Originally posted on http://www.vmware.com by herbthompson

The pandemic has driven digital service transformation faster than any CIO initiative over the past five years. Forced into touchless and remote conditions, agencies that had traditionally relied on in-person interactions needed to scale their cloud capabilities and offer citizen services, seamlessly. Some agencies, like the DMV, were better equipped than others to address the shift, but unfortunately services like unemployment insurance were hit with unprecedented demand.

Unemployment soared among industries like entertainment, service, and hospitality, creating over 500 percent more UI claim demand. To compound the problem, the transition was taking place in government agencies not usually equipped with the right technology to provide seamless, online services. IT workers were put to the test and were able to move call centers from on-premises to virtual, while also arming employees with the tools they would need to work from home. But the volume was just too much.

Modernization efforts are not simply about modernizing applications. Cloud-based applications provide great opportunity to dramatically improve the methods we use for citizens to do business with government services. On the other hand, they also expose us to new security and operational risks. Mitigating and controlling these new cloud security risks requires a holistic view of Development, Security and Operations in a new DevSecOps culture. By modernizing all three components together, you can accelerate, standardize and simplify your efforts.

Here are the four most important considerations when faced with modernization efforts, no matter the timeline.

1. Focus on Citizen-Centric Digital Service

The first step in design thinking is putting ourselves in the shoes of our end user stakeholders to understand how they use and interact with systems. In this Unemployment Insurance modernization case, the two primary stakeholders are citizens and UI employees. Employees were moving their manual systems from the office to their homes, while citizens were scrambling for answers. Online systems couldn’t provide solutions and the call centers were unable to keep up with demand.

Citizens expect government services that emulate commercial applications. Citizens expect digital citizen-centered services. Citizens and residents expect all government services to be integrated and not siloed. They want services to be personalized and where information is shared between departments, programs, and systems. When every other digital interaction they have can meet these requirements, why shouldn’t the government be able to, too?

2. Take a Modular Approach

How long did it take to build our current Unemployment systems?  These old legacy systems didn’t get built overnight. They have been modified, enhanced, upgraded, and tweaked over 15 to 25 years. We cannot expect these large systems to be replaced quickly. A more systematic, modular approach is the key to being able to upgrade small modules while leaving main parts of business logic and the database in place.

Successful modernization efforts on these old legacy systems start with citizen experience portals. Some government organizations are now focusing on single Customer Experience Platforms, as seen in a recent Value Point RFP, to create a single platform for their multi-agency modernization efforts. These mobile portals focus on improving the citizen experience by enabling citizen access to all the self-service functions that are appropriate. Integrating new mobile citizen experience front ends with backend legacy business logic and databases is the key.  

3. Make an End-to-End Plan

As you implement in modular steps, you don’t want to lose sight of the holistic view. Taking an end-to-end system view when you plan provides the opportunity to understand how employees will use the systems and workflows most effectively. In many cases, processing unemployment claims made employees traverse many other systems like transportation, revenue, licensing, childcare, and other federal and local systems to get an entire view of the UI claim. Employees were using different MFA tokens, different user IDs and passwords. Navigating system by system to complete a UI claim can be time consuming and frustrating.    

Design thinking is extremely important in modernization efforts. Focus first on citizen and employee interaction with the systems and understand their point of view and access needs. Designing system interfaces to match the ways that citizens and employees will enter, retrieve, query and integrate information with other systems will provide great insight and even better, faster results.   

4. Stay Secure

Security has and will continue to be a priority for agency CIOs.  Enterprise security requires complete visibility of transactions from endpoint through the network and onto the application. Security cannot be bolted on, but must be designed into the system. Implementing a Zero Trust security architecture is the best method for combating the sophistication and the complexity of new cyber threats. Having controls which can verify the user, the device, the network, and the application along with knowing the characteristics of good behavior can help to detect compromised cyber activity.  

In summary, the ability of agencies to spin up operations under such stressful and unprecedented situations should be applauded. But understanding that there is much work to be done to future-proof our infrastructure and serve our citizens is paramount. Unemployment Insurance modernization gives us great opportunity to change perceptions of our citizens and, more importantly, legislatures that control funding. Changing the perception that government services are outdated will take time as systems are modernized over time, but the use of integrated platforms will allow us to accelerate these efforts, improve services and reduce cyber risks.   

To learn more about how VMware is helping state and local government agencies modernize their IT infrastructure, visit our website at vmware.com/go/slg.

Jens Koegler

Jens Koegler is VMware's Healthcare Industry Director in EMEA. He is helping our healthcare customers develop and run modern applications to drive innovation and ensure better patient care through a digital foundation that includes data center, hybrid cloud, mobile, networking and security technologies. VMware plays a strategic role in the healthcare industry. Its leading innovations in enterprise software help ensure consistent patient care and reduce IT access time for healthcare professionals so they can spend more time with their patients. Jens plays a key role in helping customers understand how new applications, devices, the latest IT technologies and digital transformation are driving innovation in healthcare.