Overcomplexifying, Underdelivering

Trying to replace multiple systems with one can lead to none

As hard as it is to build IT systems in the first place, it’s arguably even more difficult to maintain them properly over time. In many government agencies, decades of neglect have resulted in a tangled mess of poorly understood and poorly implemented systems that limit operational effectiveness and efficiency. In the past decade, we’ve seen numerous attempts to combine the functionality of such legacy systems into a single modern replacement system.

That’s easier said than done. In nearly every case, such an effort turns out to be more difficult than originally thought. It’s not surprising, because each additional legacy system that needs replacing comes with its own unique challenges and hidden traps. We were curious to see if there’s a limit to the number of systems that can be practically combined.

Below, we’ve plotted the starting expectations and end results of several modernization efforts from the past few years. Nearly all exceeded their initial budget estimates, and many delivered a tiny fraction of their expected functionality (or failed to provide any functionality at all). Longer lines generally indicate greater relative failure.