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IT Modernization in Government Report

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Updated:October 13, 2020

Available Languages

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  • PDF
    (1.1 MB)
    View with Adobe Reader on a variety of devices
Updated:October 13, 2020


U.S. Public Sector/State and Local

As modernization efforts intensify, citizen expectations, stakeholder education and technical debt remain key drivers and challenges.


Today’s government IT leader is tasked with managing a hybrid environment of legacy systems, cloud applications, and citizen-friendly portals and interfaces — all while continuing efforts to modernize systems and the infrastructure powering them.

To better understand the drivers and challenges surrounding government IT modernization, the Center for Digital Government (CDG) surveyed 165 government IT professionals responsible for large enterprise and agency systems. Respondents provided insights on how stakeholders see government technology, the pace at which legacy systems are being upgraded and the key barriers to faster adoption.

This piece was written and produced by the Center for Digital Government, with information and input from Cisco.

About the survey

The report is based on a nationwide CDG survey of 165 state officials responsible for enterprise or large agency IT, conducted in early 2020. Respondents represent a range of agency and department functions. A plurality (37 percent) represent central IT and telecommunication agencies or departments.*

About the survey

Nearly half (49 percent) of respondents are IT managers or supervisors. Agency and department directors represented nearly 20 percent of respondents, as did C-level IT professionals.

About the survey

* Due to rounding, not all percentages will add up to 100 percent

Key findings

Citizen expectations are rapidly evolving, and so are the technologies needed to keep pace

Much has been written about the “consumerization” of technology — the expectation that all citizen-facing services should be as easy to use as an e-commerce website. Survey respondents suggest these expectations continue to be a driving force in government IT.

More than seven in 10 (72 percent) respondents said the public has expressed greater expectations for website portals to access government services in the past 12 to 18 months. More than half (58 percent) cited greater demand for a single sign-on solution or other simplified access to government services.

Constituents are also pressuring governments to respond to external threats and protect their personal information — more than six in 10 (62 percent) respondents said their constituents are increasingly aware of emerging and ongoing cybersecurity threats. Nearly one in three (31 percent) said they have heard greater calls for publicly available privacy policies over the last 12 to 18 months.

What are some of the ways that constituents’ expectations of IT staff and capabilities in government have increased over the last 12 to 18 months? (Select all that apply)

Key findings

These expectations of simplicity and security are shaping how IT leaders prioritize their needs. More than half of survey respondents prioritized data privacy and security (58 percent) and user interface development (52 percent) as the top areas of innovation needed for the citizen experience. Ensuring data availability, collaborative platforms and app development are other priority areas.

Are there key areas you see as crucial to the citizen experience? (Choose top 3)

citizen experience

Shift from legacy systems continues but remains a work in progress

More than two-thirds (67 percent) of respondents said that fewer than half of their IT systems and solutions are legacy systems. Nine percent have all but eliminated legacy systems — 10 percent or fewer of their current systems fall into that category. Even so, these findings suggest the government IT landscape is still overwhelmingly a complex environment of legacy and modern infrastructure and systems.

What percentage of your current IT systems and solutions are ‘legacy systems’?

(Legacy defined as more than five years old since a refresh/upgrade).

Legacy defined

Legacy systems continue to rack up technical debt — and hinder efforts to improve operations

The legacy systems that remain in government operations still require a considerable amount of IT resources that may not be readily available. More than one-quarter of survey respondents (27 percent) say they allocate more than half of their IT staffing or hours to maintain legacy systems and processes. Only 11 percent of respondents report spending 10 percent or less of staff time on these systems.

What percentage of your IT staffing (either in dedicated personnel or working hours) is spent maintaining legacy IT systems and processes?

IT systems and processes

Survey respondents also overwhelmingly believe these systems have a real-world impact on overall operations. More than two-thirds (69 percent) said the lack of IT modernization is negatively impacting their business process efficiency.

Do you believe your business process efficiency is negatively impacted by a lack of IT modernization?

IT modernization

Work to modernize it continues to accelerate, following larger strategic goals

Two-thirds of survey respondents (66 percent) plan to modernize as many as half of their remaining legacy systems over the next two years. A plurality (32 percent) intend to modernize between 10 and 25 percent of these systems, while nearly two in 10 survey respondents (18 percent) plan to upgrade 50 percent or more of their legacy systems.

Given your state’s or agency’s strategic IT planning, what percentage of your legacy systems do you intend to modernize in the next 18 to 24 months?

IT planning

The modernization roadmap is largely being driven by ongoing strategic goals and plans. Respondents were nearly evenly divided between administrative goals (38 percent) and their own internal strategic goals and plans (40 percent). Constituent feedback represents a much smaller driver of modernization efforts, with 16 percent of respondents saying they use external feedback to create strategic goals.

How are you and other IT leaders prioritizing modernization efforts?

IT leaders prioritizing modernization

Barriers to modernization include stakeholder support, staff readiness and cost — but re­spondents say they are moving forward nonetheless.

Most survey respondents report at least some support from key stakeholders — including state agency leaders, colleagues and the public — to modernize legacy systems. More than eight in 10 (84 percent) report strong or some support for planned upgrades, and only 10 percent say they lack any stakeholder support for modernization. Staff readiness may pose a greater challenge for some governments and agencies. Nearly one in five respondents (19 percent) don’t believe their staff is prepared to modernize IT systems. However, more than one-third (35 percent) were confident their staff is ready for modernization efforts, and 78 percent said they were at least somewhat ready. That’s important, because participants suggest that frontline staff and managers play a crucial role in modernization efforts. More than half of survey respondents (51 percent) said a quarter or more of modernization efforts are driven by employees and managers.

Please tell us your opinions on the following questions:

Related image, diagram or screenshot

While cost remains a barrier to modernization, it isn’t preventing governments and agencies from moving forward. Only 18 percent of respondents said the cost of cloud or hybrid cloud solutions and technologies posed more than half of the impediment to modernization efforts. Roughly just as many (20 percent) said cost was less than 10 percent of the impediment to moving forward.

Progress has been made on educating stakeholders, but more needs to be done

A majority of survey respondents said their stakeholders have at least some understanding of the key issues surrounding IT modernization, including how it can impact systems and data, the potential of cost reduction, the challenges involving cybersecurity and data management, and its potential to help IT professionals meet tomorrow’s challenges.

However, broad stakeholder understanding of the challenges posed by the current IT environment in many government agencies was less clear, according to survey respondents. More than half (53 percent) said their stakeholders did not understand the issues around hybrid IT environments.

Do you believe all your stakeholders have a clear understanding of IT modernization? This would include:

How IT modernization can impact systems and data

How IT modernization

Reductions or increases in costs

Reductions or increases in costs

Hybridization of IT systems

Hybridization of IT systems

Cybersecurity and data management challenges

Cybersecurity and data management challenges

Enhancing the ability of IT professionals to meet tomorrow’s challenges

Enhancing the ability of IT professionals to meet tomorrow’s challenges

Employee experiences matter

Survey respondents stressed that government modernization efforts impact — and are impacted by — another scarce resource: IT employees. Nearly seven in 10 respondents (69 percent) said IT modernization relies on upgrading workforce skills through professional development. However, investments in professional development and technology infrastructure also pay off: about half of respondents said that doing so improves general workplace satisfaction and employee retention, as well as attracts new employees to government service.

Based on your experience, what are the workforce components to modernizing key systems? (Select all that apply)

Based on your experience

Attracting new employees — particularly younger ones — is a key challenge for government IT leaders. Survey participants said that emphasizing their agencies’ public service mission is the most common strategy to recruit a next-generation workforce.

Other strategies include strengthening recruitment at colleges and universities and publicizing their interest in recruiting early-career professionals. Emphasizing modernization efforts ranked lower, though CDG research shows that young professionals value workplace collaboration and the technology that empowers it.

What strategies are you implementing to attract younger professionals to your agency/department?

implementing to attract younger


Public sector IT leaders are responding to growing citizen expectations around ease of access to government services and the privacy and security of their personal information. As modernization efforts continue, the findings outlined in this report suggest several strategies agencies can use to ensure new technology meets their enduring mission — efficiently serving the public.

      Consider soliciting additional feedback from constituents to prioritize modernization efforts. Fewer than half (48 percent) of respondents said they seek feedback from the public about experiences using government systems and data. Only 16 percent use it to create strategic goals.

      Focus on educating all stakeholders. While survey respondents said that stakeholders at least somewhat understand the issues around IT modernization, they are more likely to believe they understand some but not all the issues. Importantly, only 7 percent of respondents said that stakeholders understand the challenges of operating their current hybrid IT environments.

      Emphasize the “public” in public service to recruit the next generation of government employees. While young professionals have high expectations of technology in the workplace, research suggests that it’s the potential of serving a greater good that attracts them to careers in government.

Produced by:

The Center for Digital Government, a division of e.Republic, is a national research and advisory institute on information technology policies and best practices in state and local government. Through its diverse and dynamic programs and services, the Center provides public and private sector leaders with decision support, knowledge and opportunities to help them effectively incorporate new technologies in the 21st century.




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Our solutions for networking and security are strengthening resiliency in government by enabling more efficiency in daily operations and increasing agility for times of stress. And our industry-leading real-time communications technologies are securely enhancing collaboration and information sharing to better serve citizens while increasing transparency and keeping data secure.

Together with our partners in government, Cisco is empowering government with the solutions, services, and support to meet the challenges of today while preparing for the future. Join us in shaping the next generation of government.

Learn more: https://www.cisco.com/go/government

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