SOA Paying Off as Means of Modernizing State Legacy Systems

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Business Drivers for IT Innovation

In cost containment, after an IT organization has done the comparatively easy stuff, the question quickly becomes what to do next.

Government Technology recently took a look at how states are dealing with legacy tax systems, a project that ranks among the top tech projects for at least eight states. Over and over, what comes up in these discussions is integration - its challenges, opportunities and rewards.


But there are other factors to consider. For instance, any new system will need to last at least 10 years, while keeping in mind how it will support mobile devices, potentially social media, and maybe even SaaS or cloud computing - all of which mean handling integration beyond the firewall.


"These projects are considered very high risk," James Harrison, a founding partner at Fast Enterprises, told Government Technology. They're so high risk, many have failed outright or been canceled because of inadequate progress.


The article notes that states approach the legacy system problem in one of two ways:


Minnesota opted for a new off-the-shelf solution. Minnesota Department of Revenue project manager Vicki Dickinson said integration was the key value added from a business perspective. That's because the new system provided consistent information across the tax process, without logging into multiple systems.


While Minnesota used an off-the-shelf solution, rolled out in phases, several other states are extending the life of legacy systems by using a service-oriented-architecture approach to modernizing legacy systems.


One benefit of using SOA for tax systems is it can support shared services with other state agencies, the article notes. That means states can support one-stop shopping for businesses.


New York is one of the states taking an SOA approach to legacy systems. The architecture team felt it was more open to integrating industry-standard products for common services. The SOA option paid off for New York, which estimates it saved $1 million in development cost.


Tax systems aren't the only legacy systems being updated with SOA. Joe McKendrick (@joemckendrick) at ZDNet recently wrote that Vermont's Agency of Human Services is using a service-oriented architecture to integrate its range of human services and to better share information with other state agencies.


"With these building blocks, agencies can build upon these components, making connections through various workflows. The modularity also makes it easy to plug in additional models."


Using SOA allowed the department to compartmentalize the most meaningful parts of the legacy system for reuse, McKendrick writes.


It also helped the agency cut costs, simplify management of the system, made the system more agile in terms of responding to legislative demands and helped serve clients by providing a more unified view of services for which they might be eligible.


When it comes to modernizing legacy systems, states should learn from other agencies when possible, but do your own due diligence research on products, Harrison said.


"It's especially important to be very skeptical of anything coming from a vendor's mouth and to have long, frank discussions with management at sister tax agencies," he said. "There are plenty of examples of both highly successful projects as well as catastrophic failures."

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