Air Force Integrates IT Organizations

WASHINGTON (04/04/2000) - The U.S. Air Force soon may be the first Defense Department organization to closely ally its business managers with its front-line deal-makers under a plan that would integrate the operations of the service's two leading information technology organizations.

Discussions began last month about how to integrate the daily operations of the Standard Systems Group, the Air Force's premier buyer of IT products and services, and ACCWAY, an organization within the Air Combat Command that has focused on re-engineering the entire IT life-cycle process.

The goal, according to officials, is to devise a system that leverages the buying power of SSG with the management expertise of ACCWAY.

SSG charges a fee for the use of its contracts and uses the fees to fund other activities within the organization. Its goal, therefore, is to negotiate the best deals on behalf of its customers in the Air Force. SSG offers more than 65,000 products.

SSG is one of DOD's Working Capital Fund organizations. Working Capital Funds, or revolving funds, are special accounts into which money is deposited for expenditure without regard to fiscal-year limitations. Congress must authorize agencies to establish this type of fund.

But studying the potential impact of IT products on the business processes of organizations has never been a part of SSG's charter. Instead, SSG's mission has been to negotiate great deals at significant discounts by leveraging the buying power of a large organization.

However, not every product that is made available to an Air Force IT manager will necessarily work or benefit a particular enterprise, according to an Air Force source, who wished not to be named. "We realize the need to provide customers maximum choice of IT products, which the CIT-PAD is continuing to do very well," the source said. "However, a crucial area that must be addressed is the need to provide customers the assurance that what they buy will work on the enterprise when they receive it." ACCWAY provides that assurance, the source said.

Glenn Taylor, director of SSG's Commercial Information Technology Product Area Directorate (CIT-PAD), said SSG tries to work closely with ACCWAY, but more needs to be done. That process started last month when Air Force CIO Lt. Gen.

William Donahue held a meeting with SSG and ACC officials, Taylor said.

"They've tried to re-engineer their business practices to reduce the total cost of ownership of IT from requirements through disposal," Taylor said. But ACCWAY does not offer the range of products that SSG does and goes through SSG to buy most of its technology.

Some observers question the philosophy of Working Capital Fund initiatives that give little thought to what products are needed by a department struggling to define effective business processes.

A Pentagon source who wished not to be named said the secretary of the Air Force staff is reviewing an SSG policy proposal that would make going through SSG directly for IT products and services mandatory for 95 percent of requirements. "That's not the right thing for the Air Force or for the government," he said.

Although he does not see a need for an organization to acquire things just for the sake of acquisition, Bob Guerra, president of Robert J. Guerra and Associates, said SSG has helped drive people to use standards-based products, and programs such as the Enterprise Software Inititative have helped reduce costs at DOD.

Chip Mather, senior vice president of Acquisition Solutions Inc., a federal procurement consulting company, said greater integration of SSG and ACCWAY is a good idea. "It's not the PC, it's the integration of the PC" that makes the difference, Mather said. "You need more centralization and more skill," he said, referring to what acquisition professionals are calling "centers of excellence" for contracting. "IT has to be bought on a business case."

The business case is what ACCWAY offers the Air Force IT community, according to the Air Force source. "Process re-engineering needs to take place where the process is," he said. "You can't do it from 1,000 miles away."

Sample of SSG's e-superstore:

IT2 Blanket Purchase Agreements:

-- Desktops, Laptops and Servers

-- I/O Peripheral

-- Network Products

-- Rugged Portables

-- Software Products

ESI Licensing Agreements: n Database (lead agency: Army) -- Enterprise Management Software (Air Force) -- Enterprise Records Management (Air Force) -- Information Assurance (Air Force) -- Office Automation (Navy) Others:

-- Air Force Workstation

-- Desktop V

-- Global Combat Support System -- Air Force -- Information Technology Services Program -- Integrated Computer Aided Software Engineering -- Super-Minicomputer Program.

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