The legacy problem in government agencies: an exploratory study

Alexandrova, Assia; Rapanotti, Lucia and Horrocks, Ivan (2015). The legacy problem in government agencies: an exploratory study. In: Proceedings of the 16th Annual International Conference on Digital Government Research, ACM, pp. 150–159.



Government organizations continue to be heavily reliant on legacy systems to support their business-critical functions. When practitioners embark on legacy systems replacement projects, they tend to use the legacy software’s features as business requirements for its replacement application. This unnecessarily reproduces the business processes that have often emerged from the very technical limitations of the legacy system that is being phased out – a phenomenon referred to as the “legacy problem.” Public agencies are missing opportunities for innovation when they carry out legacy replacement projects in this conservative manner. Overcoming the legacy problem is “wickedly” difficult because of the complex interrelationships of information technology, organizational culture, and government agencies’ normative environments. This paper reports on the use of an online survey and qualitative interviews with practitioners in government agencies to explore the legacy problem. The data revealed that public agencies tend to regard legacy system replacement projects as a distinctly technical issue, and that they do not engage in systematic practices to ensure that unnecessary carryover of the business model embedded in legacy technology does not take place. As a result, legacy feature carryover occurs frequently, because practitioners want to minimize business process changes during new system implementation. The study findings single out the procurement of Commercial Off The Shelf (COTS) software as the most common approach to the replacement of legacy systems. When COTS packages are implemented, vendors (technology providers) shape the requirements discussion and the business analysis surrounding feature selection and customization. These study findings can be instrumental when devising solutions to assist agencies in dealing with the legacy problem.

Viewing alternatives

Download history


Public Attention

Altmetrics from Altmetric

Number of Citations

Citations from Dimensions

Item Actions