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Web and Mobile Upgrades Next on VA’s Modernization Agenda

With two new solicitations, the Department of Veterans Affairs will embark on the next stage of its strategy to change the way it delivers services to 9 million veterans around the country.

The VA’s Office of Acquisition and Logistics announced on July 27 it was seeking industry partners to help modernize its primary website, VA.gov. A week later, the VA posted a request for proposals in support of migrating its portfolio of mobile applications to the cloud.

These projects represent key milestones in the VA’s bid to become “the first federal agency to deliver a digital experience on par with the private sector,” according to the July 27 solicitation. But it hasn’t been without help.

In fiscal 2017, Veterans Affairs spent $761 million on contracts for citizen- or customer-facing digital services projects, according to Bloomberg Government’s market definition, more than any other department.

In addition, over the past year the VA has partnered with the U.S. Digital Service to pilot a number of new modernization initiatives and help build its own in-house digital services team. USDS is a White House office established in 2014.

“At the VA, our digital modernization efforts have been focused on delivering faster access to care and services to veterans, improving the quality of the experience veterans have, and being able to scale within the organization,” USDS digital expert Clare Martorana told Bloomberg Government during an Aug. 2 panel discussion.

Making VA.gov More Like Vets.gov

One of USDS’s first challenges at the VA was making sense of the sprawl of VA.gov webpages that had accumulated over the years. They found that the site’s lack of hierarchical organization and redundant pages made it immensely difficult to navigate. VA.gov was not only a source of frustration for veterans, it was also a barrier to accessing benefits.

USDS partnered with the VA’s in-house digital team to build a separate portal, Vets.gov. Drawing upon best practices in user-centric design, the portal now offers veterans a one-stop shop for finding information, applying for benefits, tracking requests, and managing care using a personalized dashboard.

Vets.gov has been widely lauded by veterans and federal technology leaders alike, with former VA chief information officer Scott Blackburn calling it a “trademark accomplishment.”

The site has proven so successful that the VA will model the VA.gov modernization after it, according a statement of objectives released June 27. Industry partners selected for the job will construct a new content management system and migrate Vets.gov over to the new VA.gov. The new site “must address all content currently on vets.gov” and be built using compatible infrastructure and frameworks.

The VA intends to award the contract to a service-disabled veteran-owned small business. A final RFP hasn’t been released, but the goal is to relaunch the site by Veterans Day 2018.

Moving Mobile to the Cloud

At the same time, the VA is seeking a vendor to make its portfolio of mobile applications more responsive by migrating them to the commercial cloud.

The VA maintains about 30 mobile apps that provide a range of services, from appointment scheduling to health coaching to helping veterans practice mindfulness. Currently, the apps are hosted in an on-premises environment built by Booz Allen Hamilton Holding Corp. and International Business Machines Corp.‘s Terremark. The contract calls for migrating the apps to the VA Enterprise Cloud (VAEC), which is built on Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure infrastructure.

Although the VA isn’t setting this contract aside for veteran-owned businesses, as it is with the VA.gov modernization, vendors will have to subcontract at least 25 percent of the total contract value to small and veteran-owned businesses.

These projects represent only a small share of the $380 million the VA is gearing up to spend on IT modernization — not including its $1.2 billion electronic health records modernization — over the next year, according to the department’s 2019 budget request. But aside from the VA’s investments in its digital services, Martorana says the department’s greatest asset has been its focus on bringing together the right teams and sharing best practices.

“I think the VA has really been leaning into increasing training and scaling the organization by bringing in groups like the U.S. Digital Service and standing up its own team, the Digital Service at the VA,” she said. “It’s an exciting time to be at the VA.”

The post Web and Mobile Upgrades Next on VA’s Modernization Agenda appeared first on Bloomberg Government.

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