VA to replace key systems

NAPLES, Fla. — The Veterans Affairs Department will replace all its major tech systems in the next five years so that the agency can become more veteran-centric, the agency's chief information officer said today.

Many of the systems have reached the end of their life cycle, said Ed Meagher, acting CIO of the veterans agency. In the last few years, the department has set up a strict governance structure to help bring separate systems together to better serve veterans.

"We were a large, not integrated organization doing a fairly good job, but again we were inefficient," Meagher said, speaking at the Government CIO Summit sponsored by FCW Media Group. "We were not veteran-centric. We were line of business-centric."

The VA consists of the Veteran's Health Administration; Veteran Benefits Administration; and National Cemetery Administration. Each organization handles a different area for veterans, and each had its own systems and governance, making it hard for veterans and their families to receive services, for example, at the time of a veteran's death.

"At the most difficult time for a serviceman's family, they have to make three different applications," Meagher said. "That clearly illustrates the nature of our problem."

Three years ago, the VA lacked an enterprise architecture and had inconsistent project management, Meagher said. At the direction of VA Secretary Anthony Principi, agency officials created the Department of Veterans Affairs Enterprise Architecture Innovation Team. The group of 20 VA leaders, which soon became known as "deviants" as a play on the acronym, had the power to make binding decisions unanimous recommendations. Using this disciplined approach, the agency has begun to improve its use of technology. "Then you start to get some results," Meagher said.

For example, all of the VA's 59 business cases for fiscal 2005 were approved in the first pass, Meagher said. The agency is working toward a centralized information security program and a centralized telecommunications program. The agency has also released several versions of its enterprise architecture.

"This is a never-ending process," Meagher said. "The payoff for us will come over the next five years."

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