Despite being in the top five technology priorities for government CIOs in 2015, investing in the much-needed modernisation of legacy applications "may be a stretch" for many, according to the analysts Gartner.
Around 30 percent of federal and national CIOs say that they have to deal with a decreasing IT budget, compared to only 15 percent of state, local and regional government CIOs who said the same thing.
Why the difference? To start with it is not one difference but many, Gartner points out, as its figures show a strong regional variation. For example, 27 percent of the state, local and regional government CIOs surveyed in the Europe, the Middle East and Africa region indicate their IT budgets are declining, whereas only nine percent of similar CIOs in North America said the same.
"Similarly", said Gartner, "the issue of declining budgets appears to be particularly acute in all tiers in the Asia/Pacific region."
While the issue of legacy applications and systems is particularly acute in government it is not confined to that sector, but does create an additional headache for public sector tech chiefs.
"The burden of legacy technologies in government puts innovation on a path of incremental improvement when agility and quick solution delivery is expected," said Rick Howard, research director at Gartner.
As Howard sees it, IT managers will have to make their infrastructure flip around. "To demonstrate 'digital now, digital first' leadership in government", he said, "CIOs must flip their approach to managing IT from the inside-out perspective of legacy constraints to the outside-in view of citizen experience."
Legacy First, Digital First or why not Cloud First?
As IT managers know this has been a long standing complaint of not just governments but of organisations of all kinds who so often complain of IT departments that are out of touch or blind to changing priorities.
According to Gartner's research, infrastructure and data centre technology continue to be the top two priorities of government IT departments. However, Gartner believes that this is changing and that government IT organisations will slowly reduce their role as infrastructure providers and data centre operators and will instead serve as a broker of those foundational services.
Gartner seems to think that a simple change in nomenclature would be helpful and IT organisations should first move from "legacy first" to "digital first" - if they haven't done that already - and they should then ask, "why not cloud?"
"In the US, this trend is reflected among state CIOs as they consider the advantages of private, public, community and hybrid cloud sourcing strategies," Gartner said.
"With cost, value and security as top considerations, government CIOs should begin with the assumption that public cloud is the preferred deployment option and then, if necessary, work back from public cloud to the cloud, co-location or on-premises option that provides the best fit for their business environment," said Howard.
The Gartner report "2015 CIO Agenda: A Government Perspective" is available on the Gartner's web site.