Tips for migrating legacy applications in the public-sector

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On-premise exodus: tips for migrating legacy applications in the public-sector

Linton Burling - General Manager
Reading Time: 4 minutes

At the start of 2020, IDC predicted that public and private cloud spending would outperform “traditional IT spending” – think on-premise IT and legacy applications – in the forthcoming year. Of course, they weren’t accounting for a global pandemic, which has sent cloud spending into the stratosphere, while traditional IT spending wanes. Supporting this continued outlook Gartner has estimated that Australian organisations would spend $10.6 billion on public cloud services this year, an 18.4% increase from 2020.

IDC finished the year with a set of predictions for Australian enterprise organisations, asserting that by the end of 2021, 80 per cent of enterprises will put a mechanism in place to shift to cloud-centric infrastructure and applications, at twice the rate pre-pandemic. In short, 2020 was a massive year for cloud migration.

While this mass exodus out of on-prem into cloud-based environments is an exciting development for some private-sector organisations, it can be a daunting proposition for government agencies. These public-sector institutions all have vastly different needs, infrastructure, application environments and budgets, so finding the right path forward can come with unique challenges.

However, for some of those agencies that have had cloud migration on ice, time might be starting to run out. In October, the NSW government launched a new public cloud policy urging the state’s agencies to adopt a “public cloud first” strategy, with private cloud permitted “by exception”.  

The announcement marks a more aggressive public sector stance on cloud, signalling that those agencies still supporting monolithic legacy applications are starting to drift behind more modern and agile counterparts.

Top concerns around legacy migration

While many larger government agencies will have their digital transformation strategies set in stone,  it’s a little trickier when it comes to smaller organisations. These agencies must decide whether they jump onboard with their parent agency’s strategy or craft a unique path forward that works for them.

Smaller agencies should therefore carefully assess which applications and processes make the most sense to shift over to cloud. The idea that these entities push everything straight to the cloud sounds beneficial on paper, but it can be an arduous and disruptive process, with budgets stretching way beyond what was initially envisioned.

These agencies will benefit from a steadier, more incremental approach focusing on one application at a time. Some more lightweight on-premise applications might be easier to shift over, while other aging, monolithic applications might not be suitable. The technical experts behind the creation of these legacy applications might not even be with the company anymore, making migration a tall order if no one knows its source code or how it works.

Agencies must develop a strategy in each of these situations. At times when applications are too difficult to modernise, it’s worth considering keeping it running while a viable cloud-friendly replacement is found.

Careful consideration must also be given to shifts in cost structure. While it’s true that cloud offers cost efficiencies in the long-term – and even short term in some cases – an optimised cloud strategy is needed to manage the transition from a CapEx model to an OpEx one.

It’s crucial that these strategies ensure that capital costs are reduced as operational costs increase, as when there is uncertainty around the management of costs, this can hinder government sector decision making.

Fostering a culture of collaboration

The transition to cloud can be harder for larger agencies and those with more complex legacy systems. Meanwhile, smaller agencies might be concerned about budget constraints and whether projects will get approval from cabinet, creating a ‘standoff’ of who is going to modernise first.

In this regard, it’s critical for agencies to take leadership when it comes to cloud migration, as this is one of the most effective drivers for change. Agencies can then look to successful counterparts for guidance, as lessons and skills learnt are shared across the sector.

The advantage of collaboration is most evidently realised when a cloud strategy is deployed across multiple agencies, or when the government deploys succinct whole-of-government deals. Take the NSW government’s deal with Vault Cloud, which provides the opportunity for multiple agencies to enter the same ecosystem and benefit from cross collaboration.

These interactions will be beneficial in crafting a way forward, as no one understands the challenges of public sector cloud migration like agencies who have successfully managed it.

While each agency will have its own unique circumstances, it’s important to adapt the learnings of others into your own environments if agencies are going to remain agile and offer the best public services to a more demanding general public.

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