Air Force centralizes, streamlines IT purchases

Air Force officials will centralize and streamline how

they buy information technology hardware, software and services as part of an ongoing effort to provide more oversight of purchases and ensure that systems are interoperable.

Last month, John Gilligan, the service's chief information officer, approved the Air Force Information Technology Commodity Council's new strategy.

The approach centralizes purchasing, standardizes hardware and software, and establishes equipment support and disposal policies. It mandates that purchases of desktop and notebook computers go through the service's nine major commands and requires that officials consolidate hardware buys using the AFWay online procurement system to get better prices.

Further, the plan standardizes hardware and software purchasing by identifying current minimum specifications. Air Force members should use desktop computers for four years before upgrading and notebooks for three, a document detailing the strategy states.

"The Air Force will manage hardware and software like a weapon system," said Lt. Col. Thomas Gaylord, the council's deputy director. He assists Director Kenneth Heitkamp in leading the 22-person, servicewide group.

With the desktop, notebook and server strategy approved, the Air Force now must convince people outside the Beltway to use it, said Larry Allen, executive vice president of the Coalition for Government Procurement in Washington, D.C.

"To be successful, the Air Force must move at the speed of need and provide good pricing," Allen said. He oversees operations for the coalition, which represents companies that sell products and services to the government.

Officials need to get hardware ordered and delivered to users quickly, he said. They cannot take four months to conduct an IT procurement, then have vendors protest the decision, he said. "It's most important to get buy-in at the ordering level," he said.

The strategy sets forth a process for cooperative buying, Gaylord said, adding that the Air Force also coordinates quarterly bulk buys.

The approach also included plans to effectively contract with small businesses and discern between top- and low-performing vendors and products,

the council's document states.

On Oct. 14, 2003, the council outlined the strategy for Gilligan and the Air Force's contracting director, Charles Williams, who oversee the group, Gaylord said. Gilligan and Williams approved the plan then, but administrative matters delayed final approval until Jan. 9.

Now, the council will work on a

policy for peripheral devices, Gaylord said. The group expects to issue purchasing and servicing guidelines for printers, scanners and copiers and devices that do all three functions by summer, he said.

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Saving through consolidation

Officials from the Air Force Information Technology Commodity Council announced last December that the service saved a total of $4 million in fiscal 2003 by consolidating desktop and notebook computer purchases at three of the nine major commands. The Air Combat Command, Air Education and Training Command and U.S. Air Force Europe bought 14,863 desktops and 763 laptops, saving the first two organizations $1 million and

$3 million, respectively, council officials said.

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