3 Key Lessons from the IRS’ Data Modernization

Monolithic legacy systems are common within federal agencies, but in a world where organizations must now move at the speed of their customers, holding on to legacy infrastructure can reduce agility, lead to inefficiencies and prevent agencies from taking action on their data.

The IRS faced this challenge as it tried to unlock data from its legacy applications. The agency — which had more than 700 systems — took several steps to make better use of its data, driving its modernization strategy with an integration API platform that allowed it to leverage data across all these systems.

Here are three key lessons your organization can learn from the IRS’ data modernization.

Lesson #1: Don’t Go it Alone

Many agencies struggle with unlocking the underlying code and business logic from mainframe systems and applications, even if they’ve already upgraded other parts of their infrastructure. The data is still valuable and relevant, but it often takes too much effort to deploy it for use in digital services and applications.

These challenges are why the IRS turned to a strategic technology partner to streamline its data modernization. Even before working with a technology provider, the IRS began its modernization journey by creating a new data model that would serve as the foundation for building out future applications. From there, the agency used its technology partner’s integration platform to write an application program interface using the new data standard in its architecture. This allowed the IRS to gain access to data across its 700 systems and begin harnessing it as a strategic asset to power digital services like electronic filing and other customer-facing, self-service applications.

The lesson here is that your agency likely can go farther faster and accelerate your digital transformation by working with an integration partner. The cloud has opened up so many opportunities for government agencies to modernize — even if they are more comfortable with an incremental approach. Your organization can take advantage of cloud-based platforms to create an integration layer that abstracts different data sources, continuing to drive value from existing mainframe systems even as you modernize.

Lesson #2: Develop an API Integration and Security Strategy

The integration platform the IRS leveraged was so powerful because it relied on APIs to drive innovation. APIs extend the capabilities of existing systems and serve as connectors between the data housed in legacy applications and modern, digital products that could benefit from this data. APIs also allow your agency to innovate cost-effectively without the need to completely overhaul existing systems.

However, leveraging APIs also comes with security considerations. The IRS was well aware that using an integration API platform would require better portfolio management. The agency relied on its technology partner for this purpose, using its provider’s portfolio management solution to gain more visibility into the applications in its ecosystem, the data associated with them and the systems they connected to.

As your organization develops its modernization roadmap, consider the value you can reap by using APIs as part of your integration strategy, but also have a plan for how you will secure APIs. Leaning on interoperable API integration and portfolio management solutions can help you modernize without weakening your security posture.

Lesson #3: Give Your People the Opportunity to Grow

The IRS also used its data modernization to expand the skills of its workforce.

Many of the agency’s systems still used legacy programming languages like assembly and COBOL, so it had to maintain these systems even as it migrated to JAVA and used APIs to make its systems extensible. However, the agency took this as an opportunity to teach younger programmers these languages and give them the opportunity to rewrite the code. This gave younger programmers, who may transition to other government agencies after their time at the IRS, skills that could help them better serve these organizations as they undergo their own digital transformations. Conversely, mainframe programmers at the IRS benefited from seeing first-hand the advantages of API-led integration, and developed new skills using these advanced technologies while they also sustained the organization’s existing business processes.

Cultivating Digitally-Driven Government Organizations

Government agencies can no longer delay modernization. As we’ve seen over the last 18 months, delivering a better constituent experience requires advanced tools and technologies — not legacy systems that maintain data and business logic in their existing silos. Advanced technologies like the cloud, big data and analytics offer so much promise for your organization, but these technologies also increase the demand for integration. Your organization can begin to benefit from these technologies by using an integration API platform to accelerate your digital transformation, and to do so cost-effectively. As the IRS’ experience shows, it’s never too late to unlock the true value of your data.

To learn about how webMethods can drive your agency’s modernization strategy, visit here.


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