A 5-Step Roadmap to Achievable, User-Focused Application Modernization

As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded, the value of application modernization in the federal government came into sharp relief. Those agencies that invested in cloud-based, user-focused services were well positioned to respond to the demands of the pandemic, ensure continuity in the delivery of citizen services, and support a remote workforce.

But even in normal times, the imperative to modernize applications is compelling. Federal mandates, a push to improve the government’s cybersecurity posture, and a keen focus on how agencies spend their IT dollars have accelerated these initiatives.

At the stakeholder level, the motivation for modernization is more tangible. Aging or overly re-factored applications are often laden with technical debt, which can hamper the user experience and burden IT teams. User requirements are also constantly changing. Keeping pace with the organization’s needs is hard when IT is focused on keeping things functioning and stable.

But beware of a shotgun approach to modernization

With these imperatives in mind, it can be tempting to take a shotgun approach to modernization. Consider a Salesforce or ServiceNow deployment. These cloud platforms transform how agencies deliver and manage services – but they are not a silver bullet. They must be customized, integrated, and supported, which can be a reality check for those hoping to hand off most of the heavy lifting.

Furthermore, we often see federal agencies deploy these platforms for a single use, such as case management. In these instances, a contractor is hired to modernize one piece of the pie without finding ways to extend the power of these modernization initiatives in a shared environment.

But unraveling and re-platforming complex, inter-related enterprise systems that have evolved organically over the years is immensely challenging and expectations must be managed. It’s a problem that can’t always be solved by a simple lift and shift approach or building a shiny new low-code/no-code piece of software.

Taking the right path to application modernization

To be successful, application modernization must be approached as a portfolio-based, holistic, multi-year effort that balances risk with security. This doesn’t mean that agencies can’t realize wins along the way. With an eye on continuous improvement – learning what users need and what they don’t – and with a team focused on flexibility and responsiveness, agencies can quickly shape service improvement and delivery.

This is the Macro Solutions approach to application modernization. It’s one many federal agencies have adopted as they seek to better facilitate the delivery of digital services and drive continuous value.

We adhere to a tried and tested approach to advising, enabling, and executing enterprise transformation. Our five-step holistic roadmap helps prioritize and shape modernization efforts so that agencies take the course of action that is the best choice for their unique needs:


  1. Frame the business objectives

Modernization starts with understanding business needs and the services they require to meet their objectives. Whether it’s offloading technical debt, keeping pace with changing user requirements, improving application security, or all of these – we work with stakeholders to develop a shared understanding of the agency’s modernization objectives rooted in driving business value, and create a compelling business case that ensures mutual buy-in.

  1. Conduct an application portfolio assessment

Application portfolios and the services they enable are often vast, encompassing formal systems as well as shadow IT. Because no two applications are the same, our assessment brings much-needed visibility into each application’s technical and business value, while clearly articulating the services delivered. In doing so, we identify critical stakeholders including business owners and customers served – and the business processes that the systems support. This insight informs where continuous improvements can be made regarding application rationalization, clarification of the services to be delivered, cost optimization capture, and management of risk.

  1. Define success metrics

Because technical and business teams have different needs and end goals, we define measures of success that are meaningful to everyone. These time-phased targets help evaluate progress, ensure everyone is on the same page, and identify opportunities to improve or adapt so that achieve strategic outcomes and the related business value are achieved. Defining successful execution milestones is particularly important to agencies who seek to take advantage of the Biden administration’s retooled Technology Modernization Fund (TMF). The receipt of funds is contingent on the achievement of these pre-defined milestones.

  1. Establish a plan for modernization

With the groundwork in place, we develop a plan for transforming the agency’s legacy application portfolio into a flexible, Agile, secure, and highly available environment whether through consolidation, re-platforming, retirement, or replacement – ordered in priority of business value derived by services delivered.

  1. Execution

Execution is not a linear process. To ensure the delivery of continuous value, progress must be measured, and course correction taken if needed. Core to our work, we leverage SAFe and Agile principles to quickly incorporate user feedback (something that large organizations struggle with), refine deliverables, and improve business outcomes.

Evolving government means evolving technology

There are many paths to application modernization, and the decision can seem a simple one. But it’s often not. The impetus for change can take many forms – changing user requirements, improved security, new features and functions, or reducing the burden on IT. Against these varied objectives, identifying the suitable form of modernization (rebuild, rip and replace, re-platform, etc.) and putting that transformation into action requires a thoughtful, engaged approach.

That’s where Macro can help.

We’re working with the federal government to develop long-term, strategic approaches to enterprise-scale application modernization with a flexible roadmap and related metrics that align with the shifting needs of the mission and the customers’ served.