The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm Services Agency (FSA) serves farmers, ranchers, and agricultural partners through the delivery of effective, efficient agricultural programs for all Americans. POWTEC, LLC supported USDA FSA IT efforts for over 10 years.
FSA’s Emergency Conservation Program (ECP) provides emergency funding and technical assistance for farmland rehabilitation and for emergency water conservation measures in periods of severe drought.
The ECP System was developed originally in COBOL and was loaded on System 36 partitions on AS400 machines which were in every USDA county office across the country (approximately 3,000). The systems were outdated, painfully slow, very expensive and difficult to update, and no longer met program requirements.
Initially, FSA only wanted to create a web-based ECP system and add several new features to meet new Congressional program requirements. However, during execution of the project, FSA expanded the scope (but not the end date or budget) of the project greatly by requesting that the system also provide cost share calculations and information to six other FSA systems while still supporting the ECP. This scope expansion presented extreme challenges to both budget and schedule in addition to numerous technical design issues.
POWTEC, LLC’s team of information technology professionals designed, developed, and implemented a shared service that, in addition to bringing the ECP’s systems into the modern era via a web-based system and meeting Congressional mandates, calculates complex cost-share computations and exchanges information with 6 outside systems for over 3,000 sites, within budget and on time.
We accomplished this monumental task using Agile Scrum Methodology, as opposed to the traditional waterfall approach, to focus our efforts on those features that were most important and implementing automated testing and nightly builds which improved our code quality and reduced time spent on defects once the system was tested.
By using iterative development, POWTEC, LLC delivered meaningful software in a shorter period. This time savings allowed users to begin using the software to work more efficiently much sooner. We also saved FSA a considerable amount of money by creating a shared service that could be used by six other conservation systems thus negating the need for them to create their own cost share modules. Through the implementation of automated testing and nightly builds, we saved time and money on defect corrections during quality assurance testing.