The Department of Veterans Affairs recently committed to a continued partnership with Microsoft Corp. to use emerging tools and technologies to harness the power of big data and drive efficiency, mobility and better service.

Spanning from the desktop to the data center and mobile devices, the renewed agreement will allow the VA to analyze big data the department has been unable to evaluate in the past. It also means continued investment in a groundbreaking data warehousing/big data analytics initiative.

Jack Bates, the VA’s Director of Business Intelligence Service Line, said Microsoft has helped the VA expand its big data storage in the last 18 months, before the latest contract was signed.

Because of new processes and capacities now in place, the VA now has 80 billion rows of data on hand “that’s enabled us to focus on analytical applications that can improve the quality of care,” he told Breaking Gov.

“We are creating the culture of analytics, to train our staff how to effectively use data to improve safety and outcomes,” Bates said. “If you don’t have a trained workforce, you are stuck. It’s the people who make it work and create the value, strong culture of analytics in the VA.”

The $500 million contract with Microsoft extends an agreement that has been in effect for the last five years to use its tools to make its health care system better for 25 million veterans and harness big data effectively.

Using the Microsoft SQL Server, the forward-looking project has already consolidated the VA’s entire analytics infrastructure under one roof, in addition to establishing a state-of-the-art analytic and scientific computing environment to mine its massive health information database for discovery and business value-supporting initiatives such as patient safety, organizational performance and the discovery of new and better treatments for veterans.

With an increasingly mobile workforce, the VA will use Microsoft technologies to manage multiple devices connecting to the VA’s networks and cloud-based platforms, supported by about 6,300 IT employees, 175 data centers, approximately 400,000 desktop computers and more than 100,000 mobile devices.

“Delivery of services to the veterans will be greatly improved,” said Jim Dugan, a solutions architect for Microsoft. “It means they will be able to gather new meaning around data that they currently don’t have.”

Currently, the VA is one of the largest users of Microsoft Office Communications Server and is in the process of upgrading to Microsoft Lync. On the desktop, the agency is aggressively migrating to Windows 7 and Office 2010 and will have access to future versions of Windows for its desktop environment.

The VA is a participant in the Windows 8 early adopter program and, according to Charles De Sanno, executive director of Enterprise Systems Engineering for the VA.

“The VA is excited about the potential that the Windows 8 platform brings to the mobility.”

In addition, Microsoft partner and integrator, MicroTech, will continue to provide the VA with access to all of the company’s current and emerging technology.