State and local government (SLG) IT leaders overwhelmingly agree that critical infrastructures are at risk due to legacy applications and systems, according to new research from MeriTalk, underwritten by Google Cloud, Pure Storage, ServiceNow, and TeamDynamix.

To mitigate those risks, the majority of the 101 SLG IT decision makers surveyed – 92 percent – said they are planning to invest in cloud services in 2022.

In the new research report, MeriTalk aims to understand drivers behind cloud investment and migration, 2022 SLG investment priorities, lessons learned from modernization efforts thus far, and how industry partners can best support SLG progress.

SLGs Motivated to Adopt Cloud Through Risks and Rewards

SLG IT decision makers are looking to make the jump to the cloud both to achieve benefits of modern cloud technology, but also to avoid the serious risks posed by relying on legacy IT.

The overwhelming majority of respondents – 93 percent – are concerned with the state of their legacy applications or systems, including 57 percent who are very concerned. A significant majority – 83 percent – say retaining legacy applications makes them more vulnerable to cyber threats.

Driving home the importance of moving away from legacy IT, the research found that over the past 12 months nearly half of respondents – 47 percent – reported having a digital or citizen service modernization project fail, get delayed, or get downgraded because an associated legacy system or application couldn’t support it. Respondents also identified security vulnerabilities, high operations and maintenance costs, and difficulty integrating legacy IT with new technologies as reasons to modernize.

When it comes to the biggest roadblocks to modernization, SLG IT decision makers said they are still plagued by budget constraints, security concerns, lack of internal resources and workforce to support modernization, lack of in-house expertise to guide migration, lack of a central coordination unit to streamline transformation efforts, and a perceived risk of meddling with critical technology.

In terms of positive motivations to move to the cloud, 96 percent of respondents see benefits to modernizing legacy applications with cloud. However, only 64 percent are proactively modernizing vs. 36 percent who modernize only when necessary.

The 92 percent of respondents who have cloud investments planned for 2022 shared that improved reliability, data management, cybersecurity, and scalability are key drivers behind their decision to invest in cloud this year.

Support and Collaboration With SLGs and Industry are Key to Accelerating Cloud Adoption

Migrating legacy IT to the cloud is no easy task, and SLG decision makers believe they cannot go it alone. Rather, IT decision makers want support within their governments, and seek to collaborate with other SLG organizations and the private sector to get the most bang for their buck and make the migration as seamless as possible.

Slightly more than half of respondents – 55 percent – said they feel “very supported” by CIOs within their organization when it comes to modernizing legacy applications or systems with cloud services. However, that percent drops to 41 percent when it comes to respondents who feel “very supported” by state-level officials.

According to the research, 91 percent of respondents believe that SLGs must work together to scale cloud adoption, and 85 percent want more guidance from Cloud Service Providers (CSPs), specifically around cloud security and strategy.

Recommendations for Modernization

Through its research, MeriTalk identified three recommendations for SLGs looking to leave legacy IT in the past and move to the cloud.

First, SLGs need to prioritize their greatest risk. “Legacy systems are not only holding state and local organizations back, but actively jeopardizing data security and citizen services,” the report says. “With 96 percent of IT decision-makers believing critical infrastructures are at risk due to legacy systems, how long until those failures lead to catastrophe? SLG leaders must act now, starting with systems the pose the greatest risk.”

Next, SLGs must celebrate innovation and initiative on their teams. “Despite clear modernization advantages, more than one in three SLG organizations (36 percent) say their leadership operates with an ‘if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it’ approach to legacy systems,” the report says. “Agency leaders need to take a proactive approach to cloud modernization; reacting after a failure is not enough.  Create a culture that celebrates initiative and innovation, cemented with a top-down approach.”

Finally, SLGs must work collaboratively to scale cloud adoption. “Even the most advanced SLG organization can’t modernize decades of legacy systems and applications alone,” the report says. “Work with trusted partners to share adoption advice, identify funding opportunities, and expand security education.”

Click here to read the full research report.

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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk SLG's Assistant Copy & Production Editor, covering Cybersecurity, Education, Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs