KPMG: Reframing legacy IT in the Smarter State #techUKDigitalPS

KPMG shares a blog as part of the Digital Transformation in the Public Sector. #techUKDigitalPS

Together with its members, government and the public sector, techUK has been shaping what the future of a smarter state could look like as part of its annual conference. We all want to see a smarter state, for the benefit of both public service efficiency itself and to deliver a better experience to citizens – but there are some critical blockers to this including a lack of digital skills, limited data interoperability and legacy IT.

It was legacy IT that was the focus of a workshop we convened at the end of March, bringing together industry with government departments to discuss how we can reframe this old technological infrastructure and future-proof services for the digital age.

Before getting into the workshop session itself, we heard some insights and reflections from Jonathan Pownall, Senior Digital Specialist, National Audit Office; John Owen, CTO, Cabinet Office; and Adrian Clamp, Partner, Head of Digital Transformation, Connected Enterprise, KPMG. So, what perspectives did they bring in terms of the challenges and the opportunities?

The legacy challenge

A recent NAO report Digital transformation in government: addressing the barriers to efficiency clearly sets out legacy as a barrier – so it was timely to have Jonathan Pownall outline the current challenges and reflect on departments that are doing it well and what more needs to be done across government. As Jonathan observed: “There is still a heavy reliance on legacy in government, which poses cyber and business continuity risks. Legacy also goes beyond systems and is very much an issue of data too. If we can’t join-up data then government will continue to work in silos.”

Practical steps

John Owen also reflected on the NAO report’s findings and shared what is happening at a departmental level. He outlined the challenge from a skills and knowledge perspective as well as the lack of interoperability between systems. He emphasised that: “We can no longer continue to build more services onto legacy. But there are some practical approaches that can be taken, as we’ve seen amongst some departments. These include really understanding your estate as the first basis. Then, stabilisation – don’t try to do everything at once, but instead introduce a change, let it stabilise and then move on to the next step. We’ve also seen the importance and value of having stakeholder forums to share and learn best practice. There is a wealth of knowledge that exists – we need to tap into that better.”

Targeted transformation

KPMG’s Adrian Clamp brought an additional perspective that in fact many of the challenges facing the public sector are shared in the private sector. For example, skills shortages are impacting everyone and collective solutions such as more apprenticeships and links with universities are needed.

But another key perspective Adrian brought was that not all legacy is bad. As he said: “In creating connected government and architecting the modern enterprise, part of the challenge is recognising which parts of legacy work well and can stay. Some legacy applications can be hollowed out and left with a very precise core that functions effectively within a modern digital ecosystem.”


A recurring theme during the discussion was the importance of collaboration – both within the public sector itself and with industry. As John Owen said: “We need to increase collaboration internally - reframing legacy IT by working together across departments and wider teams to better understand the estate.”

Jonathan Pownall underlined the importance of collaboration with industry: “We do rely on strategic partners for innovation to help drive things forward. We need to learn from each other across the community.”

Leadership and digital skills

What was clear is that legacy is not just the responsibility of IT – across the public sector, leadership is needed with a digital first mindset that can make the right decisions and help create the environment where transformation and tech can flourish.

Certainly, within government the digitisation agenda is a priority at the top levels, as Adrian Clamp observed: “We’re seeing a clear recognition amongst department leadership that digital is a core capability. It’s key to the reimagining and reframing of government and the delivery of public services.”

Strong leadership can set the digital culture – but an additional challenge is having the depth and breadth of digital skills needed to deliver. Shortages in key areas like software engineers and cloud specialists is a problem afflicting many employers. In addition, many people who maintain legacy systems are near retirement age – solutions are needed to prevent the loss of that knowledge, and to recruit people that want to work on legacy. Getting the right digital skills will be the focus of our next smarter state workshop taking place on the 16th May. The legacy IT workshop provided some excellent insights and practical measures for both government and industry to prioritise. We look forward to updating the wider ecosystem on next steps at the Building the Smarter State conference taking place on the 28th September, . Register now to secure your place.


This article was written by KPMG as part of the Digital Transformation in the Public Sector Week. Learn more about KPMG here.

To read more from #techUKDigitalPS Week, check out our landing page here.

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Government Roadmap for DDaT: Progress and Setbacks – a Central Government Council Event #techUKDigitalPS

To wrap up the Digital Transformation in Public Sector week, the Central Government Council is pleased to host “Government Roadmap for DDaT: Progress and Setbacks” on 28 April 10:30-12:00.

Book here