VA looks to make IT a snap

The Department of Veterans Affairs rolled out an enterprise architecture plan Oct. 17 that will streamline information technology and make every part interchangeable.

The new plan was unveiled by John Gauss, the agency's chief information officer, who said it would save money and make it easier to build a leaner, more efficient IT system.

In the future, Gauss said someone would be able to come to the VA with a good idea and "all you have to do is snap the parts together.... We don't want to buy circuits anymore." He described it as a system patterned on Lego toys.

Gauss declined to put a price tag on the project or predict how long it would take. The VA expects to be able to use some components already in its systems.

"This is not something that has an end," Gauss said. "We have to evolve it. We can't shut ourselves down."

Gauss said he does not expect to spend a lot of money on the project because the VA will "do the engineering before going to manufacture."

"This is not leading to any huge buying opportunity out there," Gauss said, but added that he expected about 60 percent of the work to be nongovernmental. He said he'd need about $12 million for additional staff in-house.

A team of experts inside the VA worked feverishly for five months to develop the plan and followed enterprise architecture ideas developed by John Zachman, a former IBM Corp. executive and guru of enterprise architecture.

The plan also calls for a reorganization of a number of IT functions at the VA, including:

* A new information technology board to replace the VA's CIO council. The board will include business and technical representatives from different parts of the agency.

* An IT council to review changes to the architecture plan.

* A chief architect reporting to Gauss to handle the project.

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