Team sitting in open-office discussing DHS Case Study from Ventera

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology (S&T) Finance and Budget Division (FBD)

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The Challenge

S&T needed a modern, web-based system to replace and consolidate their legacy IT systems. Teams across S&T were using manual processes and spreadsheets to track and analyze data in disparate systems and were unable to efficiently track research and development workstreams, measure how Congressional funding was used to support federal agencies, and ultimately report on impact and ROI. They did not have real-time access to status, risks, deliverables, and forecast information and could not effectively track the progress of projects. S&T desperately needed real-time reports and dashboards to improve their operations. 

After a highly competitive bid and evaluation process, the DHS S&T team selected Ventera to design, architect, and build the new system. “DHS partnered with Ventera due to the technical soundness of our approach and our position as the market leader in the Agile software development in the Federal IT sector,” explained Jeff Smith, EVP for Ventera’s Government Solutions. 

The DHS S&T team was pleased that Ventera’s user-centered Agile design methodology would break the project into smaller increments in order to assess user needs and system requirements with every sprint. The Agile framework also provided the flexibility to adjust and reallocate resources when necessary with vastly lower risk to project schedule and budget. In addition, Ventera’s modern DevSecOps techniques ensured that security, collaboration, and creativity would underpin the development process.

The Solution

In 2018, DHS S&T and Ventera began the process of designing, architecting, and building STATS: the Science and Technology Analytical Tracking System (STATS), a web-based system for managing all financial and acquisition tracking information. The combined team focused on building a system that could provide what the old process could not: the ability to integrate S&T data with data from other source systems, which would allow DHS managers to restructure, integrate, and capture project management data across funded projects. To achieve that, the team integrated and modernized several legacy S&T systems, including:

  • Execution, Performance, Invoice Consolidation (EPIC)
  • Staff Management System (SMS)
  • Project Tracker Database (PTDB)

The team designed STATS to enable project tracking, electronic procurement request workflow, staff management, vendor management, data analytics, and a document repository.  STATS provides dashboard capabilities for 500+ staff at all levels, from program managers to the Under Secretary for S&T. 

Despite the vast scope of the work and the modernization effort required, Ventera was able to take STATS live with a major release within the first year of the project. Two previous partners had been unable to move the STATS project past the implementation phase, making this the third attempt and first successful time that S&T tried to modernize its systems.

“We were effective because of Ventera’s unique approach to user-centered agile development approach,” said Rahul Garg, Program Manager. “STATS was built iteratively in small pieces, which meant that project metrics, such as velocity, code coverage, and defects, were consistently reviewed with S&T every month. Even today, we hold sprint retrospectives with the team to identify areas for continuous improvement with STATS.”

Bringing Users to the Forefront

The Ventera team used User Research (UR) and User-Centered Design (UCD) techniques to thoughtfully and collaboratively address user needs and goals. The approach meant deeply integrating S&T users into the process to test and validate the direction of the visual mock-ups and prototypes (and see how the system would function) before Ventera developed any code. S&T also partnered with Ventera to determine the “must-haves” when developing a minimum viable product (MVP). The result is a modern system that is dramatically more effective and efficient than the legacy application in functionality, intuitiveness, look and feel, and performance. 

The Importance of DEVSECOPS

Ventera also utilized multiple open source CI/CD technologies and processes to streamline and expedite the integration and deployment of new features into STATS while ensuring completeness and quality of the code. The DevOps stack included: GitLab; Jenkins; SonarLint and SonarQube; Nexus Package Manager; and SQL Server Developer Tools (SSDT). 

The Results

Ventera planned, implemented, and executed the full replacement, redesign, development, and integration of S&T’s legacy staffing, budgeting, and project management platforms. Today, S&T STATS offers a single point of entry to each of these integrated platforms. The result is a highly efficient, intelligent, and user-friendly system capable of rapidly meeting all S&T’s reporting, planning, and information sharing needs and offers the data integrity and transparency to ensure that Congress and other parties receive accurate, timely responses to inquiries.

Ventera’s user-centered agile development (UCAD) methods have allowed for the continuous evolution of the system. Today STATS automates the performance reporting process, delivers custom dashboards, stores documentation, and provides users with the ability to perform enhanced search functions.

Benefits of Stats

  • Integrates several systems to provide single point of data entry (SMS, EPIC, PTDB) increasing data integrity and security
  • Supports end-to-end processes, from budgeting to execution
  • Allows stakeholders to focus on delivering innovative solutions and bridging capability gaps by reducing the time spent on core operations
  • Drives transparency across S&T organizational landscape
  • Empowers all stakeholders with the real-time data needed to to think and act strategically 
  • Supports Congressional Reporting requirements 
  • Enables execution and oversight of programs and projects
  • Ensures correct alignment of funds to the appropriate programs and projects
  • Automates manual processes to enable streamlined approvals

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