WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio – Most people don’t go out and buy a big ticket item like a new car or truck without doing a fair amount of market research first. It’s logical to check out the competition, look into the performance record of each make and model over the last several years, determine the possible return on investment and ensure you’re getting the best price for the best performing car that fits your budget.
This is the mindset that the Air Force Installation Contracting Center’s (formerly AFICA) Business Intelligence Competency Cell, or BICC, promotes when it comes to operational acquisition. It may seem simplistic when taken at surface value, but what the BICC is doing within the Air Force is ‘bringing life’ to mission innovation. As a result, their practices and resources are sparking interest not only within the Department of Defense, but among members of congress and their staffs as well. As a result of this superb work, the BICC was awarded the 2015 SAF/AQ Acquisition Excellence Team Award for Continuous Process Improvement due largely to its development of business analytic tools such as the Air Force Business Intelligence Tool, or AFBIT.
“We want to make sure our acquisition professionals are equipped with the best information and data out there, provide it in the most comprehensive form possible, and make it ultra-convenient for them to access,” said Maj. John Sharkey, BICC lead and deputy director of AFICA’s Enterprise Sourcing Division. “When we do this, they can make the smartest decisions when spending tax payer dollars. This way we’re providing agility and innovation to directly align with the AFICA, AFIMSC, AFMC, and Air Force missions while protecting limited budgetary resources.”
“Market research has always been a significant portion of our mission,” Sharkey said, adding that “Prior to the stand-up of AFBIT, conducting spend analysis was a long and tedious process, an aspect that naturally served as a deterrent for acquisition professionals to engage in when going through the strategic sourcing process.”
Yet, the road to success for the six-member BICC team was no easy feat; the team persevered through challenges along the way in order to reach Full Operational Capability. The stand-up of the BICC not only required an unorthodox team of diverse professionals with backgrounds other than contracting, but took nearly two years to solidify.
“The Naval Postgraduate School, Air Force Institute of Technology, AFMC/A9, 771st Enterprise Sourcing Squadron, and AFIMSC Operations Research have all partnered with the BICC team at one point in time or another. We are a mixed shop of military and civilians that include an operations researcher, contracting officers, program managers, and IT Specialists. Our daily workloads range from designing, manipulating, and modifying databases, to developing, testing, and deploying algorithms for data consolidation and analysis. I’m not sure there is another team of its kind within our Air Force,” he said.
Essentially, the BICC is designed to provide the Air Force’s operational acquisition professionals with the proper research and data required to make smart, defendable, and cost effective decisions when it comes to purchasing goods and services to enable the Air Force mission. This way, the Air Force is able to get the best bang for its buck and save money while doing so. In turn, these savings can then be redistributed to fund other areas of the mission whether it be for aircraft, weapons systems, installation support, or personnel needs, etc.
The BICC was established to not only aid in enterprise sourcing, but to prepare for the future. “Once a decision for the proper way-forward is determined for the implementation of Category Management within the Air Force, the BICC will serve as an integral piece,” Sharkey said. Category Management is a federally mandated initiative directed by the Office of Management and Budget, or OMB, which requires every federal agency that wishes to acquire goods and services that fall under their 10 established, general categories, to adhere to the guidelines established by their corresponding agency, in accordance with OMB’s direction.
Category Management will empower functional communities to drive requirements such as quantity, frequency, specifications, quality, etc., rather than having funding levels and past spending patterns dictate these requirements. Category Management is designed to drive a holistic perspective when it comes to spending taxpayer’s dollars on certain commodities and services, Sharkey said.
It is anticipated that Category Management will require much of what the BICC already has to offer; they have developed some cutting edge tools and resources to make the process of obtaining market intelligence easier than ever. From references and templates, to data analysis tools, trackers and training, the BICC offers a wide array of products and services that are of benefit for any operational acquisition professional. For the most part, anyone with a Common Access Card is able to access the majority of what the BICC has to offer at:
For instance, the Air Force Business Intelligence Tool, or AFBIT, is a tool that allows users to retrieve spend information and details about any commodity or service the Air Force purchases. For example, if a user was curious as to how many healthcare service contracts the Air Force executed last year, and the breakdown of those contracts; with a click of a button, AFBIT enables a user to retrieve this data in seconds. Filters can also be applied to drill down to a particular MAJCOM, center, or even installation.
“What used to take days, weeks, even months to obtain now only takes a matter of seconds with AFBIT. Again, we’re aiming to equip the workforce with all the business and market intelligence it takes to make the smartest buy… the right thing, at the right time, for the right price to get the biggest bang for the taxpayer’s buck,” Sharkey said.
"I believe the real value of AFBIT is that it's a force multiplier. It decentralizes business analytics and quickly arms the right subject matter experts in the field with the information necessary to make data-driven decisions," he said.
Looking forward to the future of the BICC, Sharkey said that once the Air Force determines a way-forward with regard to Category Management, much of the BICC’s time will likely be devoted to assisting Category teams with their execution of Category Intelligence Reports. In the meantime, the BICC will continue to work to revolutionize the operational acquisition community by ‘bringing life’ to mission innovation.