rate across several forms.

In today's world, there is now a need to report across systems, a need to support applying for multiple permits and licenses that are interrelated, and also a need to handle requests that may not have even existed 10 years ago. Trying to address these issues with a patchwork of fixes to legacy systems often results in a permitting and licensing environment that looks like a "spaghetti diagram" of systems and interconnectivity, causing more problems than are actually solved. For governments facing this issue, one of the popular ways to address it has been to explore business intelligence (BI) tools to report on and gain insights into multiple siloed systems. Similarly, governments have also looked at Service Buses as a way to quickly couple different data sets across different applications to improve interconnectivity.

However, these approaches only tend to address the symptoms of a larger problem. One really needs to look at the environment as a whole and look to reexamine the platform itself as opposed to continuing to patch and augment archaic systems to simply "get by a little longer."

One of the areas where Microsoft makes a great contribution to this space is with the COTS Commercial Off the Shelf (COTS) components that make up our Dynamics suite of products. These core products, which span CRM, Navision, and Axapta, offer pre-built components that allow governments to very quickly and easily migrate systems (like those for licensing and permitting) to modern ones capable of handling modern service requirements, from offering online services and enabling citizen self-service to having access to cross-solution reporting and restructuring business processes. To find out more, be sure to check out our dedicated website.

Have a comment or opinion on this post? Let me know @MicrosoftOnGov. Have a question for the author? Please e-mail us at ongovernment@microsoft.com.

Glenn Berg
Provincial Government Industry Manager, Microsoft Canada

About the Author

Glenn Berg | Provincial Government Industry Manager, Microsoft Canada

Glenn’s focus is helping government organizations identify new ways of leveraging technology to facilitate change and boost productivity. Glenn was formerly a government policy analyst and has also authored several books on technology.