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VA Seeing Returns from Cloud Transition, RPA Adoption

The agency’s investment in IT modernization has allowed the agency to provide critical services more effectively and to a broader range of veterans.

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The Department of Veterans Affairs is reporting significant returns from its cloud-computing strategy and adoption of robotic process automation capacities, both in terms of increasing access to key services as well as in expediting their delivery.

The agency has notably expanded telehealth capacities at an unprecedented speed and scale supported by VA’s cloud-computing infrastructure. As such, the agency recognized the benefits of permanently expanded remote infrastructure toward better meeting the health care needs of veterans in rural or otherwise underserved regions.

“This is going to be a permanent state for us at the VA,” said then Acting CIO Dominic Cussatt, who recently departed the agency, during a virtual event. “Telehealth helps us reach so many people in very remote areas that have a hard time getting to our medical centers. So having the cloud definitely allowed us to rapidly and exponentially expand our telehealth service so that the veterans could get continuous and uninterrupted care through the pandemic.”

Even with certain VA facilities reopening, the Office of Information Technology reports that use of the agency’s telehealth infrastructure has remained consistent — and will likely continue to do so.

“Pre-COVID, we were conducting about 40,000 telehealth visits a month. And now we routinely conduct 40,000 per day. We know that’s not going to go away. Even with facilities reopening and people getting back out to more face-to-face experiences, we’re seeing our numbers kind of stay level. So there’s definitely the demand out there. As of Aug. 9, we had supported over 11.8 million telehealth visits during the pandemic, and we quintupled our telehealth capability by upgrading our on-premise IT systems and expanding further into the cloud,” Cussatt said.

The agency’s addition of new devices and endpoints within this more dispersed IT infrastructure has also spurred development of VA’s cybersecurity capacities, with a special eye on staying ahead of an evolving threat landscape.

“With the explosion of endpoints that we’re seeing on VA networks, especially with the pandemic and the telehealth capabilities explosion, we’ve gotten more devices out there in the field in the hands of our practitioners. So we’re really maintaining and expanding our ability to protect against the big threats that are constantly bearing down on our networks and our endpoints. We take a risk-based approach to the threat as it evolves, and we go after threats that are directly impacting our ability to perform critical aspects of our mission,” Cussatt said.

This has included a special focus on leveraging DevSecOps amidst a push to implement zero trust measures across the agency.

“We’ve also leveraged DevSecOps to host and embed security applications into our systems and our networks that enable us to have greater control and awareness of our networks and our IT capabilities that are baked in as we move toward a zero trust-type framework,” Cussatt said.

In addition to the agency’s cloud strategy and remote network development, VA’s increasing use of RPA within its benefits services has also allowed the agency to provide this area of support more quickly and efficiently.

“AI and automation is even helping us to automate some of the IT underpinnings that support our benefits area, such as automatic generation of support tickets when they’re having IT issues with the systems that process claims, as well as enriching support tickets with additional point-in-time data that’s robotically gathered from devices behaving abnormally so that our techs can more immediately have the information they need to respond to the incident,” Cussatt said. “This is critical for our benefits processors, where time is of the essence. If we can shave 10 seconds off the millions or even billions of claims we process each year, the payback is incredible.”

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