Recently, FedHealthIT’s Executive Vice President, Susan Sharer, had the opportunity to connect with Charles Worthington, Acting Chief Technology Officer with the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Information and Technology, about IT Modernization, some of VA’s successes, next steps, and the future.

More Than IT Modernization

Modernization is underway throughout VA from financial management and HR to APIs, health records, and customer-facing products. Throughout this undertaking, VA has developed a product-focused mindset that uses modern best practices in digital delivery, such as continuous deployment, moving to the commercial cloud, and using commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) solutions. “Half of the focus of our modernization strategy is on what we are delivering, and the other half is the how—how we plan to achieve our goals and objectives. The latter involves the people, processes, and tools that deliver on our target outcomes—namely, improving our overall customer service.”

Success Stories

Worthington says Veterans’ experiences with VA-designed tools should feel tailor-made to their unique, specific needs… because they are. Ensuring that all Veterans can access these tools where, when, and how they need them is crucial to making VA’s online presence as good as or better than what is available in the community. “That’s why over the past year, our digital modernization initiative focused on making VA’s online experience as good as that of any private sector entity.”

VA successfully completed and launched the new VA.gov—built with Veterans, for Veterans—on Veterans Day, 2018. The new VA.gov uses digital tools to connect the customer with the products or services they want and need from VA. It is a customer-focused portal that users can take advantage of to learn about available services and access the tools and applications that VA provides. It allows Veterans to apply for benefits, check the status of a claim, or refill a prescription within a simple, intuitive, user-friendly platform that places the tools they need most right at their fingertips.

VA and OIT worked with members of several Veterans Service Organizations and more than 3,000 Veterans to test the site during development. “These volunteers provided valuable feedback that allowed us to refine the site and deliver what they valued most in the formats that were the most convenient and familiar for them.”

Next Steps

Spending a large amount of time planning and building before deploying a project or product is often the norm. But as the new VA.gov continues to grow and improve, VA will no longer follow that outdated mental model of IT projects. “It doesn’t accurately reflect how development really works; software is constantly evolving, being upgraded, and being optimized and we are always considering and testing new features, new programs, and new tools. For example, VA.gov will be iteratively updated and improved as new tools and services are made available to our Veterans. In fact, within the next month, we will be rolling out an improved way for Veterans to file claims for disability compensation on VA.gov.”

“We see a lot of value in making it possible for more people to build on VA’s internal IT systems. By deploying our API data-sharing model, we’re giving external developers access to VA data and standards in a secure, controlled way so that they can use it to build applications that best serve Veterans’ unique needs and desires. For example, our new intake process utilizes some of VA’s APIs to make it possible for a Veteran claim to come straight to VA digitally, which gets the data to us and into our system faster, more securely, and more efficiently.”

Because VA repurposed an existing internal API, the Agency didn’t need to spend time or money to build something from scratch. Instead, Worthington says VA can allocate those resources to projects that directly benefit Veterans or that customers and patients care most about. “This new approach to development—referred to as “buy-before-build”—eliminates redundancy, streamlining the intake and back-end processes while keeping Veteran user experiences consistent.”

The Future

“There are a lot of amazing things going on at VA, and our progress and success will require the help of some of the country’s best and brightest minds. We’re building and looking to grow a world-class team of innovators and technologists who can help us move our vision forward. That’s why VA is extending our hand to the community, our business partners, and the nation’s Veterans in a request for those with a desire to help us improve the lives of Veterans to join our team.”

About Charles Worthington

Charles Worthington is a software developer and product designer who has been helping the government adopt modern digital service delivery best practices since 2013. He is currently serving as the Chief Technology Officer at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), where he is working to improve the experience Veterans have when interacting with VA online. Since joining VA in May 2017, he has guided VA’s Digital Modernization initiative. His efforts include the development of the agency’s Digital Strategy, supporting VA’s adoption of commercial cloud infrastructure, and supporting the development Vets.gov.

Before joining VA in May 2017, Charles helped create the U.S. Digital Service, a team of world-class developers, designers and product experts serving tours of duty in the federal government to use design and technology to deliver better services to the American people. Charles is the co-author of the Digital Services Playbook (https://playbook.cio.gov) and executed digital service engagements at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Small Business Administration, Department of Transportation, and the Department of the Interior. Before his federal service, Charles built products for private sector clients and was a strategy consultant in the technology and telecom sectors. Charles holds a B.A. from Harvard University.

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