SUCCESS OR DEATH IS BASED IN MARYLAND. The blog highlights one veteran's journey through what it means to be an entrepreneur.

More With Less: Integrating Systems

In life, sometimes you can take three steps forward and two steps back. Progress is made, albeit slowly, but it happens nonetheless. With the Department of Veterans Affairs experiencing between $1 billion to $2 billion in cuts, the people who have sworn to protect this nation are being left out to dry, while other programs absorb plenty of money. 

Progress is at a standstill.

Like any large bureaucracy, oversight is key, and trusting leaders and employees to do their jobs is integral for any organization, no matter the kind, to function. However, much of this could have been solved years ago, with the right plan, the right platform, and employees not being protected when criminal acts are going unpunished. In combat, failure on the part of a soldier might lead to their brother-in-arms dying. As we’ve seen, failures on the parts of administration and employees in the VA have also led to that.

As technology advances, operating systems and the platforms they support undergo changes, some dramatic, some slower. As we’ve seen, the Navy is already going to shell out millions of dollars to hold onto Microsoft Windows XP. The military keeps the “if it isn’t broke, then why fix it?” mentality. Antiquated technology is seen in many units, often being passed from new to older units like hand me downs in a large family.

We are more agile, more lethal, and more advanced than ever before, but what systems could be used to support the warfighter and those who leave the service and join the civilian workforce or go to college? 

Enlisted and officers generally have different paths they are on, and society treats most of them differently. The VA, working with employers, doesn’t really have the systems in place to assist either in being utilized by corporations outside of typical defense contracts to better the organizations they might otherwise become part of. When the underlying infrastructure of an entire department is crumbling, what do we have ultimately to build on? You can’t build a new house on a weak foundation.

While government spends millions, if not billions, software is meant to save money, time, and manpower. Sometimes sending a project to the lowest bidder often costs taxpayers in upwards of billions of dollars. This is what we’ve seen so far with the multitude of systems created thanks to contract bids:

  • No systems really talk outside their respective spheres. Services keep their own records management platforms. Sometimes service members switch branches. If training can be consolidated for a specific field (like Fort Sam Houston for medical) then so can records.
  • Universal interfaces across the programs yield more agile employees and having that versatility saves the government or paying organization money without having to retrain. Service members who train on systems can be utilized no matter what base they are stationed, especially with the consolidation of installations and draw downs occurring.
  • User interfaces are cumbersome and don’t lend themselves to ease of use. Hearing soldiers and members from other branches discuss how horrible government websites like AKO and NKO are to use should be incentive enough to change them. Ultimately, cost aside, this falls on the project managers and designers who created the systems. Service members should have the same ease of use as sites like Facebook and other social media sites, with security and the obvious functionality for records built-in.
  • Following bad user interfaces, the user experience often deters service members from getting into the nuts and bolts of a platform. Ease of use is key in any site, and only a few clicks should take you to where you need to go. Software interface isn’t rocket science, it’s all about experience and functionality. No real thought is given to how to keep users around long enough to have them really get acquainted with a platform.

System integration is crucial. Constant improvement and evolution of one system can help alleviate the many issues users face when accessing the platforms meant to help the warfighter and the warfighter in transition. In addition to personnel records, medical records are another key component. Veterans and the American public have lost their trust in the VA, and it will take years to fix a constantly crumbling system rife with fraud, waste, and abuse. A CEO can manage people, but unless you’ve been either on the receiving end of bad treatment and see viable solutions, or you’ve worked in a software services company, the potential for problems increases exponentially.

The first step in solving a problem is recognizing there is one. Leadership, different contracts and companies, too many systems, and poor oversight, implementation, and design are all causing the VA’s customers problems. When customers are fed up with a company, product, or service, they want to go elsewhere.

The government is doing a great job of preventing departures from essential services, but now it’s time for veterans and supporting communities to look outside the red tape.

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This blog originally appeared on my LinkedIn profile.

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