Gateway portal offers new connections for combat vets

Federal 100 award winner Devin Holmes developed the Warrior Gateway portal to help veterans

As told to Michael Hardy

Devin Holmes is the brains behind Warrior Gateway, a vital source of information for returning combat veterans. He attacked a mountain of inconsistent data to create the portal, which connects veterans returning home from war zones to nonprofit organizations and other sources of help in their local communities. By linking private and public entities via the portal, Holmes has redefined how veterans search for assistance and empowered them to share their experiences and resources with one another. Holmes works for the nonprofit, nonpartisan Business Executives for National Security, whose members lend their business expertise to help the government enhance the country’s security.

When our men and women come home, they’re not coming home to government programs, they’re coming home to a community. The problem was with people coming back from war, how could we bring communities together? Not only how do those people know about those services, but how do those services know about those people?

The real core project got kicked off in 2009, which is when I was hired to run it. We were given a set of problem statements that were to become what really formed the core of Warrior Gateway. The first one was: How am I as an individual to know what’s available in my community? The second was: How do I know who’s good at what they do? The third was: How do we know what the gaps are, what’s missing? And the fourth was about communication: How do we get the information in front of the right person at the right time?

We spent 2009 doing a lot of research. We talked to veterans, those who had transitioned already. We talked to military spouses. We talked to the state directors of veterans affairs. We wanted to get more of a local perspective on what was happening in states and communities.

The surveys revealed that veterans and service providers often had no idea how to connect with one another.

We didn’t find anywhere that the voice of the customer, the voice of the veteran, was being used to help others make decisions. Like restaurants are [rated] on Yelp, like movies are [reviewed] on Rotten Tomatoes — why couldn’t you use that same business model?

We had made our technology platform decision in 2009 as part of this research. As a technology-centric organization, we recognized that one of the challenges was going to be how we collect information in disparate formats and put it into one repository and make it easy to search. We ultimately chose a company called MarkLogic. Their platform allowed us to take disparate, unstructured data sources and put it into a structure we could utilize and make it easy for people to search.

Our technology challenges were not platform-oriented; our technology challenges were data-oriented. We were pulling data initially from half a dozen data sources. It was all different levels of quality.

[After improving the quality of the data,] we started building the private beta [version] in early January of 2010. In 10 days, we had the private beta up and running. On March 15, we launched WarriorGateway.org as a public beta.

We started with about 15,000 unique profiles of organizations and providers. We’re currently up to, I believe, 42,000. We think that we are less than 10 percent of the way there. Our goal for the end of this year is to be at 100,000 or above. We think that the upward level of where it will be is somewhere north of 600,000 or 700,000 programs.

Read more about the 2011 Federal 100 award winners.

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