Five Steps Toward Digital Transformation at the Department of Veterans Affairs

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is keenly focused on improving the healthcare and general services that support our military veterans. Incumbent on these improvements is the integration of leading edge technologies that digitize and automate processes for efficiency along with important security enhancements.

 

 

ONE: Implementation of Electronic Health Records

The Department's efforts to modernize the way they store and access records for the nine million veterans they care for into a comprehensive electronic system has been well documented. These efforts involve upgrading all 1200+ VA facilities' existing systems to ensure better continuity of care, and are currently focused on moving EHR data to a cloud system that will be interoperable with the Military Health System. The ultimate goal is to ensure service members can seamlessly and digitally transition from DOD to VA health care, instead of needing to carry around stacks of paper forms as is current practice.

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Coordination is Key to CDO Success

Chief Data Officers (CDOs) are one of the newer positions in government, but their role is quickly becoming one of the most critical. A CDO is charged with overseeing data-related functions, including data management, ensuring data quality, and creating data strategy. For government agencies, this requires close coordination with the Federal Data Strategy and the DoD Data Strategy.

Both of these documents define the specific roles and responsibilities of data officers and provide a framework for working with and securing data. Of course, each agency has unique requirements and missions, leaving the CDO to work out how to apply this guidance and standards to their organization.

Agencies are meeting these guidelines and integrating CDOs in different ways. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recently announced a department-level CDO office to better integrate data into its operations and those of other agencies. The need for this level of coordination was underscored as DHS launched a department-wide COVID-19 vaccination campaign in partnership with the Department of Veterans Affairs health centers. DHS needed to identify, contact and manage responses from workers, which meant collecting and reconciling many different datasets from across the department.

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Putting Work into Defining the Government Workforce

The last year has brought about incredible change in the federal workforce, and it shows no sign of stopping. With a new Director for the Office of Personnel and Management (OPM) confirmed, the next several months will bring new energy and activity to formalizing and standardizing workplace policies, processes, and approaches for the "new normal" of a digital-first government.

The move to telework changed how many people view and even perform their jobs. Before the pandemic, telework was sporadically used throughout government and viewed pretty skeptically. Now that the genie is out of the bottle, it's clear that government can continue to function without people in office buildings from 9am-5pm. As in-person work starts to come back around, the new shift will be in defining and managing a hybrid workforce.

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The Growing Impact of IoT

The use of Internet of Things (IoT) to manage infrastructure and services is not a new concept, but response to the new normal of pandemic life, natural disasters, and the implementation of 5G networks all could accelerate the implementation of IoT solutions.

Remote Management

Stay-at-home orders, social distancing measures, and backlogged inspection schedules all combine to make a great case for implementing sensors and other IoT devices as part of infrastructure management. With technology providing data on the status of equipment, facilities, and general infrastructure like roads and bridges, the need to deploy inspectors to the field can be minimized. In the short term, this reduces potential points of exposure for inspectors and field staff. Longer term, it adds a new "colleague" to field management teams. IoT can handle routine, low risk monitoring, freeing up humans to focus on more complex or higher priority tasks and activities.

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The Telework Genie is Free. Now What?

In regards to remote working, the general consensus seems to be, "you can't put the genie back in the bottle."

A good portion of the government workforce has been working from home for the past year, and the world has continued turning. In fact, some agencies report productivity is up since teleworking became the norm. While people will return to the office, it will look different with many alternating office days with days they work from home. The past year has shown us that working arrangements do not necessarily need to be confined to an office. And, when we also remove the stress of students learning from home, caring for homebound elderly parents, and a pandemic in general, employees may realize a new level of balance and job satisfaction.

To support the continued success of remote work, agencies need to shore up the IT that was put in place to simply keep the trains running on time. Some technology was implemented quickly to meet the immediate need, and now is the time to take a hard look at all of those solutions to see if they will scale to meet the long-term reality of a dispersed workforce.

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