Transforming legacy processes with agile cloud technology

Transforming legacy processes with agile cloud technology

When the Department of Labor was given only weeks to provide a solution that would help improve the nation’s public workforce system, it used agile development and commercial cloud services to deliver a secure, user-experience-driven enterprise system.

The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) legislation passed in July 2014, but its IT requirements were not specified until 2015. Guidance from the department’s Employment and Training Administration Program Offices on technical and business needs wasn’t delivered until May 2016, so the ETA had only until July 1 to deliver a minimum viable product.

Instead of updating existing systems, the ETA chose to build a cloud-based Workforce Integrated Performance System, or WIPS, platform that would streamline reporting performance data and integrates it with grants management for services provided under WIOA.

The data is used to monitor the main deliverables of the programs, such as how many people found jobs due to training provided by WIOA services, if they stayed employed, and so on.

An integrated system was necessary because the programs are scattered throughout the country, and there are no standards for data governance or reporting. In fact, getting data from one system to another was “impossible, because they are totally different systems,” Peter Le, director of Enterprise Solution Services for the department’s Office of Information Systems and Technology, told GCN. This left the ETA with gaps in performance data and no real way of verifying the accuracy of the data it did have. 

Different program offices came together to discuss common business needs, which helped ETA  coordinate short and long-term goals for WIPS. In turn, the ETA was able to establish and align data elements and definitions for WIPS and unite program applications while program offices remained separate.

ETA built the system using a hybrid agile-waterfall process, according to Le. It acquired and sourced a team, engaged users through iterative releases and set milestones. It first set up a cloud environment, secured the environment for sensitive and personally identifiable data, released a viable product by July and then leveraged all the necessary components and applications for back-end functions. 

WIPS uses Appian’s business process management software-as-a-service cloud to run the user interface, interactions and identity access management. It also leveraged a number of Amazon Web Services components for multifactor user authentication, data storage, analytics and file processing. With these cloud services, the ETA did not need to build an in-house data center or custom-coded platform.

Grantees submit legally mandated quarterly reports through the Appian workflow as CSV files  that  contain program and performance data for each participant the grantee supports.

Appian automatically detects any errors in grantee reports and displays error reports are delivered through the interface and to the user’s email address. If a report has no errors, the data is aggregated into a quarterly performance report, which is then sent through the Appian-based workflow for approval.

The ETA was also heavily focused on human centered design and user feedback. After user acceptance testing was completed in August, Le said users were impressed with the intuitiveness and speed of the system, which improved processing speeds tenfold and made it easier for states to collect state performance data.

Grantees can more efficiently report on their grants from a performance and financial perspective, and WIPS provides a better user interface  and data insights for federal users. “By streamlining the process, stakeholders are better able to derive solutions from the data, and improve services provided to the American job seeker,” Le said.

So far, the ETA consolidated four programs into WIPS and plans to eventually include all 32 of its programs in the platform, according to Le. Ultimately, the office hopes to expand the consolidation of all ETA legacy applications into one or more cloud platforms using SaaS technology.

WIPS is one of the department’s first efforts using cloud-based technology and a rapid IT development timeline. The project has saved the department about $6 million by reducing the need to spend on in-house hardware, maintenance costs and unused systems. “From an internal IT perspective, it has changed the way we do IT projects as a whole,” Le said.

About the Author

Amanda Ziadeh is a former reporter/producer for GCN.

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