The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs seeks to provide veterans with the world-class benefits and services they deserve. A mission of this magnitude requires high standards and accountability for all VA employees. So, to ensure speed and consistency in claims reporting, the VA uses a quality control system to monitor this process.
In the last year, the organization learned that its app, the Work and Time Reporting System (WATRS), didn’t adhere to certain 508 accessibility requirements.
The VA takes Section 508 compliance seriously. To uphold its own standards and the federal mandate, it needed to address the gaps.
Section 508 was created to ensure IT accessibility for people with disabilities.
For example, the visually impaired use screen readers that both read the text of a web page and translate images on the page, too. That means organizations must include textual cues called alternative text (brief written descriptions about images) in their website HTML. Without this, visually impaired consumers can’t fully experience your content.
There’s much more to 508 compliance than this single standard. But missing any one guideline risks isolating a significant portion of the population. And federal entities with non-compliant websites could be held liable.
In WATRS, a third-party integration that provided time-tracking capabilities had roughly 15 ongoing issues that prevented 508 compliance.
Hanna Buchan, a senior analyst at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, explained that every time the software vendor tried to resolve the issues, it generated more problems.
“They weren’t able to give a timeline or even a tentative timeline. So, we couldn’t work with that,” she said.
Time was of the essence
Hanna sits in the Office of Business Integration. It’s a team of 100 employees who act as liaisons between IT and the business, translating requirements into technical specifications and building solutions.
WATRS is a 4-year-old system originally built in Classic Salesforce then migrated to Lightning. The initial requirement for the app was simple: build a visual interface for time tracking. At the time, a vendor was chosen based on low cost which produced unanticipated challenges.
The solution required heavy customization. The UI was also dated. Consumers commented that it looked like something from the ‘90s and the term “Craigslist-y” was uttered more than once.
More importantly, WATRs had an active 508 complaint on file for almost two years. In spite of the VA’s best efforts in working with a third party software vendor to address concerns, the Department of Veterans Affairs, Enterprise Program Management Division which oversees 508 compliance within the Office of Information Technology (OIT), planned to escalate the issue to Congress.
Additionally, if the challenges couldn’t be resolved soon, the federal government may have been liable. For Hanna and her team, it was crunch time.
Getting buy-in from 14,000 people—aka, rolling boulders up a mountain
Beyond the immediate concern of resolving 508 compliance issues, the Office of Business Integration had an equivalent challenge: getting 14,000 consumers to accept and adopt an overhauled WATRS app, a system they relied on every day.
The organization also needed to address concerns from its IT counterpart—the Digital Transformation Center (DTC)—and its leadership.
Hanna said, “It felt like rolling two huge boulders up a mountain.”
To tackle this change management challenge, her team first sought consensus from the DTC.
Hanna’s colleague, Chris Colvin, a Program Analyst in the VA, initially recommended Skuid. Bryan Broome, a Salesforce Architect at the VA was an early advocate as well.
But the DTC was hesitant about Skuid, believing it would be difficult to maintain and deploy apps using the low-code toolkit. After Skuid developers and advocates assisted with some briefings, the DTC got on board.
The next challenge: obtain buy-in from the WATRS product owner and consumers. Though the UI was outdated, everyone was used to the app’s look and feel. Many also thought, “It works now, so why change it?”
Consumers were worried about production standards declining. And would revamping WATRS drastically change how it worked or how time was tracked? Hanna’s team recognized it needed a 1:1 replacement with minimal downtime.
Custom communication was key
With over 14,000 people to convince, Hanna says that personalized communication helped her team obtain the consensus needed to move forward.
“We had to say the same thing in different ways to different stakeholders. People always want to know, ‘What’s in it for me?’ so we had to speak in that perspective to each group.”
Skuid helped Hanna build custom pros and cons lists for each stakeholder type: consumers, the product owner, other employees from the field, and the DTC.
A modern, visually pleasing system
Skuid and Accenture Federal Services built and deployed the new WATRS app in just six months. Not only did the VA match the previous app’s functionality, it increased usability and added more features. The refined user experience added clarity and improved user efficiency.
About a week after deployment, compliments poured in:
“WATRS now looks like a modern system.”
“I actually like looking at it.”
“It's more user friendly.”
Most importantly, the new system addressed all the previous 508 issues, bringing the VA back into compliance.
Hanna says, “It [508 compliance] is part of every module that we develop, and that includes everything from training documents and training deliverables. It's just part of everything that we do for either veterans or our employees.”
She also stressed the importance of getting the experience just right.
“It’s not an exciting thing to input all your transactions for the day because you’re being monitored. So, we wanted to make the application as seamless and user friendly as possible. We were able to both add enhancements to WATRS and make it easier to use, too."