On January 7, 2019, I joined the Office of Information and Technology (OIT), just as VA was building momentum for its Digital Transformation. The challenges were complex, but it was readily apparent that the OIT Team was tackling the digital challenges head on. We saw many early gains toward our IT modernization and customer service efforts to provide Veterans with the seamless and unified experience that they deserve. It was — and is — an honor to be part of such an impactful transformation. Over the past year, OIT has clearly demonstrated value to our business partners and, in turn, to more than 20 million Veterans.
For years, VA has been striving to improve our customer service — but in just one year, we kicked it into overdrive. We’re doing more than simply improving our customer service; we’re pursuing cultural transformation that completely overhauls how we approach the business, our partnerships, and the work each OIT employee performs in the field.
We set an example both for our partners in VHA, VBA, and NCA and for the IT industry at large. With customer service top of mind, we drove technology solutions created with Veterans, not just for them. Our customers, after all, are the mission. They are why we’re here.
Any IT executive understands that the sheer volume of IT requirements, the scope of an agency’s cybersecurity posture, and the rapidly evolving field of IT can often overtake the perspective of why we do what we do as public servants. We know that we’re serving our nation’s Veterans, but how does the work we do every day in OIT impact them, personally?
That’s why we have our annual OIT Year in Review. It’s the macro view of key initiatives in 2019 — the infrastructure modernization and enhancements, the customer satisfaction score improvements, the training and re-skilling we’ve aggressively pursued, and the partnerships and relationships we’ve cultivated to help VA’s IT office become an employer and a partner of choice.
The results speak for themselves.
We’ve advanced VA’s place as a leader of government innovation through Lighthouse, our open-source API sharing platform. With it, leading developers in the broader industry have secure access to VA data so that they can put fresh ideas to work and create solutions, tools, and applications that solve the problems Veterans care most about. Thanks to industry talent and VA data, we’re delivering new solutions like the Benefits Intake API and the Health API that give Veterans more agency over their data, how they use it to control their health care, and how they can speed up processing of their benefits applications.
Internally, we continued an enterprise-wide shift to a DevSecOps and Product Line Management methodology, which changes the way we approach IT development, operations, and deployment, with security baked in throughout the process. By incorporating customer feedback into the development cycle from the very beginning, we’re embodying the principle of building with our customers, not just for them. Gone are the days of developing products, software, and services in siloes; we’re pursuing commercial off-the-shelf products, Software as a Service, and customer-focused development processes to provide the right tools for our partners’ requirements, speeding delivery and rapid iterations of tools that ultimately provide Veterans with better care and services.
And of course, VA’s biggest win in 2019 was the incredible success we saw in June by meeting our first of many MISSION Act milestones. We brought the 8,000 employees and 8,000 contractors of OIT together with our business partners in VHA to support a crucial initiative that completely transformed how Veterans access community care. We stood shoulder-to-shoulder with our partners in VA to break down every barrier, get buy-in from every stakeholder, communicate every challenge, and focus IT resources on every roadblock that stood in our way.
We’ll be building on that success through 2020 as we work to continue support for the Colmery Act, expand capabilities for MISSION Act, and begin shifting to a fully seamless, interoperable Electronic Health Record for our Veterans, from the point they enter military service through their transition to Veteran status and beyond.
A new year isn’t a new start; it’s a continuation and re-commitment to the mission that brought us to VA in the first place. We’ll continue to exceed the expectations of our customers just as we did over the past twelve months, but we’ll also continue to learn and grow.
I’m so proud of each OIT employee and what they continue to deliver every day. I thank them for their service, passion, and dedication to the mission and our business partners. We in OIT are realizing our vision of becoming a world-class IT organization that provides a seamless, unified Veteran experience. We’re doing this by focusing on VA’s prime directive — improving our customer service — and in OIT, It Starts With Us.
James P. Gfrerer
Assistant Secretary for Information and Technology
and Chief Information Officer
Department of Veterans Affairs