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Telephony Modernization – Answering the Call for VA Innovation

When most people think about modernizing an organization as large as VA, thoughts naturally turn to big IT projects like the Electronic Health Record. But true modernization touches every aspect of how VA processes information, including the way we field calls from our Veterans through telephone networks used by VA Medical Centers (VAMCs) around the country. The Unified Communications Infrastructure Support (UCIS) team is one such team working hard to prepare VA for the next generation of IT services and VA customer service.

Working under the Infrastructure Operations (IO) group within the IT Operations and Services (ITOPS) division, UCIS is modernizing VA telephony systems across the country. A diligent team led by J.R. Carter reviewed eight different phone system brands used by VAMCs and prioritized those systems most in need of an update. Then they worked with the facilities to identify modern, secure phone systems that could deliver advanced data and telephony services that improve delivery of Veteran care and services.

For example, VA nurses in Portland, Oregon can now receive calls anywhere during their rounds, and even receive patient vital signs on their phones via a secure app, thus eliminating the need to be at specific workstations and allowing them to more immediately address Veteran patient needs.

“Phone systems need to operate and coordinate together to transform and empower our business activities,” said Sean Mitts, Acting Director of the UCIS team. “But legacy phone systems are a barrier to enterprise transformation.”

UCIS also recently secured $23 million in dedicated investment that will equip 29 VAMCs and multiple cemetery and pharmacy sites with updated telephony, video teleconferencing, and call center capabilities by the end of 2019. The projected investment includes the purchase and deployment of 64,630 phones, over 180 voice gateways and enough licensing to support over 2,500 call center agents.

The efforts of the UCIS represent more than just replacing old equipment; they prepare VA to deliver better services to Veterans and to be the top customer service agency in the Federal Government. This new telephony platform allows VA to seamlessly integrate voice, video, messaging, and conferences into one convenient solution across many devices in nearly any location. The investments will also empower stronger call center capabilities so that phone attendants across the country can handle call surges outside of their own geographical area. Further, these investments will help VA avoid nearly $40 million in maintenance costs for older networking equipment, some of which was well past their operational lives.

“This initiative will transform VA’s ability to respond to ever-changing Veteran needs, now and in the future,” Mr. Mitts said. UCIS is effectively contributing to VA’s ongoing modernization initiatives and generating results that address business needs, reduce organizational costs, and empower VA employees to deliver exceptional service to our Nation’s Veterans.

Content last updated or reviewed on January 2, 2019