A strengths based approach to legacy systems

Updated: Jan 2, 2019

Legacy systems are the steam engines of the public sector.

Local government housing systems are a typical example. They clock up and run transactions such as billing tens of thousands of public sector tenants rents every week, accurately interfacing with multiple systems to manage debt or deduct benefits. The systems rank housing waiting list applicants, log thousands of different types of repairs - some of them emergencies. And much more.

They are beasts. They may have been running for 20 years.

In the case of housing there are tiny handful of suppliers that have working products. They can take 5 years to swap out, and have all the same functions running reliably again.

Something has to be done, though, because they are old and clunky and its difficult to get data in and out of them. The screen designs involve too many clicks and look nothing like anything we use at home. They are unproductive. They are blocking change and modernisation.

So how do we deal with this problem and change things in a way that does not stop services running? It does not make sense to re-tender for a whole system replacement, because there is so little choice. You will end up replacing one legacy system for another.

Perhaps we should borrow from social services and take a strengths based approach?

At our event in Birmingham this year Sleuth Cooperative talked to creative people from SMEs, Local Government and public sector procurement about this problem.

Our conclusions were that we need to take an approach that blends the best from legacy systems with the best from SMEs, start ups and open source.

Here is an example:

In 3 months a non-programmer worked with a low code supplier to plug a ‘thumb friendly‘ mobile app into a legacy housing system. Resident Housing caretakers can use an android phone to select the most common communal repairs, graffiti, cleaning - the app automatically maps and logs their locations and sends the repair down the line to a tradesperson. It works its way through an ancient legacy application - but nobody knows that - because the interface is super simple, slick and frictionless. Prior to this the caretakers used paper ‘dockets‘ and were completely digitally excluded in the workforce.

The next questions (in my blog series) are:

  • How to incentivise legacy system providers to open up their systems for other plug ins - such as mobile interfaces and single view technologies?

  • How to coordinate all these disparate elements into a coherent modern system (service) for the public and staff?

As ever - I am very happy for feedback and alternative views from interested parties including suppliers (not overt sales pitches though - as I am sure you know - pushy sales don’t work well in the public sector).

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