As a former Air Force nuclear weapons officer, I understand how important assembling the right team and developing the right communication strategy are to achieve the mission. The team needed to successfully maintain and operate a fleet of nuclear weapons is diverse and geographically disbursed. For example, security forces that secure the weapons constantly patrol the fields where weapons are stored, maintenance crews wait for the call from the military base, and I oversaw the nuclear fleet from a secure bunker way underground. Diverse skills and clear, transparent communications were essential to keep things running.
Off to the races
When the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017 (Forever GI Bill) was signed into law, I was excited. It meant that eligible Veterans and their family members would enjoy expanded benefits that considered the current and future state of educational attainment. The legislation also included changes to the way housing benefits are calculated, and there were some challenges early on with implementation of these housing calculations.
It was at this point that VA engaged Accenture to plan, develop and test all systems associated with implementation. This included developing new software, interfacing with legacy systems, systems architecture and testing. “Securing this IT contract is our most recent step to enhance our software programs, correct the payment issues we had in the fall and reset our strategy going forward,” VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said at the time. “We are continuously working to provide better customer service for our Veterans.”
Technology alone isn’t enough
In my experience, success in an effort of this scale and scope requires an approach the runs both broad and deep. When time is limited and pressure is high, it can be easy to focus on the singular tasks that need to be accomplished. Where real success lies is stepping back and understanding how you can amplify the success of those tasks through planning and outreach.
In this case, the revamp had been categorized as a technology project, and we knew we needed to get the technology right -- but that’s only part of the story. This project spans across business silos, impacts multiple processes, and has numerous stakeholders within the VA – as well as those outside the VA, including Congress, educational institutions, Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs), and most importantly the beneficiaries themselves.
By including in the process people from outside the Office of Information and Technology (OIT), we and the VA were able to establish buy-in and determine critical success factors early on. An interdisciplinary team was formed to focus on the integration of business, technical and functional activities, and to ensure that stakeholder expectations were met.
In the end, the solution deployed on time and, equally important, it came with a higher level of transparency. The new solution encompasses a program-governance structure empowered with decision-making authority, so that there is clear accountability.
Targeted Outreach and Engagement
Just as different teams and groups were engaged across the VA enterprise, it was important that the wider Veteran and GI Bill beneficiary community be engaged in the process. After all, these changes would have a direct impact on their lives.
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Emails to GI Bill Beneficiaries, School Certifying Officials (SCOs), and State Approving Agencies (SAAs)
In person engagement through the nationwide school tour
Rally Point members. During a live GI Bill Q&A on RallyPoint, VBA’s Executive Director of Education Service, Charmain Bogue was 2nd all-time for impressions.
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With this in mind, we crafted a communication strategy that included social channels like Facebook, LinkedIn, and the professional network for US military and Veterans, RallyPoint. To cast a wider net, we then put together a nationwide school tour and broadcast these Q&A opportunities on Facebook Live.
Since February 2019, VA has implemented a multi-pronged, consistent outreach approach to millions of stakeholders impacted by changes stemming from the Forever GI Bill. For example, VA delivered over 5.4 million targeted emails to GI Bill Beneficiaries, School Certifying Officials (SCOs), and State Approving Agencies (SAAs). In person engagement through the nationwide school tour reached 300+. Along the way, we received encouraging feedback – such as, “I applaud VA’s efforts for the GI Bill School Tour. It is really important to have grassroots engagement and get boots on the ground.” During a live GI Bill Q&A on RallyPoint, VBA’s Executive Director of Education Service, Charmain Bogue was 2nd for all-time for impressions and reached over 100k RallyPoint members.
Perhaps the biggest example of success was a standing ovation the education team received at a conference a few weeks ago. The team shared their experiences with this project as a shining example of how a modernized system will allow for legislative changes to be almost instantaneously implemented.
Diverse skills and clear, transparent communication enabled VBA’s Education Service to meet their go-live date on December 1st. When people and processes come together, enabled by technology, truly meaningful outcomes emerge for our Veterans and their families.
We are always looking for people who are passionate about working to improve the lives of our nation’s veterans. Whether you’re a strategic thinker, a digital innovator or a business problem solver, you'll find an exciting career path on the leading-edge doing work that matters and helping federal agencies transform the way government works. For more information, visit: https://www.accenture.com/us-en/careers/federal-professionals or contact me for details.
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