VA to allow access to commercial cloud collaboration sites

The Veterans Affairs Department is testing and will soon allow healthcare workers at VA facilities access to a commercial cloud product for document storage and information sharing services. Employees will pass through a VA portal which provides VA authentication, confirms them as a VA user and routes them to the cloud site's VA-dedicated area, said VA Chief Information Officer Roger Baker. The only way into the space will be through a direct link from VA, said Baker.

"We're able to offer the service to our folks, not as a VA-customized version or one that we brought in house but one that is the authentic version of the cloud software," said Baker during a July 25 press call. "I would hope that once we've proven that with that vendor we can expand it to others and just be able to offer access to those services."

The move addresses a past, recurring infraction in VA's monthly data breach reports to Congress: unauthorized access to commercial cloud solutions at VA health facilities.

"Our clinicians, in looking for tools to better do their job, have found ways of doing things like shift hand off and other tools that are easier to use and more broadly available from cloud service providers than the things that VA has available," said Baker.

Among the tools reportedly used by VA health practitioners in past IT reports were GoogleDocs and Yahoo Calendar. However, Baker would only say the first tool VA will use is from a "recognizable" vendor.

"This really is the true, personal cloud, if you will. [It's] the classic...type of thing that you'd access from your home computer, from your iPad and from a variety of places," said Baker. "I think we've found a good way to provide those kinds of tools where we don't have to do any of the development but we can let our users have access to it and store their information and be confident that veterans' PII and PHI is adequately protected."

In an April press briefing Baker said he wanted to allow VA employees access to a cloud-based, end-user information sharing solution by the end of summer 2011. At the time Baker said VA was in discussions with vendors now on how set up a secure solution according to VA standards. The department didn't want to develop its own version of cloud information sharing software, he said, adding "I can guarantee you it would not be as good and it would not be as popular."

For more:
- listen to the press call 

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