Acting U.S. CIO: Legacy systems predicament ‘should never happen again’

Acting U.S. CIO Margie Graves at the 2017 IT Modernization Summit. (FedScoop)

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As agencies look to free themselves from their dependencies to outdated, legacy systems, acting U.S. CIO Margie Graves wants to make sure the federal government doesn’t find itself in this predicament once again decades down the road.

The solution, Graves said Tuesday during her opening discussion at FedScoop’s IT Modernization Summit, is “to design our environment going forward using microservices.”

“A lot of things that built up over time, over that 20 year period that we’re looking at now, we should never have that happen again,” she said. “We need to design it so it’s actually plug-and-play.”

By developing systems in such a more modular and portable manner, agencies can “chain them together” using APIs and open architectures, Graves explained, otherwise never having to “peel apart large, hardwired, hard-coded technologies again” — a challenge many agencies are currently facing.

“It’s expensive, it’s time-consuming, you almost have to reverse engineer it,” she said.

Graves, who spoke of her time as principal deputy CIO at the Department of Homeland Security working to modernize systems across the department’s many component agencies, said portability also alleviates agencies from being tied into systems that no longer meet mission needs.

“Portability… works for upgrades, it works for modernization, it works for competition and efficiency…you’re never really locked in to something that’s no longer working for the mission space, that’s no longer meeting the mission or the customer requirement,” she said. “You never want to be in a position in the federal government where you’re delivering poor service, and that prevents us from doing that.”

Referring to the Transportation Security Administration screening systems that had a particular software developer’s technology hardwired into them by design, Graves explained how that led to the entire system becoming vulnerable and otherwise necessary to replace, because the operating core couldn’t be easily swapped out.

“[If] you can’t patch it, you can’t upgrade it, you can’t maintain it, then you need to be able to unplug it and put in the next version of whatever the technology is that’s available at the time and the most up-to-date,” she said. “We’ve got to design everything that way from this point forward.”

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IT Modernization, legacy IT, Margie Graves, microservices
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