Hard work reaps rewards

Col. Neal Fox, the director of the Air Force's information technology superstore,

relies on determination and perseverance when it comes to managing complex


Fox became director of the Air Force Standard Systems Group's Commercial

Information Technology-Product Area Directorate (CIT-PAD) on June 16.

His job is a daunting one: to meet the Air Force's IT needs through commercial

off-the-shelf systems and software.

The directorate, located at Gunter Annex on Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala.,

offers products from more than 30 IT contracts and will be instrumental

in procuring the technology and services needed for the planned Air Force

Web portal and other projects.

Fox said his strategy is straightforward: offer the best products from

the best companies at a volume that provides excellent discount prices.

Although challenges are inevitable, Fox labels himself as a person who

gets going when the going gets tough, and he applies this attitude at work

and at home.

Fox restored a 1959 MGA convertible that was given to him by his father-in-law

after it had sat untouched for 23 years. Fox was tempted to give up about

halfway through the three-year project — the car needed its engine rebuilt,

new upholstery, sandblasting and a new coat of paint. But Fox, whose only

previous mechanical experience involved rebuilding the engine of a tractor,

studied the maintenance manuals for the British automobile and did the vast

majority of work himself.

"This car was taking up the only spot in the garage, and it was not useful.

The stick-to-it-iveness of the whole project became very important," Fox

said. "It was more important for me to finish the project and to do it well

than to just get it over with and get the thing back on the road. It certainly

reinforced my idea of not giving up in the middle of something that's tough,

and the reward has been all the more sweet as a result."

Fox said he is wasting no time looking for ways to overhaul the Air

Force's process for acquiring commercial IT.

"I've instituted an innovation integrated process team to incubate ideas

on how to improve our processes and procedures so we can learn how to do

contracting even faster and to provide better support to the customer,"

Fox said. "That was started the first part of August, and they have already

put some good ideas on the fast-track approach to be implemented."

The integrated process team includes personnel from all the CIT-PAD's

functional areas, including legal, financial and contracting. The team is

studying streamlining internal processes for getting items onto the approved

products list for blanket purchase agreement acquisitions and online auctions,

according to team leader Inez Butler, the CIT-PAD's chief of customer support.

"By looking at the methodologies throughout the CIT-PAD, [including]

the different blanket purchase agreements, we were able to take the good

ideas and consolidate them so that we have one approach we feel will be

the best approach," Butler said.

Although the team is examining reverse auctions, Fox expressed skepticism

about how useful they might be for IT acquisitions. His concern, he said,

is that because of the emphasis reverse auctions place on price, customers

may feel they are missing out on quality.

The products offered by his directorate — personal computers, printers

and other peripherals — make it difficult to consider a price-only comparison

because his office usually deals with multiple vendors offering only slightly

different products, Fox said.

"So when you do a reverse auction and come down to a bottom line — price

only as your determining factor — then there's some doubt whether reverse

auctioning is the right tool for information technology products," Fox said.


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