David McCurdy, Chief Technology Officer for the state of Colorado, hailed as a “major success” the state’s year-long effort to overhaul its Colorado Benefits Management System (CBMS) by migrating the system to AWS.

Speaking on June 12 at the AWS Public Sector Summit, McCurdy explained why the CBMS overhaul was so important to undertake, and the bold course the state was able to chart to get it done.

First, the residents of Colorado – including some of its most needy – depend on CBMS for crucial services. The system serves 14 different state agencies that provide vital services including food and medical benefits, and cash assistance.

Second, the IT underpinning the system was a mess, which made it harder and more expensive to operate and maintain, and ultimately to get services delivered to residents.

McCurdy pulled no punches when he said the system was the product of many years of cobbling together disparate features on top of aging, legacy infrastructure.

“It was a such a behemoth system” that featured nearly 14 million lines of code, with the result being a “mish-mash of years’ worth of modifications,” the CTO said. He joked that coding projects were undertaken in JOBOL – a mixture of Java and COBOL. The bottom line, McCurdy said, was that it was pointless to keep building on top of the existing architecture.

When the time came to consider a system replacement, McCurdy said his office received a once-per-decade stream of IT modernization funding, and decided to make a clean break to rebuild from the ground up. “We wanted a completely new system to service our customers,” he said.

“They don’t give us the chance very often to do infrastructure replacement, so it’s important to do it right,” McCurdy said. “We had to get rid of all that on-prem garbage.”

McCurdy said the state knew it wanted the new system to be cloud-based, but that it had some crucial choices to make along the way. “We had done some smaller [cloud] projects,” and “we were iterating toward this moment,” he said.

With input from Deloitte Consulting, “we chose hybrid cloud” with an overriding goal of reducing system complexity including knocking down the code-line count dramatically, McCurdy said.

Phase Zero of the project was to get everything into AWS, then establish connections to Salesforce and other systems that the state decided to retain on-prem, and ultimately arrive at a multi-hybrid cloud design.

The migration to AWS included more than 300 servers, 4,500 users, and 13.7 million lines of code, said Ryan Inmon, a senior manager at Deloitte who worked on the project. The system’s code count has fallen to about five million, he said, with further reductions on the horizon.

The entire project took about one year to play out from the design phase to “go live” in September 2018, with the build phase beginning in January 2018 and service migration beginning in March of that year.

The proof of the project is in the results, both speakers said.

The state realized improved benefit delivery, a decrease in tech overhead, increased state workforce efficiency, and better user experience, Inmon said, adding, “It’s all about the residents.”

“The cutover was so clean that it surprised everyone,” McCurdy said. “This project was a major success across the board,” he added.

The CTO also said the project was a real eye-opener for the state’s tech staff that worked on it. “It was very exciting, I think we all learned a lot,” he said.

Prior to the project’s start, McCurdy said he was aware of some staff grumbling that the move to cloud-based services would jeopardize their jobs. On that point, he commented, “People are not losing their jobs … I’ve been doing this for 20 years, and I’ve never seen anyone lose their jobs.”

“It was an adventurous year,” McCurdy said. “We were unwinding ten years of infrastructure.”

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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk SLG's Assistant Copy & Production Editor, covering Cybersecurity, Education, Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs