Legacy LPI Migrations: Business or Technology Focus?
By Shashi Shivanna, Vice President, Professional Services – Spruce Technology
“There are great gains to be made in replacement of legacy mainframe systems with modern LPI solutions, but how can enforcement agencies effectively overcome the obstacles to success?”
The first true enterprise systems used by enforcement agencies to manage licensing, permitting and inspections (LPI) were mainframe applications with “green screen” terminal access for users. These massive systems served our government entities well for many years, but unfortunately, many of them remain rooted at the center of agency operations today. This is unfortunate because these systems, and many other legacy applications like them, prevent agencies from advancing at pace expected by their constituents.
Critical Mainframe Limitations
- Mainframe data is not conducive for modern reporting, dashboards, or searches – this limits how transparent agencies can be with the public they serve.
- Mainframe architecture is highly isolated and inaccessible to standard network access methods – this limits an agency’s ability to integrate mainframe processes with other external systems, and increases the amount of manual work (and duplicate data entry) required for common tasks.
- Mainframe processes are complex, with numerous dependencies and up/downstream impacts for any change, making them somewhat inflexible – this limits how quickly and easily an agency can adapt to new laws and policies.
- Mainframe technologies themselves are antiquated, and not often pursued by today’s college graduates and IT professionals – this limits an agency’s ability to hire qualified people to support their critical systems.
And this is just the tip of the iceberg of the limitations a mainframe LPI application imposes on an enforcement agency today. So why, then, do so many agencies continue to maintain these legacy monoliths?
Spruce has come face-to-face with the challenges typically associated with large, enterprise legacy modernization efforts countless times. Our team of experts engage with clients to implement proven strategies, and tailor them to meet each client’s specific needs. Typical challenges we find when engaged to modernize an LPI systems environment that is currently mainframe dependent include:
- 20, 25, 30+ year old systems are rarely well documented and many (if not all) of the mainframe programmers most familiar with these highly complex environments have long since left the agency.
- Business rules, calculations, data dependencies, and other critical system logic is often sprinkled across millions of lines of largely linear code. With limited documentation and knowledgeable experts, extracting required logic is incredibly difficult.
- Legacy systems typically support large numbers of interdependent programs and functions, so that replacing one has tremendous impact on the others. Big bang replacements could take years with uncertain results, and incremental replacements require highly complex release plans including interim connections for backwards compatibility.
- While the benefits of legacy modernization are easy enough to see (increased transparency, improved customer service, increase speed and efficiency, reduced errors caused by multiple-manual data entry steps, etc.), such projects often span more than one administration, and can suffer for lack of political support.
Again, this is just a small glimpse into the challenges. So… what’s to be done? Obviously, there are great gains to be made in the replacement of legacy systems with modern LPI solutions, but how can enforcement agencies effectively overcome the obstacles to success?
Through our numerous successful legacy modernization projects, Spruce has developed a proven approach to navigate and drive our clients’ modernization journeys. Some of the keys to successfully modernizing a legacy LPI environment include:
- Do not approach an LPI replacement initiative as purely a technology project. Yes, the goal is the implementation of new, and the retirement of old technology. However, this goal is simply an enabler. The true goals are increased transparency for the public, improved customer service, faster turnaround of applications, removal of tedious manual tasks for agency personnel, better ability to keep pace with changing laws/code/policy, etc.
By letting these business goals – PRIORITZED BY AGENY STAKEHOLDERS – drive your legacy transformation, a clear roadmap (with strong support) can be established for your journey. Spruce’s proprietary “7Rs” approach, coupled with a detailed decision review matrix (all of which start with targeted business outcomes) helps us in establishing that relationship between business and technology.
- While part of Spruce’s approach for legacy modernization includes a proven method for extracting business rules and other critical logic from current systems, these rules should only inform the to-be design (not define it, one for one).
Modern LPI systems enable different types of automation, include options for parallel processing, provide flexible logic for conditional processing, and more. Allow time in your legacy modernization journey to reimagine as-is processes without the limitations of legacy tools.
- Clients tend to put tremendous emphasis on application architecture when embarking on a legacy modernization journey. Functional limitations in their mainframe systems drive them to stress flexibility and ease of use. In Spruce’s experience, however, an equal emphasis needs to be placed on your LPI data itself. Flexible and user-focused design should not be allowed to threaten data quality, and more, a strong data focus should be used to better arm modern LPI system users.
Spruce’s approach includes dedicated resources for data analysis, mapping, governance planning, migration, etc. Critically, however, even though we have independent teams for data analysis vs. business analysis, Spruce’s data teams provide the input that drives much of our business-oriented approach: What data indicators can confirm the current state assessment? What quality metrics need strengthening within a business process? How should system architecture be designed to handle data volume? In fact, Spruce has found such benefit to a data-focused modernization approach, we have developed several Data Services strategies (such as the implementation of operational data stores either as temporary or permanent solution components) for maximization of LPI data through the transformation process.
Spruce has many more lessons learned and modular tactics built into our legacy modernization methodology, and our 7Rs approach helps to identify options for clients in a way that is easy to consume, understand, and relate to stakeholders across the agency.
Learn more about how legacy modernization or mainframe migration is evolving and how Spruce teams can help you with our approach, collaterals, and tools by contacting me today for a discussion. I look forward to speaking with you.