The rallying cry in public sector IT circles is “IT modernization.” This imperative means many things in practice, but when it is invoked by elected leaders and others with funding authority or public accountability the word “modernization” seems to be a catch-all euphemism for “cloud.” It is no surprise, then, that “cloud services” ranks so highly in NASCIO’s survey of top strategies, processes and solutions.

While the public sector is unique in many ways, the cloud weighs heavily on any organization contemplating digital transformation. CenturyLink recently worked with analyst firm 451 Research to survey hundreds of IT leaders around the world in various industries including government. The cloud was viewed across industries as the single most important factor in digital transformation. For those without a formal digital transformation strategy, 55% rated the cloud as the most important component. Interestingly, for those that had already adopted a formal strategy, 70% rated it most important.

Hiding in that 15-point gap is an important observation: the farther down the path you are toward digital transformation, the more important the cloud becomes. To say it differently, the greater your knowledge of what it takes to embrace IT modernization the higher your interest in utilizing the cloud.

For instance, one concern CenturyLink often hears from state IT staff is managing the growth of social services. IT managers always mention two key criteria for any evolution of the applications managing services such as Medicaid or child welfare: 1) no disruption can occur in the front-end service delivery parts of those programs; and 2) the back-end compliance regimes for federal mandates must be strictly observed. With growing scale, both in the social needs and the scope of the application’s resources (e.g. compute, storage), managing that growth in a legacy systems model can be prohibitively expensive and require extensive management effort. In fact, our research indicates that the main operational barrier to modernization is a reliance on legacy systems, according to the public-sector IT managers surveyed by CenturyLink and 451 Research.

Scaling to the application’s needs, however, is one of the inherent benefits of cloud computing. Managed services can then be layered into the arrangement to free up state IT resources to focus on other initiatives. The result is that critical applications can smoothly scale over time – enabling the state to continue serving its citizens’ needs.

A less tangible but equally important outcome is that IT managers are able to demonstrate the flexibility needed to transform government IT without reliance on legacy systems. The cloud potentially figures into all the major IT-led priorities of those public-sector IT staff surveyed, such as better systems for collaboration or improved scalability and reliability of key systems. One critical goal, then, in crafting a modernization strategy is to make it as easy as possible to start moving applications and workloads to the cloud.

In assessing your IT modernization strategy, set your direction toward the cloud.

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