VA official promotes integration

HERSHEY, Pa. — The first full day of the Industry Advisory Council's Executive Leadership Conference opened this morning with an address emphasizing integration and a holistic view of information technology.

Retired Gen. Jack Nicholson, undersecretary for memorial affairs at Veterans Affairs Department, highlighted the theme of this year's conference, "Connecting the Dots." Nicholson noted that technology advances so rapidly that it is difficult for people to absorb the implications of one leap before the next one is underway.

"All of us are locked in a Tofflerian world of future shock," he said, referring to the seminal book by futurist Alvin Toffler. "American ingenuity has driven the expansion of the country's economy and with it, our prosperity."

However, technology is only a tool, Nicholson said. "I am convinced that the key to our nation's greatness lies elsewhere," he said. "It is in our national spirit."

At the VA, that principle is reflected in the work of Secretary of Veterans Affairs Anthony Principi, Nicholson said. When Principi took office, he took over a fragmented technology infrastructure in which systems had been built to support individual programs with no regard for agencywide needs. The department's chief information officer controlled little of the IT budget and there was not much planning, Nicholson said.

"This limited our ability to work closely with [the Department of Defense]," he said.

Principi put together a group that created version 1.0 of an enterprise architecture in 120 days, Nicholson said. Version 2.1 is now under review by the Office of Management and Budget, he said.

"Enterprise architecture has become the focusing lens for how VA manages change with the IT effort," he said.

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