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Inventive tools track technical tweaks

Louis Coco, a support contractor assigned to the Joint STARS Recapitalization program within the PEO Digital portfolio, demonstrates a content sharing application that allows acquisition professionals to ditch Excel, manually-tracked comment resolution matrices, emails and clunky SharePoint workflow systems for cheap, cloud-hosted software solutions at Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass., Oct. 11, 2018. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Todd Maki)

Louis Coco, a support contractor assigned to the Joint STARS Recapitalization program within the PEO Digital portfolio, demonstrates a content sharing application that allows acquisition professionals to ditch Excel, manually-tracked comment resolution matrices, emails and clunky SharePoint workflow systems for cheap, cloud-hosted software solutions at Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass., Oct. 11, 2018. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Todd Maki)

HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. – Program Executive Officer Digital’s personnel are already walking the walk by integrating time-saving applications to their own workflow, and pollinating proven concepts across commands and services.

An acquisition team whose main program is on hold has shifted gears from moving forward on the weapons system to sharing workflow tools and training others on how to use intuitive, content-sharing applications. These tools enable simultaneous access to data like requirements, program notes and contractor documents.

PEO Digital is charged in an August memorandum signed by Dr. William Roper, assistant secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, to share best practices for acquisition, using digital tools wherever possible.   

 

To achieve this, the team members are ditching Excel, manually-tracked comment resolution matrices, emails and clunky SharePoint workflow systems for cheap, cloud-hosted software solutions field-tested and implemented by the U.S. Navy’s Undersea Warfare Center.

“Imagine moving from a system where you’re waiting for an email with comments to come back from an engineer or contractor – who may or may not be on leave – to logging into a system where you can see what they’re working on, in real time,” said Louis Coco, a support contractor assigned to the Joint STARS Recapitalization program within the PEO Digital portfolio. “Now imagine giving simultaneous collaboration access to the document’s stakeholders so that the team can work dynamically on a project without any lag time. The private sector has been doing this for a long time, and we’re seeing that government acquisition work can benefit from these same tools.”

Paper Ballet

Federal acquisition regulations necessitate a complex dance between contractors, program managers, engineers and other stakeholders. Depending on the size of a project and the stage it’s in, 30 to 40 technical documents can move from contractor to government on any given day, creating a nightmare for acquisition officials charged with ensuring each document is reviewed, and meets expectations.

“Oftentimes, programs find themselves overwhelmed by the sheer volume of data,” said Coco.  “This can put the program at risk, if data requiring government review lingers too long in the review state, missing the contractual response deadline. Without a vector check from the government, the contractor assumes a conditional acceptance and moves forward, assuming they are on the right track. This could lead to a host of problems, including a possible schedule slip.”

Coco and his team are using document review, co-authoring and redaction software tools that are like social media for documents, but which operate on government systems and meet cyber security requirements for everything below the classified level. Meanwhile, the Navy is seeking approvals for using the same tools to enable the review of classified documents in a Defense Information Systems Agency environment.

First Things First

The team is now spreading the tools, and touting their relatively low price and proven results. They’re also seeing that individual offices can use the tools to suit various purposes. Versatility is baked into many of the review and content-sharing applications, so new users usually recognize ways to streamline the bulk of documents that shuttle through an acquisition enterprise.

However, the applications aren’t magic.

“Garbage in, garbage out,” said Coco. “I always emphasize this point when working with other offices.”

The objective is simple; information dominance through the creation, review, approval and dissemination of data.

“If you have unrefined, makeshift processes, this won’t work for you, at least not yet,” said Yoed Cameron Santos, a program manager assigned to foreign military sales. She demonstrated the application system to Steven Wert, PEO Digital, during a weekly standup meeting as an innovation case study. “What we’ve done is make defined business processes that already work more efficient with automation. We can’t Band-Aid bad processes. If your workflow is functional, but uses outdated tools or requires intense use of human capital to achieve, we can help.”

Navy Flow

The Advanced Interactive Management Technology Center is the Naval Undersea Warfare Center organization fueling efficiency through a wide portfolio of process improvement and information management tools. A needs assessment, Memorandum of Agreement and Military Interdepartmental Purchase Request (MIPR) are all it takes to set up services.

Cameron and Coco compared the cost of the systems the Navy uses with other commercial solutions. When they factored in the ease by which they could obtain the software and reach back within the government for support, the decision was easy.

“The advantage of the utilities lies in the ability to collaborate on existing work, review past work and evolve the system architecture to meet changing needs,” said Coco. “These tools provide value now, and value in the future by giving government managers access to program work performed. Every person in the chain can see, through comment tracking, how data changed to capture the correct info and meet requirements.”

This historical fidelity, coupled with the capacity to short-circuit future process complications, makes content-sharing applications ideal for long-running, complex weapons systems program offices looking to trim fat from their acquisition schedule without incurring excess costs.