Air Force launches IT purchasing site

The Air Force last week launched an online system for purchasing and tracking information technology products through a single, seamless process, and the service's chief information officer assured the vendor community that the new Web site will not reduce opportunities for business.

The Air Force Standard Systems Group (SSG) in Montgomery, Ala., developed the Air Force Way (https://afway.af.mil) system over the past 11 months by combining the re-engineered business processes from Air Combat Command with the purchasing capabilities of the Commercial Information Technology Product Area Directorate (CIT-PAD) IT Superstore.

AFWay also interfaces with the Information Processing Management System, which tracks IT buys from the time of purchase, said Col. Neal Fox, CIT-PAD director.

AFWay was designed to provide increased visibility into the Air Force's IT spending by reducing customer workload, providing access to more than 150,000 IT products and enabling the service's leaders to coordinate IT policies, Fox said. It is open for Defense Department and other federal agencies to use.

The SSG site was beta-tested by "several major commands," and user feedback was applied before the formal launch, including improving the "display of the product search information to make it more an apples-to-apples comparison," Fox said.

The CIT-PAD IT Superstore and the Air Combat Command's ACCWay soon will cease processing new orders. The Air Force CIO, John Gilligan, approved AFWay on March 1 and intends to make it mandatory in the future, Fox said.

However, that decision will be made after a 90-day review, which will be used "make sure the technical issues are under control [and] the policy issues have been worked through," Fox said.

Gilligan said the vendor community should not be alarmed.

"The Air Force has made a public commitment to current Air Force IT vendors that the initial fielding of AFWay will not decrease their business opportunities," Gilligan said. "We are working with current Air Force vendors — including those who supply to individual major commands and bases — to include them as suppliers in AFWay. Based on progress to date.the process of moving existing contracts to AFWay is not difficult."

Gilligan said the first 90 days are "intended to help identify any issues or problems [and] a key focus area for this test period is moving existing contracts to AFWay."

In addition, he said, "Another focus area is to ensure that the re-engineered business processes for requirements definition, funds management, purchase approval and asset tracking, meet user needs."

Larry Allen, executive director of the Coalition for Government Procurement, a Washington, D.C., industry group, said that although there is some cause for concern among the Air Force vendors, programs like AFWay traditionally are not a death knell for industry.

"Historically, centralized buying systems set up in headquarters locations in DOD only capture part of the total business they're supposed to capture," Allen said. "Create an office anywhere and say 'everyone use it,' [and] the reality is some people do and others continue to do their own thing."

Gilligan said the Air Force would continue to refine AFWay, and that no vendor should worry about being excluded.

"Over the next few years, we will align our future contracts with the AFWay approach as we refresh existing contract vehicles," he said. "We will continue to have a variety of contacts and include opportunities for local, small and disadvantaged vendors."

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