The VA's computer systems meltdown: What happened and why
Not following best practices can render the best technology useless
Computerworld - At times, the bad news coming from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs seems unstoppable: D-grade medical facilities, ongoing security and privacy breaches, and a revolving door of departing leadership. In September, during a hearing by the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, lawmakers learned about an unscheduled system failure that took down key applications in 17 VA medical facilities for a day.
Characterized by Dr. Ben Davoren, the director of clinical informatics for the San Francisco VA Medical Center, as "the most significant technological threat to patient safety the VA has ever had," the outage has moved some observers to call into question the VA's direction in consolidating its IT operations. Yet the shutdown grew from a simple change management procedure that wasn't properly followed.
The small, undocumented change ended up bringing down the primary patient applications at 17 VA medical centers in Northern California. As a result, the schedule to centralize IT operations across more than 150 medical facilities into four regional data processing centers has been pulled back while VA IT leaders establish what the right approach is for its regionalization efforts.
The Region 1 Field Operations breakdown of Aug. 31 exposed just how challenging effecting substantial change is in a complex organization the size of the VA Office of Information & Technology (OI&T). Begun in October 2005 and originally scheduled to be completed by October 2008, the "reforming" of the IT organization at the VA involved several substantial goals: the creation of major departments along functional areas such as enterprise development, quality and performance, and IT oversight and compliance; the reassignment of 6,000 technical professionals to a more centralized management; and the adoption of 36 management processes defined in the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL).
As part of the reform effort, the VA was to shift local control of IT infrastructure operations to regional data-processing centers. Historically, each of the 150 or so medical centers run by the VA had its own IT service, its own budget authority and its own staff, as well as independence with regard to how the IT infrastructure evolved. All of the decisions regarding IT were made between a local IT leadership official and the director of that particular medical center. While that made on-site IT staff responsive to local needs, it made standardization across sites nearly impossible in areas such as security, infrastructure administration and maintenance, and disaster recovery.
The operations of its 150 medical facilities would relocate to four regional data processing centers, two in the east and two in the west. The latter, Regions 1 and 2, are located in Sacramento, Calif., and Denver respectively, run as part of the Enterprise Operations & Infrastructure (OPS) office.
- Silicon Valley's 19 Coolest Places to Work
- Is Windows 8 Development Worth the Trouble?
- 8 Books Every IT Leader Should Read This Year
- 10 Hot Hadoop Startups to Watch
- Slideshow: 7 security mistakes people make with their mobile device
- iOS vs. Android: Which is more secure?
- 11 sure signs you've been hacked
This state transportation department uses computer science students from a local university as programming interns, and everyone is happy with the arrangement -- until one intern learns how to bring down the mainframe.
- IT Certification Study Tips
- Register for this Computerworld Insider Study Tip guide and gain access to hundreds of premium content articles, cheat sheets, product reviews and more.
- Changing the Way Government Works: Four Technology Trends that Drive Down Costs and Increase Productivity
- This paper discusses four technology-based approaches to improving processes and increasing
productivity while driving down department and agency costs.
- Logicalis eBook: SAP HANA: The Need for Speed
- Without timely business insights, organizations today can suffer logistical, manufacturing, and even financial disaster in a matter of minutes
- Neustar 2014 DDoS Attacks and Impact Report
- For the third consecutive year, Neustar surveyed hundreds of companies on distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks. The survey reveals evidence that the...
- Acxiom Case Study
- This case study, which focuses on Acxiom, explores how the company was able to secure employee data, reduce migration costs and boost productivity...
- Windows® XP Migration: Protect and Secure Critical Data
- With the end of the Microsoft Windows XP operating system's lifecycle on April 8, 2014, businesses are faced with the decision to migrate... All Government IT White Papers
- Top 4 Digital Signage Fails Join RMG Networks for a look at four of the most common reasons digital signage fails in corporate businesses. Learn about strategies to...
- Building Tomorrow's Infrastructure Listen to this podcast to discover how Crider Foods worked with PC Connection to update their IT infrastructure, while maintaining compliance and control.
Enhance Your Virtualization Infrastructure With IBM and Vmware
Date: Wednesday, May 14, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT
Virtualization technology is now expanding beyond the server compute elements to encompass networking and storage...
Transforming Finance, Procurement and Supply Chain Effectiveness with Cross-Functional Analytics
Date: May 6th, 2014
Time: 1 PM EDT
Attend this Webcast to find out how Oracle's packaged analytic applications enable line-of-business managers to examine all...
- Cloud Knowledge Vault Learn how your organization can benefit from the scalability, flexibility, and performance that the cloud offers through the short videos and other resources...
- All Government IT Webcasts