Case Study

Systems Integrity of an Unemployment Insurance Project

Public Knowledge® assisted the Washington State Employment Security Department (ESD) improve the quality of the agency’s new Unemployment Insurance (UI) tax/contributions system, by providing periodic IV&V reviews of project processes and artifacts. 

“Of particular importance was the quality of Public Knowledge®’s recommendations to mitigate project risks and issues. We found their recommendations to be actionable with the goal of improving the quality of unemployment insurance systems.” 

Michael McVicker, Assistant Commissioner – Information Technology Services Employment Security Department – State of Washington

The Situation 

The unemployment insurance program was supported by a 25-year old legacy system, including 15 ancillary systems. The legacy systems were built on technology that’s too costly to maintain and inflexible to the need for ongoing modifications. At the same time, the UI Tax program had become more complex over the past 30 years. Customers have since demanded a modern system consistent with today’s technology and user experience. 

The Washington State Employment Security Department (ESD) initiated the Next Generation Tax System project (NGTS) to replace its aging unemployment insurance tax system. ESD subsequently established a contract with a systems integration firm to develop the NGTS and development work ran from late 2008 to completion in August 2013. 

The 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: 

The Solution

Public Knowledge® proposed an IV&V solution that provided a “snapshot” of the unemployment insurance project’s processes, deliverables, and progress at a given point in time. Public Knowledge®’s analysis of the project’s work plan and deliverables schedule determined that three annual on-site assessment cycles 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 Public Knowledge®’s staff conducting half the work at the client’s work location in Olympia. 

This core IV&V team of three was designed and deployed to be engaged for all assessments. Technical and functional specialists were added to the team as the project moved through the systems development lifecycle. Public Knowledge® conducted periodic IV&V assessments and reported findings at the completion of each cycle to ESD management in formal reports and management briefings. The Public Knowledge® 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. 

Public Knowledge® 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. Public Knowledge® deployed procedures and processes from ourSQM3 methodology. Standards-based quality checklists were used to assess the NGTS’s 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, Public Knowledge® was asked to conduct an architectural assessment of the system, which included looking at the underlying Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA). This was done 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. 

Public Knowledge® 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. 

Public Knowledge®’s only role was to act as a quality partner. Throughout the IV&V effort, Public Knowledge® facilitated the work of the NGTS Project by developing collaborative relationships with the State and with the other Contractors that were parts of the NGTS Project. 

The Outcome 

ESD was very satisfied with the work performed by Public Knowledge®. Deliverables were submitted on time and were of high quality. The concerns, risks, and issues raised by Public Knowledge® were accurate and focused on the appropriate technical aspects of the NGTS project. 

Of particular importance was the quality of Public Knowledge®’s recommendations to mitigate project risks and issues. ESD found Public Knowledge®’s recommendations to be practical and actionable, with the goal of improving quality. The technical assessments were presented clearly so that project and executive leadership were able make informed decisions. Public Knowledge® was also effective in developing strong working relationships with ESD and the other vendor partners, which proved to be beneficial in managing the project in a professional 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 collaborative effort and a certified quality management system, resulted in a successful project. 

Positive Outcomes Delivered.

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