Hard work reaps rewards
- By George I. Seffers
- Sep 11, 2000
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.