Air Force conference notes: ERP inspiration

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Defense Department officials have decided to make the best of a difficult situation with enterprise resource planning (ERP) software.

Government officials are notorious for requesting custom changes to commercial ERP packages, even though that frequently increases the cost and delays delivery of the final project. But once it's done, why not let other agencies benefit from all that hard work?

So in May, Defense Department officials set up blanket purchase agreements with five systems integrators for ERP work. As part of the program, any custom changes must be recorded in a central repository, said Chris Panaro, an independent consultant working on the program. Any time a customer requests a change, the integrator must first check the repository to see if the work has already been done.

For example, an official might request a custom interface between an SAP America Inc. system and a legacy application. But if another government organization has already built such an interface, it could be shared via DOD's repository, Panaro said, speaking here at this week's Air Force Information Technology conference.

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Speaking of ERP implementation, there's no quick fix for enterprise resource planning projects that run late and go over budget. But agency managers could help matters if they provided employees with a little added incentive, said Panaro, who works in the Office of the Assistant Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Logistics Systems Management.

If government employees have the opportunity to earn a little extra cash, they might be more willing to work weekends and nights to get a project done, he said. "It's what works in the commercial world," he said.

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The idea of government acting more like a business was first broached during the Clinton/Gore years, and the Bush administration has stressed that direction even more. But the Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC) seems to be headed in another direction.

Gen. Gregory Martin, the AFMC's commander, pointedly told conference attendees that the AFMC "is not a business. We are a military organization in the business of national security." The command can do things in similar ways to business but there always has to be a baseline reference to the rest of the Air Force and that, he said, will force a major change in the way the command does business in the future.

"I believe the whole of the Air Force runs off the back of what the men and women in the Materiel Command do," he said, "So we need it to be both transparent and responsive, and that's the need for the changes that are under way now."

Robinson is a freelance journalist based in Portland, Ore. He can be reached at hullite@mindspring.com.

About the Authors

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.


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