Air Force studies outsourcing

Air Force officials could turn over management of their digital imaging and printing equipment to managed services providers as early as this summer, they said.

If the Air Force does move forward with the project, it could serve as a model for how outsourcing could be applied to other information technology networks and systems within the service, they added.

Officials from the Air Force's IT Commodity Council have been reviewing the service's outsourcing strategy for several months. They concluded that industry can better operate and maintain the service's digital imaging and printing equipment. The Air Force spends $150 million a year buying and servicing printers, fax machines, copiers and multifunction devices, and outsourcing them could save 20 percent annually, they said.

"Digital imaging and printing devices are not a core competency of the Air Force," said Ken Heitkamp, the service's assistant chief information officer for lifecycle management.

Service officials expect to decide on the initiative soon. Letting industry manage peripherals gives them an opportunity to closely monitor the effort and determine whether managed services fits into future Air Force IT plans, said Heitkamp, who is also director of the IT Commodity Council.

Allowing vendors to manage equipment makes sense because of the project's smaller scope. If the effort is successful, Air Force officials will then have the knowledge and experience when they consider letting industry manage back-office networks or desktop PCs, notebook PCs and servers — an IT area over which the service still wants control for now, said Lt. Col. Thomas Gaylord, deputy director of the council.

The Air Force could save $30 million yearly on digital imaging and printing devices by adopting a managed services strategy. The savings would be significant to taxpayers, said John Gilligan, the service's chief information officer, speaking recently at the Montgomery IT Summit in Alabama sponsored by the local chapter of AFCEA International.

Air Force officials prefer to call the new policy the digital imaging and printing strategy because peripheral devices can include CD-ROM and Zip drives. IT Commodity Council members want the policy to accomplish the same goals as their desktop and notebook computer strategy completed in January: develop standards, buy hardware at a cheaper price and reduce ownership costs, Heitkamp said.

The service will devise the policy from market research, vendor meetings and service requirements. Air Force IT leaders met this winter and spring with officials from some peripheral companies, Gaylord said. Air Force IT outsourcing first publicly appeared in the fiscal 2002 Defense appropriations bill, which instructed the service to conduct a study analyzing the available options and provide lawmakers with recommendations, including any lessons learned from the Navy Marine Corps Intranet. Air Force officials submitted that report to Congress last summer, Gilligan said.

The service has started another study, which it will complete this summer, to determine what equipment and operations it will outsource, what contracting mechanism it will use, how much money the initiative will cost and when the outsourcing will begin, he said.

The goal is to outsource nonwarfighting IT operations so service employees can focus on the Air Force's warfare mission, Gilligan said. One way to streamline people and money is to let industry do what it does well, such as administering networks, said Michael Kush, Army account executive in Cap Gemini Ernst and Young's Government Solutions division in Falls Church, Va.

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