Russell Macdonald, HPE's CTO for the public sector, says that the sector’s battle with legacy technology is ongoing and requires a shift in mindset to a ‘consciously hybrid’ approach in order to deliver transformation success.
Our research found that as much as 70% of public sector organisations’ infrastructure and 73% of data remains on-premises. Around 25% of respondents stated that over half of their infrastructure is legacy. Over 78% of respondents also shared that they have third-party services and solutions that are not ready or fit for public cloud migration.
This is a stark indicator of the sector’s ongoing battle with legacy technology, meaning digitisation is no mean feat. A ‘lift and shift’ approach is not viable for moving these systems and workloads to the public cloud. Doing so can result in infrastructure that is more complex, cumbersome, and costly than before.
In 2013, the National Audit Office said that £480bn of government operating revenues and £210bn in non-staff expenditure were reliant on legacy ICT, citing DWP and HMRC as case studies. In FY2011-12, when the NAO report was conducted, The DWP pension service served around 13 million customers a year, following its introduction in 1987. Their mainframe was installed in 1974, and only in 2021 did they bring support of it in-house after a £143m project, which they hope will save them around £257 million over the next seven to eight years.
We understand significant progress has been made in modernising the mainframe, and we explored this in an interview with Bryan Nelson, lead transformation manager for Hybrid Cloud Services at Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) Digital, earlier this year.
Almost a decade since the 2013 NAO report, the Cabinet Office reported that the UK Government spends £2.3 billion annually on operating, maintaining, and supporting legacy systems out of its £4.7 billion total annual IT budget. We wanted to understand why this is.
Legacy and complexity challenge
Nelson shared: “The challenge for us is the legacy estate and the complexity of these systems – many of which have been operating since the DWP was founded over 20 years ago. They cannot be easily moved into a cloud environment. We were also cognisant of the long range cost implications of investing in cloud – especially when storing such enormous quantities of data.”
He went on to explain the importance of maintaining consistent working practices across the organisation when introducing new platforms into the mix.
“What’s important to us at DWP Digital is the way that we operate. Because when you have on-premises services and public cloud services, often the way you orchestrate those services, and the way you maintain and manage those services, is different. We are very much on that journey at the minute where we are doing bimodal operations. We are doing traditional IT operations and cloud-native IT administrations of our services. It’s really about how can we start introducing that private cloud capability.
"Just because you have on-premises IT does not mean you have a private cloud. DWP Digital is really trying to align the way we work in the public cloud with the way we work on-premises.”
He continued: “We chose the hybrid approach, which allows us to operate a public cloud and a private cloud experience from our on-premises servers. By actively subscribing to this methodology and incorporating it into our strategy, we benefit from increased data portability and efficiency where our on-premises and cloud systems can work together in unison, providing the best solutions for both our internal and external customers.”
Legacy technology will still need to be supported for the foreseeable future. Moving it to the public cloud simply hosts it in a different environment, perpetuating the issue and providing little in the way of modernisation.
Preventing future legacy IT
The UK Government’s Central Digital and Data Office has acknowledged the need to prevent future legacy IT in its Digital, Data and Technology (DDaT) Playbook, citing it as a key policy. DDaT argues legacy IT is the result of a failure to plan for the end of a contract, product or service’s life, leading to technical debt. Its resolution to this is to ensure that contracts are designed with the right length of time in mind and that expiry, extension, transition and termination are planned in good time.
Albeit good advice, the ‘need to plan’ is arguably just a very small step in the shift in thinking that is required to truly combat legacy technology.
We believe the focus should be on placing the right workloads, in the right place, for the right reason. Shoehorning legacy IT into public cloud environments takes time, costs money, and delivers little, if any, in the way of benefits. It distracts resources away from modernising the entire IT portfolio across edge, on-premises and cloud as appropriate.
Adopting a consciously hybrid approach, and making considered, deliberate decisions about where data and workloads should be located can alleviate the unplanned state of flux between multiple operating models. It is time to eliminate the need to keep re-inventing the wheel because legacy tech isn’t always suitable for the public cloud. Let’s drive a conscious movement, together.