How We Do It
VA’s playbook for strategic deployment of SaaS and PaaS solutions
VA is taking a strategic approach to service delivery by ruthlessly commoditizing specific needs of VA employees, Veterans, and stakeholders that can be met with no code (software as a service (SaaS)) and low code (platform as a service (PaaS)) third party, cloud-based solutions.
Improving access and accelerating delivery of SaaS and PaaS solutions as one part of VA’s diversified portfolio of digital products and services saves time and money that can be reallocated to developing and deploying more complex digital modernization efforts.
- Don’t take a “one size fits all” service delivery approach
- First, understand your current portfolio and service delivery process
- Build partnerships and coordinate SaaS and PaaS delivery approach and process across departments
- Redesign the entire end-to-end process with a cross functional and multi-disciplinary “one-team” approach
- Start small, test, and learn
- Don’t underestimate the level of effort required for security compliance
- Plan for set-up, procurement, deployment, and ongoing support for the product
- Scale, sustain, and improve
Don’t take a “one size fits all” service delivery approach
Your product and service delivery approach should be driven by user needs and mission priorities in your organization. Large organizations like VA require a diversified approach and portfolio of digital products and services: Some user needs can be met quickly and easily with SaaS or PaaS products, but other more complex, mission critical user needs will likely require custom development and data integration using modern methods like DevSecOps, Agile, and human-centered design.
- Conduct user research early and often to understand user needs
- Shift your team culture from a traditional project management to a product management mindset
- Diversify your approach to product and service delivery based on user needs
First, understand your current portfolio and service delivery process
Most government organizations face challenges with aging legacy systems, inaccessible data, and bureaucratic development processes. Before you launch something new, understand your baseline of current products, services, and delivery life cycle. Identify which ones are functioning at acceptable performance levels and where there are gaps. You can’t fix everything at once, so you want to make sure to prioritize the highest value things to work on first. Try to fix what makes your customers the most miserable first.
- Engage with the teams who manage each step of the process (e.g., customer request, procurement, security compliance, help desk, etc.) to know what's working well--and what's not.
- Rightsize your approach to measurement by identifying a few key metrics to measure what matters in your organization
- Conduct user research to understand biggest pain points for your customers and bottlenecks in the process
Build partnerships and coordinate SaaS and PaaS delivery approach and process across departments
Don’t assume SaaS and PaaS is the answer to all your problems. Agencies need talented engineers, designers, product managers, and data scientists to build modern, user-friendly, and high-performing digital products and services. Triaging user requests into the right service delivery model is key to success.
- Be transparent and collaborative with partners in your organization
- Define and communicate criteria for SaaS and PaaS solutions
- Share success and incentive collaboration across your organization
Redesign the entire end-to-end process with a cross functional and multi-disciplinary “one-team” approach
Use collaborative workshops to redesign your intake, delivery, and ongoing improvement process for SaaS and PaaS. At VA, we conducted three (3) half day workshops (in person pre-COVID) with 20-30 leaders across departments (i.e., information technology, security, privacy, procurement, finance and budget, customer and account managers, and business owners) to whiteboard a new way we wanted to work to deliver SaaS and PaaS to our users (VA employees). We identified outdated policies to update and gained consensus on guiding principles including “white glove customer service” and “reuse wherever possible” (reuse of products, contracts, authority to operate (ATO), APIs, etc.).
- Deploy your end-to-end SaaS and PaaS service delivery process with cross-functional, multi-disciplinary teams
- Ensure policy compliance across all areas (e.g., security, privacy, budgeting, procurement, etc.)
- Update policies, workflows, and roles required to enable success
Start small, test, and learn
Try it out! Launch your minimum viable product (MVP) on a small scale with a pilot group to test and learn. At VA, we ran a phase 1 pilot starting in 2018 for six (6) months with approximately 200 customer requests. The phase 1 pilot was followed by four (4) weeks of analysis of performance, user feedback, and lessons learned. We worked with partners to refine the process for another four (4) weeks and restarted an improved phase 2 for the next year.
- Pilot your no and low code service delivery process using on a small scale to test and learn
- Stop the pilot after a set time to assess, measure, and refine
- Appoint one senior executive government leader to oversee the process and pull in the right government managers from across the organization to assist with the initial pilot (don’t outsource everything)
Don’t underestimate the level of effort required for security compliance
Meeting federal security requirements is a barrier for many small, innovative product firms, and often results in government organizations having limited access to new products and digital service companies. Small businesses often can’t afford the time, effort, and expense of getting FedRAMP authorized. Anticipate how your organization will handle FedRAMP sponsorships and streamline your authority to operate (ATO) process to make it more attractive for smaller, new competitors to do business in the government market.
- Understand FedRAMP processes and requirements
- Streamline your ATO process to minimize level of effort for your team
- Push for policy updates such as VA’s “No VA Data” policy, which doesn’t require an authority to operate (if a product isn’t using any VA data or connecting to VA systems, then only a Privacy Threshold Assessment (PTA) is required)
Plan for set-up, procurement, deployment, and ongoing support for the product
No and low code solutions have benefits:
- Product is ready for immediate use
- Product has existing users, so there shouldn’t be bugs and issues that result from new builds
- Your organization doesn’t have to host and maintain the solution or hire staff to support it
But, there are also costs. Make sure your team understands the user need and plans for the required work to procure, set-up, deploy, train, maintain, and provide end user support for your no/low code solutions.
- Define requirements and service level agreements (SLAs) in contracts
- Ensure teams budget for total cost of ownership and full life cycle of costs
- Ensure adequate user help desk support will be available
Scale, sustain, and improve
Delivering excellent digital products and services, including no and low code, in large organizations is hard. VA is the size of a Fortune 8-9 company, and every team at VA strives to provide Veterans and military families the very best services and customer experience possible. Scaling an innovative new service delivery process, which was initially developed and deployed by relatively small, empowered teams, becomes more difficult as demand increases. Today, more than half of all digital requests from VA employees are for no and low code digital solutions.
- Measure, measure, measure
- Share success and distribute accountability
- Continue to train and staff right government leaders and managers to oversee the process (don’t outsource everything)