MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. – For the past two years, Richard Aldridge, Program Executive Officer of the Business and Enterprise Systems Directorate has been at the helm of the organization responsible for acquiring, operating, and sustaining information technology systems for the Air Force and Department of Defense. During this time, the organization has experienced a large number of successes including a huge increase in the number of contracts awarded to small business.
An engineer, problem solver and acquisition expert, Mr. Aldridge recently sat down for an interview to discuss BES, its mission, impact and future.
Q: What does BES do?
A: We have a tag line that we say ‘we run the systems that run the Air Force.’ What a business system does is it helps the Air Force achieve all of its missions, both in mission execution and then taking care of people and functions that make those missions happen. We [BES] make sure that people get paid. We make sure that parts are accounted for properly in a supply system and in a warehouse system and that it gets on a plane and that maintenance is documented properly, so you have the historical record of the aircraft. In addition, if you need to execute a contract in the Air Force, every contract in the Air Force is executed through one of our systems.
I talked about business systems, there is also enterprise systems. Probably everyone in the Air Force is familiar with the standard desktop configuration. We set that standard desktop configuration here at Gunter. So Microsoft sends us their patches and what we do is look at what those patches do to the Air Force cyber security posture, we test those patches here on the Gunter network and then release them to the rest of the Air Force. We also provide that same kind of secure baseline for all federal agencies.
Q: Why does this work matter?
A: We run the systems that run the Air Force. Missions can still execute without these systems, but they would be a whole lot more difficult. Without BES, the Air Force would be doing inventory by paper again and paying people by checks that are mailed to their house. We have helped automate a lot of those functions that the Air Force use to do by paper. Doing that saves manpower and allows resources to be freed up to do other Air Force missions.
Q: What are some of your recent success stories?
A: I want to highlight the Presidential Budget Execution System, which is the replacement for the ABIDES system that keeps track of all programs in the Air Force and how much money is in the POM for them. We are doing the modernized version of that program and by executing it under an agile contract methodology we’re able to accelerate the schedule by 23 months and save the Air Force $52 million by doing it in a different way.
In addition, CON-IT is our next modernized contract writing system. It’s going to replace seven legacy contract writing systems. We went outside the box and we are working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. By working with a federal partner we didn’t have to do a sole selection and we were able to shave 14 months off the schedule and save $23 million.
One last thing that I’m proud of is that 49 percent of all contracts we awarded last year went to small business. There’s no other entity in the DOD that has that kind of business with small business.
Q: What are some of your challenges?
A: My challenges are probably similar to some of my fellow PEOs, but made worse by what our mission is. We are finding that we are struggling to get the right skill sets in the government. Not that my people aren't smart or skilled, but now I'm competing with the Google's of the world [for talent]. Twenty years ago the Air Force wasn't competing - maybe the only ones they were competing with was Microsoft and Cisco. Now there are so many IT companies out there and the nation is not producing [talent] fast enough so that now I'm in competition with people that can pay them two or three times what I can pay them.
Q: What are some of your goals going forward?
A: My goal is satisfying DOD and Air Force goals. So it's about how do we increase lethality, and I think one of the ways we do that is cost effective readiness. So if we figure out a way to maintain these IT systems smarter and cheaper, that's money we can hand back to the Air Force to buy more planes, more fuel, pilots, etc.
Q: Are there any initiatives that you all are working on that you haven't mentioned?
A: We have six agile pilot programs. Agile software methodology is a methodology that industry has been using for a decade. It's the buzzword du jour across the DOD and Air Force, not just in my space, but in all the other PEOs or anyone who is doing software is being asked, ‘how are you going to do it in an agile way?’ We are deploying the Air Force Integrated Pay and Personnel System and one of the first modules we are looking at is leave. Right now, the military uses Leaveweb to track leave for military members. There's a module on one of the software products that we're purchasing that can do that. So it's working with the customer on fielding software that still works for them, but they are not paying large amounts because we customized it so much.
Additionally, we have a mandate from DOD to move to the cloud. So we have three applications in the cloud right now, with another 20 in the works to move to the cloud.
Q: Is there anything you would like to add?
A: This portfolio literally touches and enables every Airman, every day. If you are logging onto your computer, we've had an impact on your ability to do that.