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An aging population and IT systems

Impact on IT services

The aging of a large group of software developers is an increasing challenge facing both the business community and government authorities worldwide. According to Statistics Netherlands (CBS), 8% of Dutch ICT personnel were 55 year or older in 2010, by 2021 this has almost doubled to 15%. These ICT professionals have in-depth knowledge of older software systems and the technology in which they have been developed. These experienced employees are now retiring and many organizations are confronted with the loss of essential knowledge and expertise. This loss endangers the continuity of business operations and innovation.

Furthermore, in the past there was less urgent need for change, in particular through substantial changes in the IT landscape, because the legislation in those days was far less stringent and technological advances were much slower. These days however, organizations are confronted with a much greater dynamism, driven by rapid technological advancement, social change and emerging challenges in the area of (data) security. This means that companies must continuously adapt, despite the technological obsolescence of the software and the outflow of the experience of the developers who have developed and implemented the systems.

Growing concern

The growing number of older IT professionals has increased concern about retaining knowledge and the sustainability of applications within organizations. The expertise that developers have acquired during their career, is often not fully documented, increasing the risk of the loss of knowledge and information about older systems. This is a critical component of the legacy problem, where outdated systems and software hinder progress.

An analysis by AG Connect and the Ministry of the Interior of 119 major IT government projects in 2022 showed that a number of projects were greatly hindered by this legacy problem. A good illustration of this is the modernization of the Basic Register for Education, which was ultimately 35 million euro more expensive as a result of several setbacks in the area of outdated software and data quality. During the modernization of the IT systems for the Tax Authorities an “enormous technical debt” was encountered, where more than 50% of the applications urgently needed replacing. These projects emphasize the importance of reducing and avoiding technical debt and improving the retention of knowledge to increase the success rate of future IT projects.

Technology is becoming outdated at an ever-faster pace, accompanied by an ever-increasing number of changes, but there are also challenges with regard to security and retaining the knowledge required to maintain and modify IT systems. It is also important to realize that applications within an IT landscape are rarely stand-alone components and are generally part of a landscape with connections and dependencies. Obsolescence of one application can therefore affect other applications inside and outside the organization. How can organizations face these challenges and avoid software aging?

Software modernization

The modernization of outdated software can be an effective way to deal with software aging. The implementation of new technologies and the application of modern best practices can greatly improve the maintainability and sustainability of systems.

With traditional software development, the partial or complete rewriting of an application is a risky, complex and time-consuming activity, especially when it concerns legacy systems that have been continuously developed and modified over many years. This is effectively more a treatment of the symptoms than a structural solution because the latest technology is just as liable to become obsolete. These days however, the life span of the modernized application will be shorter than previously was the case because current technology is becoming outdated at an ever-faster pace.

To break through this repetitive cycle of obsolescence and replacement, Thinkwise has separated the functional description of software from the technology in which it is presented. By separating the application logic from the presentation layer, business processes and rules can be modeled in the Thinkwise Platform at an abstract level in a digital blueprint. This ensures that the knowledge and logic of the software is retained, even if the technology in which it is presented changes or developers leave the organization. When a new technology emerges only the presentation layer has to be modernized, so that the application always remains up to date.

In addition, using an integrated ‘Upcycler’, it is possible to read existing applications into the Thinkwise Platform and derive a first version of the new application model. Instead of spending many months or years on rewriting code, developers can modernize legacy systems with the help of the Thinkwise Platform in a brief period. Using the Upcycler saves 20 to 50% of the effort normally required to modernize an application.

Organizations that previously found it difficult to maintain their outdated systems have successfully modernized their software using Thinkwise and are now fully able to adapt to social or legislative changes. The Thinkwise Platform has been deployed for the past 20 years for the development and modernization of extensive and complex systems. The Thinkwise Platform, as an example, is being used by the Ministry of Security and Justice and at more than a hundred municipalities for the management of public space.