HHS OIG Takes a “Solve Once and Share” Approach to IT Modernization

The Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General (HHS OIG) is executing a broad modernization strategy, migrating to the cloud and deploying shared services.

John O’Grady, Chief for Mission Support Systems, HHS OIG, discussed modernization progress at ServiceNow’s Knowledge 2019 Conference in May. He explained HHS OIG has more than 1,500 employees providing oversight for a $1 trillion annual budget supporting health and human services programs.

The team is diverse. Analysts use data to pinpoint fraud hotspots. An elite force of Federal agents fights health care fraud. Auditors and evaluators oversee HHS grants (HHS is the largest grant-making entity in the world). They track the quality of care issues in hospitals, nursing homes, and hospices. They protect the health and safety of children in HHS programs and work on the opioid abuse epidemic.

OIG’s enforcement work produces impressive results. During fiscal year 2018, OIG expected investigative recoveries of $2.91 billion, criminal actions against 764 individuals or entities that engaged in crimes against HHS programs, exclusion of 2,712 individuals and entities, and civil actions against 813 individuals or entities, according to the HHS OIG 2018 Semiannual Report to Congress.

“For every dollar we get in tax money, we give $5 back,” says O’Grady.

Technology plays a vital role, and HHS OIG recognized the need to modernize. The team wanted to reduce information silos and improve user experience.

The biggest challenge: legacy system operations and maintenance (O&M) eats the majority of every Federal agency’s IT budget. As a result, every Federal agency has technical debt that makes innovation difficult.

To help overcome this challenge, the HHS OIG team needed to shift to cloud-based technology and a modern development process. The goal: enable HHS OIG to create new digital services, improving efficiency. The team wanted to collaborate with partners and provide optimal support for evolving missions.

O’Grady shared HHS’ overarching modernization strategy. The first element is deploying cloud technology and migrating applications. The agency is using a hybrid cloud architecture including Office 365, AWS, ServiceNow, and SharePoint. Security and compliance are a top priority for every component.

HHS OIG selected ServiceNow IT Service Management (ITSM), ServiceNow HR Service Management, and ServiceNow Configuration Management Database (CMDB). The team is using the ServiceNow platform to build and integrate new applications.

But adopting modern infrastructure was only one of the necessary keys to modernization, O’Grady explained. The other was adopting modern development practices – agile development and DevOps. “We want small failures, not big failures,” O’Grady says. The HHS OIG team works to improve user experience, focusing on user-centric design and increasing user engagement.

The team also needed a Mobile First approach. “Legacy applications were not designed for mobile,” says O’Grady. “We needed a strategy to support our investigators…who are much more comfortable with that technology.”

HHS OIG leveraged commodity solutions where they made sense and used standardized open-source application stacks. And, the team created room for “special case” applications that didn’t fit into either of the other buckets.

Casey Johnson, architect for Incentive Technology Group (ITG), shared, “We had a vision for where we wanted to go and worked with ServiceNow, the agents, and other end users to get there.”

The development team shows users application progress every two weeks. “We sprint and we show them something,” said O’Grady.

It also featured defining and creating a backlog for product areas one at a time. Using agile scrum also helped promote flexibility in decision-making, O’Grady said.

HHS OIG wanted to avoid over-engineering, and to stay as close to “out of the box” as possible, he said. The agency also wanted to avoid filling process gaps with code, and instead simplify processes and consider scale.

“The ability to have ServiceNow, where we can roll out an application very quickly, send that data we’re collecting to our dashboards for another data platform, and do something with it and act on it, is really valuable,” said O’Grady.

Johnson said O’Grady’s ability to control scope has been a key to success. “We identify a minimally viable product,” explained Johnson, “sometimes they want something automated. Maybe the first version is a manual process…”

Picking the right product owner is also critical. “If you have someone who is engaged, who can come to the meetings… it really helps,” said Johnson. “After we get to the first or second sprint, they are in. [They realize] if I commit to this, I’m getting something in return.”

The team is creating five scoped applications using ServiceNow. The first application is an Ethics Tracker. Every agency uses a standard Office of Management and Budget (OMB) form for employees to request approval for outside activities. Ethics officials review and respond to each request. “For example, if [an employee] wants to sell real estate on the weekend, they submit a form,” says Johnson. HHS OIG created the Ethics Tracker to digitize and manage the workflow for these forms. HHS OIG can see the status, understand and manage the workload, and give HHS OIG ethics officials and employees a seamless experience.

The second application is a Congressional Affairs Tracker that now manages all communication between HHS and Congress. “Previously, communication was handled in email and Microsoft Word,” Johnson explained.

Now, Congressional staffers make all requests using the solution. HHS OIG tracks and manages the requests in the application. HHS OIG leadership can see status across requests. And, an HHS OIG team responding to a request can see prior communication and understand the context while responding.

The team also added a “read-only” view that has allowed the user base to grow and deliver value to five times the anticipated user group community.

The third application is the Advice Branch Tracker. The solution lets OIG lawyers track legal tasks across 37 different types of requests. The interface is simple and includes search – adding visibility and efficiency.

HHS OIG has achieved significant results, validating its modernization approach.

HHS OIG achieved an Authority to Operate (ATO) for the service platform in three months. And, the team’s agile processes are paying off. HHS OIG designed, built, and deployed the Congressional Affairs Tracker in just 10 business days.

Across the organization, HHS OIG is increasing engagement with business lines, seeing a 118 percent month-over-month growth in users.

For HHS agencies, HHS OIG is working on a shared services roadmap, taking a step-by-step approach starting with knowledge sharing and leading to full shared services.

O’Grady emphasized that throughout the process, one important goal is reusability. HHS OIG supports HHS’ 11 agencies and is one of 73 Federal Inspector Generals.

“We all have common business needs we can solve once and share,” says O’Grady.

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