Why States Should Modernize and Future Proof Aging IT Systems

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Connecting state and local government leaders

COMMENTARY | States have largely ignored IT modernization efforts because they are complex, lengthy and require significant investment dollars. With additional federal aid on the way, states have the opportunity to update IT systems to be more effective and efficient.

Technology was key in helping states weather the effects of the pandemic. However, now a year into the crisis, it’s time for state and local governments to move past the hastily put together stopgap measures and modernize their technology tools to refine processes and procedures as well as operate with efficiency, agility and security.

With the passage of the American Rescue Plan, state and local governments will gain $350 billion in additional emergency funding. How can states use these funds to “invest” in their future? While there might be temptation for states to spend on programs or projects that will produce short-term impact, it’s imperative that they strategically select programs that will provide positive long-lasting impact for citizens.  

At the outset of the pandemic, states had to make a rapid shift from in-person services to remote digital services. However, many were unprepared to meet the large citizen demand for services due to their legacy IT systems. The most notable example of this was with unemployment systems. Since state labor department employees were prohibited from processing unemployment applications in person due to stay-at-home orders, the only remaining choice was to handle these claims remotely. However, because many state unemployment systems haven’t seen significant upgrades in decades, they couldn’t handle the increased demand resulting in system crashes and delays in payouts. 

It’s clear that if states are going to provide more scalable services to meet citizens’ needs, analyze data and potentially stop fraudulent claims, they need to modernize their aging IT systems. This includes moving to the cloud to meet citizens’ and telework demands, which can enhance operational capabilities and eliminate the traditional challenges of data silos and data duplication. Additionally, it will help to integrate, manage and govern disparate data, allowing all states to share mission critical data and make better policy decisions.   

Oklahoma provides a good example of the benefits of modernization. Last year, Gov. Kevin Stitt used CARES Act funding to modernize the state’s data center and establish the first, modern statewide backup and disaster recovery solution. By deploying a device-as-a-service solution that modernized the state’s service desk and field services, it is able to optimize operations and redesign the employee experience to help manage risks, control costs and minimize service disruptions for state employees. Oklahoma’s investment not only prepared the state for a better response to the pandemic through a more reliable and stable data environment, but it also will provide years of use and resiliency beyond the current crisis. 

Governors and legislators have an opportunity to leave a long-lasting legacy of a modern, stable, responsive and resilient technology environment. Will they embrace the difficult task of modernizing critical systems that citizens rely on for essential programs such as SNAP, unemployment, childcare or call center support? Or will we, again, watch as these systems crash in the midst of another crisis?  The “kick the can” alternative has been over utilized. Now it’s up to state leaders to seize this opportunity and invest in technical infrastructure that will enable government to seamlessly deliver digital government services.

Chris Merdon is the division president for the public sector at NTT DATA Services.

NEXT STORY: Analysis: US Rent Debt Totals Nearly $20B due to Covid-19

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