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VA Touts ‘Tech as a Service’ for its Modernization Programs

VA’s acquisition head says ‘Agile is old news,’ and the agency is now turning to ‘technology-as-a-service.’

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The Department of Veterans Affairs is turning to industry to deliver “technology as a service” for its enterprise-wide modernization programs, emphasizing open system architecture and plug-and-play systems.

“There’s a couple of things that I do want to highlight that are hot off the press,” said Michael Parrish, VA’s principal executive director of the Office of Acquisition, Logistics and Construction (OALC), during ACT-IAC’s Health Innovation Summit. “We have a new website … and we’re creating a fusion of acquisition and innovation together. We’re trying to look at an entire lifecycle to accelerate and change the way we do procurement and business, not only in VA, but also in government. We want to keep up with innovating at speed and be able to provide the solutions and products to our veterans and everyone else as quickly as possible.”

VA recently launched a new website (veteransaffairsnavigator.com) that serves as a single-entry point for innovation and selling. The site helps both large and businesses and navigate certifications. VA developed an intelligent automation tool for the site to filter solicitations. Looking ahead, VA plans to create a “future forecasting” tool to enable organizations to plan for upcoming opportunities.

“Some of these game-changes I’m making are focusing on figuring out what technology is out there. Let’s get an objective. Let’s figure out where we want to be, and you will tell us how to get there,” Parrish said. “On the innovation side, you go there and give us your new window to new ideas and new technologies, and that’ll help us filter and evaluate those things to be able to go from concept, to commercialization, to use inside the VA, and ultimately to a commercial product.”

Parrish is also leading a supply chain modernization effort to completely redesign and modernize its operations. The agency’s supply chain manages the flows of all goods, services and information between stakeholders, including within the VA, external suppliers and service providers and veterans. One of VA’s largest challenges is “operating in analog bureaucracy in a digital world,” Parrish said.

“As we look at this big supply chain modernization effort, this is going to be a single contract for an integrator,” Parrish said.

As part of the supply chain plan, VA has three primary objectives:

  • Use an enterprise-wide focus to develop a comprehensive strategy
  • Develop proper metrics to allow evidence-based management of the supply chain
  • Develop a program strategy that includes validation of functional requirements and an oversight structure, and identifies the best practices and technologies of today

“As we were using this innovation acquisition piece, I’ve been pushing this effort. We’re trying to upgrade and modernize our entire supply chain system, and that’s everything,” Parrish said. “We have multiple different work streams, or supply chains. I look at this as ‘a systems of systems’ approach, so I call it the Rubik’s Cube.”

VA is currently undergoing multiple large-scale modernization projects, like its Electronic Health Record Modernization (EHRM) Program and its Financial Management System Modernization Program, in addition to supply chain. Through these modernization journeys, VA is following what Parrish calls the “EII” mentality: “easy to use, integrated and intelligent.” To get there, VA is look to human-centered design, interoperability and data management.

“I am a big proponent of let’s get our objectives right and then technology is the last decision because we also have to focus on people and processes,” Parrish said. “Agile is old news … Let’s get the max technology we get today, and let’s look at this ‘as a service’ and move forward over a journey. I’m looking at this being, I call it, ‘technology-as-a-service.’”

This model will rely on mobile open system architecture and plug-and-play systems to constantly evolve at the speed of technology and innovation. Plug-and-play technologies will be able to work with a system as soon as they are connected, reducing solution delivery time and ensuring VA’s technology is up to date with the evolving technology landscape.

“We’re going to make new technologies [and be] evaluated not only from a technical competency, but also by strategic alignment with the VA vision,” Parrish said. “We think that’s going to be a great way to make sure that all our systems with these large digital transformations work together and help us streamline and innovate with speed for new technologies and new efforts that we’re bringing moving forward on.”

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