IT Operations • IT Strategy

IT migrations are difficult for even the most adept organizations, but government agencies face a unique set of challenges when undertaking an IT overhaul. Lengthy procurement cycles, slow approval processes, and outdated legacy systems are some of the factors government agencies must overcome. Not to mention, with the average tenure of a Public Sector CIO barely topping 2 years, an organization may also need to adjust their software and innovation priorities based on new leadership philosophies in just a moment’s notice.1 In some cases they may cancel the project all together.

Even after a project has received approval, success is far from guaranteed. According to a report from the Standish Group of 3,555 federal IT projects undertaken from 2003 to 2012 with labor costs of at least $10 million, only 6.4 percent were successful. That’s an alarming 3,300+ unsuccessful projects, of which 52 percent were “challenged” (over budget, behind schedule or didn’t meet user expectations), and the remaining 41.4 percent were outright failures. They were either completely abandoned or started anew from scratch.2

So when an agency is able to finally secure the funds, approvals, and go-ahead to upgrade their technology, it’s critical that IT leaders properly prepare for what’s to come. Before jumping in, slow down and take a step back. Introducing new technology that stalls midway through implementation or is never used once it has been deployed is a worst case scenario.

With the U.S. government spending $75.6 billion on IT projects in 2014 alone, proper preparation is key. Before introducing or migrating to new software, it’s important that government agencies consider these crucial elements for migration success.3

Government employees

1. Examine your budget

What do you have available to spend? What are your priorities? What are you spending to maintain legacy systems and how can that money be optimized in your migration?

These are all questions decision makers should be asking before considering software upgrades or migrating to a new OS. When it comes to government IT projects, the price of the software itself is seldom the only cost. Be sure to budget for proper and ongoing training for employees, allow for minor delays with implementation, and some leeway for pivoting on a project. Unforeseen road bumps are the norm with software migrations so it’s imperative that agencies have enough budget to prevent complete abandonment because of a small, but significant, hiccup.

2. Be aware of your processes and stipulations

Unlike most private sector enterprises, considerable constraints exist for government agencies migrating to new software. It’s important to know what’s allowed under the guidelines of your specific agency.

While agile methodology is much better suited for IT projects, does the incremental approach to project management open up too much risk in software migration? Is waterfall methodology’s sequential approach better suited for your agency’s needs and capabilities? Do federal regulations exist that prevent mid-project adjustments or corrections from being made, which could prematurely terminate a project before it’s completed?

These are all valid questions to ask when deciding how your software will be implemented and what the best course of action is to ensure all federal guidelines and stipulations are being met (and not broken).

3. Know your systems

Before you can begin planning for a new system, it’s crucial to understand the components, capabilities and limitations of your current system, both from a hardware and software perspective. Knowing what you’re working with will help you anticipate and troubleshoot compatibility issues that are common during technology upgrades.

If you’re moving to a new OS while maintaining existing hardware, it’s critical to understand how your existing hardware capabilities stack up against the hardware requirements of your new system. Insufficient hardware might mean your new systems run sub-optimally, if they run at all. However, if you know what you’re working with ahead of time, you can add needed memory or processing capabilities to ensure your organization maximizes the potential of the new system. Or, you can factor total upgrade costs into your initial budget.

Other important considerations include how the critical applications of your user base will be impacted by the upgrade, how your current drivers allow for compatibility between your new software and your existing hardware and devices, and how the upgrade affects the stored data of your users. By fully assessing and understanding the capabilities and limitations of your current system and what you want to accomplish with your new system, you are not only better positioned for a smooth upgrade, but also to address issues with confidence and knowledge when they do arise.

4. Plan for continued success

Often times IT departments consider the migration mission accomplished once the new technology is rolled out to all users and a single, mass training session is provided to bring the organization up-to-speed on the new system. But the true test of a successful upgrade is how well the new technology is utilized in the months and years after the initial transition. Research shows that adoption and usage spikes at rollout and immediately afterward. But, it tends to taper dramatically in the months following before ultimately plateauing well below the initial peak.

Organizations should plan for flexible, on-demand, ongoing training to provide continual education and support for users around the new technology. This is particularly crucial for government organizations, due to a broad and diverse workforce, all of whom learn differently. Varied approaches—live phone support, in-person coaching and self-help resources—will ensure that all users can access and understand the capabilities of the new software and its impact on their workflow. Ongoing support also guarantees that as employees gain new proficiencies or encounter new challenges, they’re able to gain the next level of understanding.

5. Anticipate the unexpected

Even with the most meticulous and rigorous planning, very few migrations go as smoothly as planned. Unexpected budget adjustments, software changes and timeline delays can threaten to derail your migration or even cause it to fail outright. Agencies should do their best not to let pauses in the project stall planning of other components, like training and adoption. In order to accommodate the unexpected hiccups that you are sure to encounter during the migration, build additional time, budget and support into the plan for resources—like back up support, ongoing monitoring, etc.—that will help to alleviate any added pressure.

Ultimately, government organizations are responsible for serving more than 300 million “customers” that make up the U.S. population—so the stakes are incredibly high. By taking into consideration these five critical elements prior to implementing a software migration, government agencies can ensure a smooth transition with minimal disruption to the organization, achieving not only tech success, but superior return on investment.