B3 Group Moves the VA’s Veterans Appeals Control and Locator System (VACOLS) to the Cloud

Background

The Board of Veterans Appeals for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) currently receives all of the claims for disability compensation and survivor benefits. The Board’s existing system, Veterans Appeals Control and Locator System (VACOLS), is becoming outdated and the volume of claims is overwhelming the system.

B3 Group is updating the Resource Management System (RMS) web application to cater to the Board’s exact needs. The B3 Group team is also introducing Tableau to address their reporting needs, which will eliminate the existing manual process and save time for the end users. In addition to these development tasks, the B3 Group team plans to move the architecture into the Cloud, allowing the system to more efficiently handle the high volume of claims, reduce infrastructure costs, and reduce the time required to scale via both Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and Database as a Service (DaaS) solutions.

Integrity
Innovation
Collaboration

Challenges

When the decision was made to move to the cloud, the B3 Group team collaborated closely with the customer to determine their needs, the system requirements, and the best path forward. B3 Group provided an in-depth study and market research on the various Cloud Service Providers (CSPs) available that fit the needs of the Appeals application. Working with the VA Enterprise Cloud (VAEC) team, it was decided to use the Amazon Web Service (AWS) CSP in order to align with the overall VAEC architecture. With this decision, the B3 Group team had to familiarize themselves with the intricacies of AWS and develop a tailored approach in order to successfully complete the project.

Solution

After choosing the CSP, the B3 Group team worked with the VAEC team to set up development and pre-production environments with AWS. Since VAEC was a new entity, the VAEC Program Manager reached out to the B3 Group team to request feedback on the process and technology. B3 Group was able to provide process improvement ideas as well as market research details to help the VA move toward a fine-tuned cloud migration process.

In order to create the optimal cloud migration strategy and complete market research, the B3 Group team brought in a solutions architect to ensure that the VA was provided with the best recommendations. In addition to providing multiple concepts and approaches, the solutions architect also created an approach for moving away from utilizing a Data Warehouse in favor of a Data Lake. This change allows the VA to store unlimited data sets, change the data types, merge conflicting data sets, and has many other benefits that made it an easy choice for the customer.

The planned Data Lake will work in conjunction with Amazon RDS for Oracle, which will serve as the operational database. Data will be copied from the RDS instance into the Data Lake via Database Migration Service (DMS). Additionally, DMS will be utilized to import data from the legacy VACOLS HR database into the Data Lake during VACOLS decommissioning. DMS will also be used to perform a one-time import of data from legacy VACOLS Appeals Database into the Data Lake. Co-locating the data from these disparate data sources in the Data Lake will allow analysts and data scientists to access a one-stop shop for appeals data analytic needs.

Results

In the absence of fully-defined and documented VAEC cloud environment procedures, B3 Group was able to utilize elemental requirements provided by the VAEC, along with other fact-finding activities, to eventually craft a viable cloud environment. Implementing AWS allowed B3 Group to research a solution from an architectural standpoint and from a development perspective, ensuring the team was adept with the details in order to effectively transition the system. The impact of this transition will be felt in the coming years by eliminating manual processes, saving time and reducing infrastructure costs.