vielife Embraces New Technology To Enhance Health Assessment Program

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Summary:

Health and well-being (HWB) services provider vielife has taken an agile approach to upgrading its Web-based HWB service and management information tool, with the help of Agile consulting firm Valtech. Due to the nature of the agile process, the team was able to make adjustments to development of the next generation portal along the way, adapting to changing business requirements and ensuring that each phase met expectations. As a result, vielife has been able to increase flexibility of the service, has the capacity to deploy more interactive health behavior change programs, and has gained better overall management of the system. This article discusses the project and how vielife has benefited from using agile processes.

Background
vie
life has 20 years of experience in providing employers, health insurers, and governments with integrated and accountable online and offline HWB services.The benefits are healthier and vibrant people, leading to increased productivity and reduced health care costs.Using a unique evidence-based approach that integrates four critical areas of HWB - sleep, stress, nutrition and fitness activity - vielife identifies which "people"; issues drive organizational performance and helps employees and employers manage HWB through programs that are directly linked to business drivers.

vielife' Web-based HWB service {sidebar id=1} and management information tool provides individuals with confidential interactive assessments of their own health and well-being, practical information, and proactive intervention programs. Organizations get knowledge tools and aggregated predictive data that provides a HWB fingerprint of their business.

Enhancing the Offering
Due to the success of the current version of the vielife portal, the company made the decision to expand the capabilities of the service further by completely replacing the underlying sofware architecture and adding many new product features. Accoring to Damian Stafford, CTO at vielife, the tailored nature of its offering means that the underlying IT architecture needs to be able to process complex content and algorithms in order to produce individual reports. This involves taking into account a very wide range of factors such as age, weight, sex, attitude to risk, gender, eating preferences, allergies, illnesses, sleep patterns, work life, and family life. In order to add to the capabilities of the current version, vielife needed a much more scaleable, flexible platform.

In order to put this framework in place, Stafford and his team partnered with Valtech in the design and development of the next generation health portal–vielife 3.0. It decided to work with Valtech as the company uses the agile development process. This means that instead of providing Valtech with the entire project specification up-front to design and build, vielife was able to be involved every step of the way, tackling objectives one by one and taking account of the business's changing needs during the life of the project. Indeed, vielife's own technology team was already using the agile project method Scrum, so it was a natural step to work with a partner who also uses an agile method.

Introducing New Technology
Key requirements of the new platform were the ability to provide more targeted advice through behavior change programs and to enable more flexible interoperability with the health services applications of other organizations, especially those of clients. Being able to offer a state-of-the-art, highly-personalized and customized service with sophisticated branding to vielife's users was also important.

Development of the platform started in June 2006 and vielife 3.0, which consists of new technology and enhancements to the existing product, will be delivered this month. Using the Scrum project method, which breaks development work down into highly-focused three-week-long periods, or sprints, ensured that the business was able to review progress, assess priorities, and be flexible with requirements. This process of regular engagement with key business stakeholders such as vielife's chief health officer helped to ensure that what was being developed was fit for purpose and addressed the needs of the end user at the completion of each phase.

The decision was taken to build the next generation portal on a .NET rather than a Java platform. In order to provide the personalization required, now and in the future, Valtech worked with vielife to test and ensure that the chosen technology platform, .NET 3.0, was capable of providing the basis on which to build a rules engine and content authoring tools to generate the required product behavior and personalization.

Rules are central to building online customized advice and behavior change programs to allow vielife to tailor its expertise and advice in real-time for users, based on the large amount of variable data each user submits. But working with leading-edge beta software is not without risk. In collaboration with vielife's own technology team and also with Microsoft directly, Valtech has been able to undertake research and development for the vielife 3.0 platform while mitigating the risks of employing beta software in the forthcoming production system.

Next Steps
The project will roll out the updated version of the portal, which will provide significant enhancements to its already successful, proven offering, in the New Year. As with most projects, requirements set out at the start changed significantly but due to the nature of the agile process, adjustments to development could be made along the way ensuring that each phase met expectations.

The enhanced software framework has increased flexibility and will enable the successful deployment of yet more sophisticated health risk assessments, more interactive health behavior change programs, increased scalability of campaigns and better overall management of the system.

Benefits of Agile Software Development
The vielife example has demonstrated that the agile methodology can bring numerous benefits. Valtech believes that all organizations can gain significantly from implementing some portion of it. However, to reap the true benefits of agile, you need to have good communication between business and IT.

Using Agile development, companies like vielife can achieve a number of benefits:

  • Iterative development carries lower risk that the traditional waterfall method. Taking an iterative approach to project development reduces risk and produces better success, productivity, and defect rates.
  • Early change can be accommodated. Iterative methods work with, rather than fight against, the changing nature of software projects which typically see a 20 percent change in requirements during development.
  • Complex projects can be easily managed. The nature of agiledevelopment means that complex projects are broken down into a series of small sections to make them more manageable.
  • Confidence and satisfaction is achieved from early and repeated success. Short iterations lead to working parts of the product, meaning success and tangible progress can be rapidly achieved and demonstrated.
  • A partial, but stable, tested product is created early on. This provides new business opportunities as demonstrations are possible earlier. This means that the product is also available to ship sooner with fewer features if necessary.
  • Higher quality products are produced with fewer defects. Agile methods facilitate early testing of all aspects of the project from load through to performance and usability. The tests themselves can be evaluated and refined over the course of each iteration.
  • User involvement is encouraged every step of the way. The complexity and intangibility of software development means that feedback from people is essential as is the evaluation of partially-built systems to clarify and refine the end result. Getting user buy-in is therefore a critical part of a successful project.

About the Author
Simon Townsend, is UK Director of Consulting at Valtech. Simon is one of Valtech#39;s most experienced consultants and a director of consulting, with over 21 years in software and systems development. Simon has been with Valtech since 1999 and for the pastthree years he has been responsible for the Valtech Financial Services practice, working with major clients in the merchant banking sector.His background lies in the technical architecture of distributed systems across a range of industry sectors.

About the author

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