Veterans' Affairs IT overhaul on home stretch

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Veterans' Affairs IT overhaul on home stretch

The Department of Veterans' Affairs (DVA) is preparing to enter the final stage of its major IT infrastructure re-development project.

Phase three is earmarked to commence in November and will see the department roll out a new enterprise data model and standard reports.

It will also install a set of new software packages from IBM-Cognos.

The agency completed stage two in June, which culminated in the decommissioning of its old hardware servers and Cognos 7 suite.

On the hardware side, the DVA has deployed IBM balanced configuration units (BCUs) for AIX.

These are building blocks of hardware and software that are pre-configured to maximise business intelligence (BI) and data warehouse performance.

The department is also running DB2 version 9 at the backend, and a new Cognos 8 BI and performance management software system.

It made the transition from Cognos versions 7 to 8 using a mix of the Cognos solutions implementation methodology (CSIM) and the department’s own preferred project management method, PRINCE2.

Dylan Kurtz, BI manager in Departmental Management Information at DVA, told attendees at this week’s Cognos Forum event that migration played a ‘small but critical’ part in the project.

“It laid the foundation for a much larger body of work,” said Kurtz.

“Stage one of the project was really the migration component. It was about making some quick wins with users and moving content to Cognos 8 as quickly as possible.”

The word ‘migration’ can be deceptive, warned Kurtz. It is not as simple as passing data through a migration tool provided by a vendor, and the information then being available to users.

“If you’re going to do anything with migration spend time planning and defining the migration approach,” Kurtz said

“I don’t think there’s a golden rule or formula to conduct migration. It requires quite a bit of planning, and appropriate resourcing and budget.”

The department was given three options to conduct the migration - ‘lift-and-shift’ which involves dragging existing content through a migration tool into the new system; ‘compress-and-optimise’, which entails examining existing content and rationalising it with the new tool’s functionality; and a third option that mixed both.

“This is the option we chose,” Kurtz said.

“If I can name any one thing that was beneficial, it was this [mixed approach]. For example, we rationalised 60 Impromptu reports into one by taking a good look at the content,” he said.

Kurtz also urged others looking to embark on similar migration paths to bring in professional services to help ‘tackle the more complex issues quickly’.

The department’s data warehouse draws on 22 sources, including Medicare, other government and internal data.

DVA employs approximately 2,000 people nationwide across five divisions.

Ry Crozier attended Cognos Forum as a guest of Cognos
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