Published: Sep 06, 2019

modernising legacy applications: where do we start?

The following article is an adapted summary of a workshop run by OpenGov Asia, in collaboration with NCS.

Many organisations today own IT applications that might be outdated, which results in inefficiencies and inefficacy in service delivery and outcome. To create new business value, organisations need to undergo application modernisation.

As tempting as it is to retain legacy systems, the cost of doing so is often too high. Too many resources are required to update and maintain the legacy system. Even if these pain points can be tolerated, problems will snowball as newer operating systems are introduced into the system.

People, culture, and systems often get in the way of change in digital transformation within organisation. Take the movement of IT assets from a host environment to a new one as an example. It is a sophisticated process which many organisations struggle to carry out.

Empathy and Prioritisation

Deciding how to start the application modernisation process is a key challenge faced by most organisations. Taking a real-life example of bringing some IT assets from a host environment to a new one with limited time and a tight budget, it is important to keep the end-state or business goals in mind for each persona: citizen, implementation team and service owner. The key is to empathise with different stakeholders and understand the different priorities that each stakeholder has. Doing so will make the application modernisation process a lot easier to start.

More often than not, organisations and stakeholders are too eager to roll out solutions, missing out on the ideation process. Being able to put yourself in the shoes of the end users before coming up with a solution is a key learning point.

For project implementation, project management and compliance are key priorities.

Equipping organisations with a team of people with the right skillsets remains important. So are tools and channels of communication between end users and organisations to derive the true performance of a given solution. As technology evolves, capturing real-time information to assess performance and user uptake become easier. Consequently, implementing government services will become more responsive, available, accurate and anticipatory in nature. Overall, citizen satisfaction will improve.

Another point to note is that the line between service owner and implementation team are often blurred. So roles need to be clearly defined to build good partnerships and relationships within the teams. Choosing the right service provider, in terms of cost, quality and value, are also instrumental in the overarching concern of protecting the government’s image.

How to: Level Up

In terms of operational risks and factors of implementing applications, an interesting idea was brought up in relation to the public sector, application modernisation should focus more on value especially among the higher echelons of government. Coined as “Value of Government”, the political leadership should be operationally driven. Acting as a new source of motivation, governments should rethink how they can deliver exceptional value and how to respond, anticipate and especially delight its citizens.

Old VS Gold

Microservices and lo-code services - the former was a hot choice among attendees given the granularity it affords, is quick and the most agile to implement. Nevertheless, context, nature, usage and consistency were factors to consider before implementing microservices as a tool.

Ultimately, application modernisation is a gradual process. The key is whether there is an orchestration mechanism, be it in the implementation team or through the service owner, to meld all considerations; systems, people and work culture, and present a cohesive strategy to stakeholders for delivery.


At the end of the day, every organisation’s battle hymn will be different. Despite the chaos, every transformation has a flow. The real challenge in modernising legacy applications is knowing your organisation’s needs and capabilities.

Organisations and Governments will continue to transform to find a sweet spot between customer satisfaction and harnessing the power of IT solutions.

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