Customs directorate automates its acquisition cycle

Web-based knowledge management system also expands information sharing among workforce

The Customs and Border Protection Procurement Directorate has developed a Web-based knowledge management system that automates the acquisition cycle, from conception through purchase, and expands the exchange of information among the directorate’s geographically dispersed workforce.

The Acquisition Resource Management System (ARMS) brings the community together, giving workers access to regulations and best practices, and allows them to exchange information with other subject experts, said John Ely, executive director of the procurement directorate, which is part of CBP’s Office of Administration.

The directorate handles about $3.5 billion a year in discretionary contract obligations, Ely said. CBP, a part of the Homeland Security Department, has large buying shops in Indianapolis, Ind. and Washington, D.C. However, the bulk of the directorate's workforce is located along the nation's northern and southern borders.

We buy just about everything under the sun that Customs and Border Protection needs to perform its mission,” Ely said. The list includes boats, dogs, helicopters, information technology, office equipment and supplies and weapons.

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CBP PD needed a way to bring together its diverse workforce to better harness knowledge of all of these different markets. Prior to the deployment of ARMS, CBP PD had silos of hard-working people but no real collaboration or sharing of lessons, Ely said.

Microsoft SharePoint collaboration software was already in use at CBP. As a result, the directorate worked with contractor Kadix Systems to build a system based on Microsoft SharePoint 2007.

Kadix workers visited various facilities and border sites to understand the workforce’s problems, said Tim Faulkner, executive director of Kadix Systems’ Organizational Change and Transformation practice.

However, it became apparent that some of the core features in SharePoint wouldn’t really help alleviate some of those issues, Faulkner said.

One of the problems was a lot of good documentation was stored on a bunch of shared drives in various locations, he said.

Procurement workers at border sites didn’t know how to find the documentation they needed. Faulkner’s team migrated core documentation that workers needed from the SharePoint document library into an easily accessible and searchable medium.

The second task was to link the center of expertise within the organization. For instance, workers who purchase helicopters have a different set of expertise than people who buy IT equipment or those who buy office supplies.

“So there is a specialized skill set that evolves with your day-to-day activities,” Faulkner said. “And how do you make those folks more accessible to people out in the field who don’t know what they are looking for?”

So ARMS includes features such as a yellow page with directories and skill descriptions. There are custom calendars that give users the ability to see what kinds of meetings are taking place and what's on the agendas, as well as capture meeting notes.

Additionally, there are sections for frequently asked questions and discussion forums. The forums are important features because they allow conversations that would have originally occurred in the hall or on the phone between two people to now be broadcast and accessible to the entire organization, Faulkner said.

ARMS also has links to the latest Federal Acquisition Regulations, said Patricia Larsen, director of the Acquisition and Program Management Office within CBP’s Office of Administration.

“FAR is huge for us,” Larsen said. “We made sure we linked to the right site to get the most current version of the FAR.” When changes are made to the FAR, workers get those changes immediately.

“It might sound minor, but it is huge for the procurement organization," Larsen said.

“Working with outdated procedures and regulations can be catastrophic for the business that we are in,” Ely agreed.

CBP DP is working on expanding ARMS, making it more accessible to its customers, such as Border Patrol, the Office of Air and Marine and the Office of Field Operations. Additionally, the directorate is looking to enhance the use of dashboards for more real-time metrics on spending and customer satisfaction.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct the reference in the third paragraph to the amount of discretionary contract obligations the directorate handles each year.

About the Author

Rutrell Yasin is is a freelance technology writer for GCN.


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