Developing software solutions for a large IT department is challenging. The cost in time and dollars can be high, only to be exceeded by the risks of customer disappointment and missed deadlines. The last thing a developer needs in this crucible of expectations is a cumbersome method to get the computing resources needed to build an application. But what if you could order up resources as easy as ordering food delivery – like DoorDash for computing? The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Office of Information & Technology (OIT) is building such a service that is called VA Platform One or VAPO. VAPO is a standardized way to offer containerized microservices and components to software coders who then can easily take advantage of VA provided cloud and on-premises computing services. VAPO serves up packages of computing resources in neat little boxes – kind of like takeout food – serving VA software developers the computing infrastructure they need quickly and easily.
VAPO is accelerating VA/OIT’s transformation in the way it delivers software capabilities to Veterans, those who help Veterans, their families, and caregivers. Like other large scale IT organizations, VA/OIT is transitioning away from the slow bureaucratic “waterfall” software development methodology to a modern Agile approach that prioritizes the customer experience (CX) above all else. Software can now be delivered quickly and continuously. While serving as Deputy Assistant Secretary for VA’s DevOps, I coined the phrase “stand on the rock of delivery” rather than on the “sand of schedule promises”. The idea behind Agile is: deliver something good now, rather than plan to deliver perfection later… or never.
To deliver software quickly and securely, developers want computer services at the speed of their need. VAPO provides a modern hosting platform that enables developers to provision containerized hosting environments as needed.
VA’s “boxed and ready to serve” computing resource is significant in two ways:
First – VAPO is a technical milestone in VA’s IT modernization of IT hosting. VAPO automates the provisioning of resources like Instacart automates the delivery of groceries. It offers a fast and secure alternative to the old approach of opening a trouble ticket to spin up a server for a coder to work on a software application. In addition, VAPO provides standardized cybersecurity tools, development tools, source code and artifact repositories, so that developers can focus on delighting their customers rather than wrestling with infrastructure.
Second – VAPO is a cultural turning point in VA’s DevSecOps transformation. Like every large IT organization, VA/OIT struggles to leave the “waterfall 90s” in the past. DevSecOps replaces the factory model of: “specify, build, test, fix, deliver, disappoint the customer, and restart” with “deliver something your customer wants today”. Agile is the “Dev” part of the DevSecOps transformation and VAPO is the “Ops” part. VAPO provides a modern platform that enables the stovepipes of development, security, and infrastructure to fuse and work together.
VAPO also represents a refreshing change in outreach. Rather than creating VAPO from scratch, VA/OIT teams looked horizontally to other agencies and to industry for good ideas. VA saw what the Air Force and the Department of Defense were doing with DoD Platform One and adopted relevant parts of that concept.
VAPO is a major technical step forward and a great example of leadership in IT innovation. I believe it has the potential to change the way OIT does business by becoming the foundation for a truly integrated VA DevSecOps culture focused on Veterans’ outcomes.