Are governments struggling to modernize, or are they just reluctant?
Blog //18-08-2021

Are governments struggling to modernize, or are they just reluctant?

by Rob Anderson, Vice President of Marketing and Product for Application Modernization

2021 Mainframe Modernization Report - Read Here

A recently-published UK Government report has found that half of all government IT spending is dedicated to keeping monolithic systems going.

According to the Cabinet Office’s report, Organizing for Digital Delivery, £4.7bn a year (equivalent to almost $6.5bn) is spent on IT across all departments, and £2.3bn goes on patching up legacy systems – some of which date back 30 years or more. It also warns that the UK government could end up spending between £13bn and £22bn over the next five years on obsolete systems.

Even though governments across the globe – including UK government – have already taken monumental steps towards the modernization of their core systems, it's no surprise to us that the need for governments to modernize their critical applications is still prevalent. In a blog in May, we discussed our top four legacy migration tips for government organisations. And since we published that, we discovered some interesting findings of our own through the 2021 Mainframe Modernization Report that may help to put the issue into greater perspective, and further stress the importance of modernization.

Poor information about legacy systems

We found that 77% of organizations across all sectors have started but failed to complete at least one modernization programme, with this figure shooting up to 84% for government organizations. But why?

One common challenge is that mainframe applications tend to pass through many hands over many decades, often without proper documentation of features or functional relationships. Often, they are like ‘black boxes’ – entanglements of code written by developers who may have retired or left the organization long ago. Many of the older systems were developed during a time when processing and handling big data was not the norm. We found that lack of information about legacy systems is a key challenge for 28% of organizations across all sectors, but for government organizations, this figure jumps up to 41% interestingly.

Whilst the reasons for this stark difference are unclear, one driver could be that government entities are often forced to evaluate and qualify modernization partners based strictly on their adherence to request for pricing (RFP) processes, rather than on demonstrated success or innovative products and services.

It’s undeniable that the result of housing critical data on these monolithic systems can have dangerous consequences. We saw what happened in the State of New Jersey last March, when the sudden surge in pandemic-fueled benefit claims caused the state’s 40-year-old mainframes to crash. And not forgetting the UK Police National Computer (PNC) scandal in January of this year, where both human error and management failures led to the deletion of more than 200,000 offense records from the 47-year-old mainframe. And with the legacy skills gap only continuing to increase, it’s clear that outdated attitudes towards these systems need to change.

“Too reliable to fail”

Legacy mainframes are still used by around 70% of Fortune 500 companies today. The reasoning for it is clear – there’s no doubting that they are reliable and robust. It possibly also explains why 59% of our research respondents admit they have failed to get funding from leadership due to past modernization program failures, with 42% say it’s because there is a lack of understanding on why the Cloud offers material advantages over alternatives.

Our report demonstrates that the benefits of legacy modernization have never been clearer. 54% say it has allowed them to be more reactive to market changes – quite a jump from 33% last year. In addition, 72% of organizations consider their modernization activity as a key part of improving their carbon footprint. You can read it for free here.

Further resources

Application Modernization Application Modernization and Migration Application Modernization Strategy Application Re-architected and Reintegration Application Understanding OpenVMS Application Modernization ABM Application Analyzer Application Modernization and Migration Application Understanding Assessment COBOL Gen Lang IB-Arm OpenVMS VME OpenVMS Blog
Rob Anderson

Rob Anderson


Vice President of Marketing and Product for Application Modernization

Rob Anderson is Vice President of Marketing and Product for Application Modernization. He has spent the better part of the past decade developing, marketing, and selling mainframe modernization solutions, and has had a front-row seat in the transformation of the industry and its surrounding ecosystem.

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