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VA’s Dewaine Beard on Department’s ‘Vision-First’ Strategy, Advice to Industry

The Department of Veterans Affairs is working to move past its tendency to “take orders” and instead shift towards a vision-driven approach as the department makes progress on its overarching modernization goals.

“Inside the VA, as a government bureaucracy, our IT shop has an embedded DNA of taking orders, trying to meet those needs for the customer at the expense of our own internal technical debt and modernization,” Dewaine Beard, acting principal deputy assistant secretary for the VA, said during the Potomac Officers Club’s 3rd Annual CIO Summit.

“So we’re no longer embedded and so focused on the customer asking us something and us answering that request,” he said of the department’s internal shift. “Instead, we’re thinking about being a business partner and a steward of platforms that allow us to do low code, no code expansions of existing products.”

Beard credited the department’s new CIO, Kurt DelBene for initiating the VA’s vision-first strategy and ushering in a new era of digital transformation for the department.

“We begin with vision, which lets you say ‘no’ to many things,” Beard explained. “If it’s not aligned to the vision, we’re not going to do it. Take that vision, then you build a roadmap for each of your products and services toward that vision.”

The VA doesn’t execute this reinvigorated mission alone; Beard noted that industry partnerships play an important role in the modernization of the department’s IT environment. For the private sector, Beard had a few recommendations, suggestions and requests.

“I really want you to think about building your products and services with security in mind,” he asked of industry. “Build things with zero trust in mind.” Beard said commercial companies should build solutions with the assumption that someone’s identity will be stolen and the application will be compromised. “Just try to build all of that security in from the beginning,” he offered.

He also said companies should understand that their products will be part of a larger ecosystem comprised of solutions from other companies. 

“No one vendor, no matter how large — Google, Amazon — will provide everything the Department of Veterans Affairs needs,” Beard shared. “So assume that you’re going to live in an ecosystem with lots of other folks that are doing the best of class in their particular vertical. Build with interoperability, well understood APIs, secure APIs, a well understood data architecture security stack.” 

Overall, the VA is prioritizing user experience throughout its strategic shift. “The biggest challenge we have in government for digital transformation,” Beard revealed, “is how do we keep security in mind and give a delightful experience? How do we build things that delight the customer and meet all of our requirements?”

Learn more about the federal government’s acquisition priorities and strategies at GovCon Wire’s 2nd Annual IC Acquisition and Technology Innovation Summit on Wednesday, May 4. 

Keynote speakers from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency will share their insights into the Intelligence Community’s plans and priorities as global dynamics continue to shift and require new solutions.

Register here

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