Anyone who has used a phone knows the frustration of dealing with poor service, dropped calls, or being unable to place a call. For an organization like the National Cemetery Administration (NCA), which supports Veterans and their families in the emotionally turbulent days immediately following the death of a loved one, having equipment malfunctions and communication issues like these simply isn’t an option. With the goal of providing the highest service to our Veterans, the OIT Account Management Office Memorial Affairs team is partnering with NCA on a four-pronged infrastructure modernization effort, which began with upgrading NCA’s telephony systems.
The NCA Infrastructure Modernization efforts, which include telephony, wireless, data network circuits, and telecommunication space remediation, started with formalizing the NCA business need by crafting separate business requirements documents for all four of the modernization efforts, in tandem with the NCA business partner.
NCA’s legacy phone systems, while functional, are dated and lack many of the capabilities of the more modern Cisco platform VA is now implementing across the VA enterprise. The innovative upgrades to the new Cisco Unified Call Center Enterprise — later upgraded to the Packaged Contact Center Enterprise — and the accompanying call plans improve NCA’s ability to process increased call traffic and place outbound calls without dropping.
In addition, if a site loses phone service due to a local carrier issue, such as a cut cable or card failure, the site does not need to rely on the carrier to send out maintenance teams to resolve the issue. The local information technology support teams can simply re-route outgoing calls to another local NCA facility so staff can still place calls and continue to care for Veterans and their families while the issue is worked in the background.
Thanks to the collaboration between NCA and OIT’s Account Management Office Memorials team, meshed with the technical expertise from the OIT Unified Communications Infrastructure (UCI) telephony service provider, modernization progress has been exceptional. In 2020, the joint NCA and OIT team overcame multiple funding challenges to secure a full budget for the telephony modernization. Since then, the infrastructure modernization team has completed 43 NCA sites which exceeds 150 percent of their targeted sites.
The team is projected to upgrade yet another 17 sites in 2022 and aims to complete the modernization effort by upgrading the final 40 or more by 2023. Additionally, the cost savings are enormous. Thanks to Mr. Dan Linkowski, OIT UCI Supervisor, and Ms. Monica Peter, OIT Telephony Implementation Manager, VA conserved over $236,000 quarterly, averaging a cost savings of almost $1 million for the year due to the project’s keen budgeting and the overall savings realized by modernizing the systems.
“Helping bereaved loved ones with the burial process or anything concerning it can be very emotional,” explains Mr. Mike Emrich, NCA’s Lead Program Specialist for Technology Infrastructure Requirements. “So, the ability to communicate quickly and efficiently helps us take care of them and supports our responsibility to provide a suitable resting place for our heroes.”
The NCA Infrastructure Modernization initiative ties closely with the VA Secretary’s Strategic Goals and Priorities, including delivering exceptional customer service, modernizing systems via digital transformation, business transformation, IT modernization, as well as seamless and secure data interoperability between VA and our business partners.
The modernization fully supports NCA’s Strategic Goals to ensure “Stakeholders will place greater trust in NCA based on enhanced accountability” and “Stakeholders will be served more efficiently and effectively based on NCA’s internal capacity.” Ultimately, the modernization effort is an overall win-win that will ensure Veteran customers and VA staff have an improved, outstanding experience across all levels of NCA service.
The team responsible for this endeavor includes Mr. Mike Emrich, NCA Business Partner; Ms. Christine Walker, lead senior executive managing the business relationship between OIT and NCA, who liaised with the OIT UCI telephony service provider team: Mr. William Monfette, Mr. Dan Linkowski, and Mr. Lance Burse. Mr. Larry Jamison later joined as the Project Manager for all four modernization efforts and Ms. Monica Peter, specifically, as the Implementation Manager for Telephony.
Learn more about the other NCA Infrastructure Modernization efforts conducted across the NCA enterprise in this series’ next NCA Infrastructure Modernization story about Upgrades to NCA’s Data Network Circuits.
Our commitment to digital and IT transformation is shaped by daily dedication to customer service and the close collaboration of our workforce, managers, and leaders. Ready to join us in improving Veterans’ care? Check out all current information and technology career opportunities on DigitalVA. You can also contact VA’s Office of the Chief Human Capital Officer at 512-326-6600, Monday thru Friday, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. CST or by submitting a resume to VACareers@va.gov.