Air Force launches IT purchasing site

The Air Force recently 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.

Air Force Way (https://afway.af.mil) will reduce customer workload, provide access to more than 150,000 IT products and enable the service's leaders to coordinate IT policies, said Col. Neal Fox, director of the Commercial Information Technology-Product Area Directorate (CIT-PAD), which is overseeing the site.

Air Force CIO John Gilligan approved AFWay March 1, and the site is open for the Defense Department and other federal agencies to use.

The CIT-PAD IT Superstore's purchasing engine was combined with the Air Combat Command's ACCWay re- engineered business processes to create AFWay, which also interfaces with the Information Processing Management System to track IT buys from the time of purchase, Fox said.

Those contributing sites will soon stop processing new orders, and Gilligan intends to make AFWay mandatory in the future, Fox said.

However, that decision will be made after a 90-day review to work through any technical and policy issues, especially concern from vendors that the number of companies the Air Force uses could decrease under the new system, 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," he 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."

The first 90 days are intended to help identify any issues or problems, Gilligan said. "A key focus area for this test period is moving existing contracts to AFWay...[and to] ensure that the re- engineered business processes for requirements definition, funds management, purchase approval and asset tracking meet user needs."

The Air Force Standard Systems Group in Montgomery, Ala., developed AFWay during the past 11 months, and the site was beta-tested by "several major commands," Fox said. 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," he said.

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."

The Air Force will continue to refine AFWay, and vendors shouldn't worry about being excluded, Gilligan said.

"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 contracts and include opportunities for local, small and disadvantaged vendors."

But some vendors are still concerned.

The Air Force has been using database software from Raosoft Inc. for its Web-based surveys, including the 2002 organizational climate survey that ended March 8. But Catherine Rao, Raosoft chief executive officer, said she was somewhat alarmed because she was unaware that AFWay existed.

"We do a lot with supporting the training field in particular, and that area in the Air Force is just getting under way in moving their training evaluation processes into electronic data collection," Rao said. "I'd hate to think that current or future customers will be constrained in purchasing our software. We are on the [General Services Administration] schedule, and I'm wondering how such products will be integrated into the site."

Northrop Grumman Information Technology will continue to include its smaller counterparts moving forward, said Ed Naro, director of GSA programs and indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity programs at Northrop Grumman IT.

"Small businesses are well represented on existing teams, and the Air Force has always been a champion of the government's various small business initiatives," Naro said. "Air Force Way is another step in the continuing evolution of the IT procurement environment and should serve as a good internal management tool for the Air Force to track the purchases of IT products and services."

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