The Washington State Employment Security Department (ESD) is legally mandated to manage and operate the Unemployment Insurance (UI) program that pays benefits to those who are temporarily unemployed. The program was supported by a 25-year old legacy system, including 15 ancillary systems that provide additional functionality. The legacy systems were built on antiquated technology, inflexible to the need for ongoing modifications, and costly to maintain. At the same time, the UI Tax program had become more complex over the past 30 years since the original system was envisioned and its customers were demanding a modern system consistent with today’s technology and user experience.
ESD initiated an information technology project, the Next Generation Tax System (NGTS), to replace its aging UI Tax system. ESD subsequently established a contract with a major systems integration firm experienced in the implementation of UI Tax systems to develop the NGTS. Development work began in late 2008 and completed in August 2013.
ESD determined that oversight was necessary to review the processes, deliverables, and code provided by the Integration Contractor (IC), which was independent of ESD, the QA Contractor, and Project Management efforts. ESD defined a role for an Independent Verification and Validation (IV&V) Contractor to address the following critical needs:
SLI proposed an IV&V solution that was periodic in nature, providing a “snapshot” or “health check” of the project’s processes, deliverables, and progress at a given point in time. The SLI solution was built on an analysis of the project’s work plan and deliverables schedule, and it was determined that three on-site assessment cycles annually were necessary to meet the objectives of ESD and the NGTS Project. Each assessment cycle was conducted over a 6 to 10 week duration, with SLI staff conducting approximately half the work at the client’s work location in Olympia. This IV&V team composition was designed and deployed to meet the changing needs of the project. A core team of three individuals were engaged for all assessments, and technical and functional specialists were added to the team as the project moved through the systems development lifecycle. SLI conducted periodic IV&V assessments and reported findings and recommendations at the completion of each cycle to ESD management in formal reports and management briefings. The SLI approach included generating a Road Map of the focus areas of the reviews for the upcoming three to four review cycles and then confirming (and revising) the approach before each cycle.
SLI was responsible for monitoring and evaluating the technical aspects of the development and implementation of NGTS including: technical requirements traceability and configuration management, application and architectural technical designs, application code and security code reviews, data migration and data management, interface development and deployment, build and release management, and UAT strategy development with a focus on the project’s technical risks. SLI deployed procedures and processes from our SQM3 methodology. Standards-based quality checklists were used to assess the quality of NGTS processes and artifacts. Structured interview guides were employed to gather information from project staff and stakeholders. The use of formalized tools and templates allowed the IV&V team to invest more time in gathering and analyzing information to provide fact-based findings.
On the second IV&V Cycle, SLI was asked to conduct a full architectural assessment of the system which included looking at the underlying Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) to ensure that the application and all of its components were being built according to the documented design. This included a detailed review of each of the application layers including the Security layer, the Presentation layer, the Database layer, and Code and Systems Controls provisions. SLI was able to confirm that each of these components were built according to specification and this independent assessment provided confidence to the development organization and ESD that the system was structurally sound and well-constructed.
SLI’s role was to act as a quality partner not an auditor. Throughout the IV&V effort, SLI facilitated the work of the NGTS Project by developing constructive, collaborative relationships with the State and with the other Contractors that were parts of the NGTS Project.
ESD was very satisfied with the work performed by SLI. Deliverables were submitted on time and were of a high quality. The concerns, risks, and issues raised by SLI were accurate and focused on the appropriate technical aspects of the NGTS project. Of particular importance was the quality of SLI’s recommendations to mitigate project risks and issues. ESD found SLI’s recommendations to be practical and actionable, with the goal of improving quality. The technical assessments were presented clearly and concisely so that project and executive leadership were able make informed decisions. SLI was also effective in developing strong working relationships with ESD and the other vendor partners, which proved to be extremely beneficial in managing the project in a professional and collegial manner.
Ultimately, the project was completed on-time and within budget. The quality of NGTS met the technical requirements of the project and the business needs of ESD were fulfilled. A strong and diverse team, supported by a certified quality management system, and collaborative effort resulted in a successful project.