Thought Leadership

Cloud Operations and Migrations Services in Support of the VA


November 13, 2019

We sat down with Cognosante subject matter experts Lee Johnson, Program Manager and John Fisher, Service Delivery Manager & Technical Teams Lead to learn more about our Cloud Operations and Migrations Services (COMS) project for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

1. How do you currently support the COMS project?

ECSO/COMS is a Time and Materials (T&M) contract with a not to exceed funding for approximately 100 employees.  The contract is designed to remove organizational stovepipes and create seamless communication, and the team works around the clock to ensure efficient operations with high utilization rates. We take a quarterly look at personnel and work allocations to optimize performance and ensure an agile work environment—responsive to the changing needs of our customer.

2. Can you please describe our COMS project and why it’s important?

The VA Enterprise Cloud Solutions Office (ECSO) Cloud Operations and Migration Services (COMS) project provides operational input and support for the operations, maintenance, and refinement of the VA’s Enterprise Cloud (VAEC) environment, execution support for migrating new and legacy VA applications and services to cloud computing, and continuous improvement of the VA’s IT infrastructure.

The ECSO/COMS contract enables the VA to:

  • Implement VA-designated cloud services, architectures, and operating models
  • Unify VA cloud projects, vendors (e.g., cloud service providers), and platforms to meet enterprise-level requirements
  • Implement integrated VA Cloud Native architectures, operate, and coordinate a secure, integrated cloud environment
  • Support applications systems transition to VA enterprise-level cloud computing (the VAEC) environment
  • Improve cloud services through data management, consolidation, and enhancement of end-user services
  • Establish and drive support for the VA’s Cloud First, Cloud Native, and Cloud Smart initiatives
  • Provide critical consulting and subject matter expertise in the areas of: cloud computing, cloud security, cloud networking, Authority to Operate (ATO) support, compliance and audit (FISMA, SCA, DHS, etc.) support, to include SSAE-18 (a critical audit component that the VA is just becoming aware of and held accountable to).

3. What should employees know about the team behind the COMS project and why?

Because of the nature of the ECSO/COMS contract, all team members, (Cognosante and subcontractor employees) work remotely and around the clock (24/7/365) to ensure the VA mission is realized. The ECSO/COMS team is trained with a mindset of “Mission First – Mission Always,” and remote work enables staff to respond faster to emergencies, and critical systems issues. ECSO/COMS team members have been recognized numerous times across the VA and its Application Portfolios for their impeccable response times and overall accessibility.

4. What impactful changes have you seen as a result of our work?

As a result of our work, the VA is now a believer in cloud operations and supporting technologies—a notable feat, as we overcame some skepticism in achieving that goal. The outcome, a less expensive and easier to maintain cloud environment, proved better than their legacy environments.

With our help, the VA has come a long way from a world previously managed through email and spreadsheets. By introducing our VA Lifecycle Management Framework (VLMF), a detailed 12-step process on application cloud intake through decommissioning, we have helped the VA standardize how content is migrated to the cloud. We have also provided the VA with a holistic project view via CollabNet’s VersionOne, an Application Lifecycle Management (ALM), DevOps, and Portfolio Project Management solution. VersionOne aids in planning and resource tracking and has been institutionalized across the VA Enterprise Cloud (VAEC). Previously, the VA also managed project resources via email, limiting visibility and creating a highly reactive workforce. VA staff had no idea if proper resources were in place to adequately perform the work at-hand. By moving to a DevOps model and incorporating the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) for its Agile Practices, the VA ECSO/COMS team has helped drive adoption at the ECSO; specifically configuring the VersionOne solution to support the SAFe methodology and incorporate DevOps best practices. This initiative has positioned the ECSO (by operating the VAEC), as an innovative leader within the VA and gained recognition by VA Executive Leadership.

5. Innovation is one of our core values. How have we adopted this into the COMS project?

Our success on ECSO/COMS is because of the team behind it. John Fisher, for example, brings 25 years of C-Level and VP-Level executive experience spanning numerous enterprises that have leveraged the cloud as early adopters. He is also a trained Design Thinking Process Engineer & Architect (DTPE/DTPA), enabling him to think “outside of the box”. After three failed attempts by competitor groups, John successfully built and led implementation efforts of the VAEC Lifecycle Management Framework for the VA and across the ECSO. A customized Customer Journey Map was created for the VLMF and has been used as a flagship example of how to leverage design thinking into operational planning and readiness, with a focus on Service Blueprinting and organizing professional service offerings and cloud migration solutions.

To sustain innovative design thinking efforts focused on continuous service improvement, the COMS project added Cognosnate’s Kelly Grigg, Design Think Process Engineer Lead to the team. Her expertise enables Cognosante’s ability to provide innovative business processes and services for the VA alongside innovative cloud technology solutions. We have introduced a new perspective and mindset—one that realizes the old ways of doing things will no longer meet the needs of the VA, or our nation’s Veterans.

The ECSO/COMS team is aiding the VA as it transitions from a remedy system to a service system (Service Now (SNOW)). We built a VAEC Service Desk outside of the VA’s existing SNOW platform, as existing technologies and approaches could not support cloud efforts. This has helped the Service Management Office (SMO) recognize the value of modernization and cloud capabilities and as a result, the VA is moving towards a complete Cloud Management Platform, using SNOW. The ECSO/COMS team has since been invited to lead these efforts across the VA and has already run an onsite session with key SMO and ServiceNow SME’s to establish a path forward.

ECSO/COMS has also been recognized for its Active Directory, Networking, and Directory Services capabilities. The team is requested to support the ECSO alongside various key VA teams and organizations to further implement the following VA initiatives: IT Modernization, Active Directory Modernization, and the effort to bring on multi-protocol label switching MPLS and upgraded network devices and solutions to modernize and improve internal and external network connectivity and access. It’s safe to say ECSO/COMS is leading the way to “Future Proof” the VA and its IT systems and solutions.

6. Despite obstacles faced to start, how would you describe the current playing field of the ECSO/COMS project? 

Our goal is to ensure our Veteran heroes get the care they need and deserve. We contribute to this by providing the VA with fast, reliable, and constant access to the applications they need to ensure Veteran healthcare needs are met. The ECSO/COMS team has helped the ECSO gain acceptance, adoption, and trust for cloud-based computing and solutions despite change-resistance and FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt). In an environment where cloud operations were previously dismissed, it has now evolved into a race to see who can implement it first. The ECSO/COMS team creates wins, drives change and adoption, and clears out obstacles to attaining results. The home of the free doesn’t exist without the brave and they deserve the best possible care we can give them.