Montgomery Business Journal

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Empowering People

October 2014

Interview by David Zaslawsky

Montgomery Business Journal: Please describe your role as the program executive officer for business and enterprise systems.

Shofner: While my title is program executive officer for business and enterprise systems, probably the best way to help correlate that for people is to refer to myself like a chief procurement officer in a company. I’m procuring what we call the business and enterprise systems. That really is software; it’s information technology solutions – from my perspective and from a lot of people’s perspective – the Air Force can’t do without. If we don’t procure the software and the applications the Air Force cannot operate. We touch every single airman every single day.

Would you give an example? 

One of the things that we help procure for the United States Air Force is Microsoft Office. We have to make sure that there are no vulnerabilities; no weaknesses; no hazards; threats; viruses. It’s part of job to make sure it’s going to work on their computer. We actually buy that software for all of the Air Force. We configure it, make sure it’s safe to use and test it out on laptops every year. It’s for every single airman in the Air Force.

How many laptops and desktops are we talking about? 

I can’t tell you how many we buy, but there are 600,000 airmen when you look at active duty; when you look at our reserve components; when you look at civilians in the military. Every one of them has a computer and a vast majority of them have multiple devices and those have to be replaced every now and then. By the time we buy computers for all the airmen plus all the mission systems computers – it probably reaches a million. I’m not saying we buy a million every single year.

Are you also buying tablets, notebooks and smart phones?

There is an increasing demand for mobile devices across our Air Force because it’s seen as enabler – it’s office productivity; it’s data management; it’s communication. Those are all valuable tools that our Air Force members need. We put in place some contract vehicles that allow airmen to buy those. We do it in a way with a technique called strategic sourcing. It’s kind of like your Sam’s Club. Sam’s Club buys in bulk and that’s how they pass on savings to you. We buy in bulk so we can pass on the savings to the Air Force.

Is that the NETCENTS program?

Yes, as well as the Information Technology Commodity Council, which focuses a lot on the products. The NETCENTS contracts, for the most part, are much more into the services. The NETCENTS vehicles are another strategic source-type vehicle that allows us to buy in bulk and to save money for the taxpayers.

How much money is saved?

Strategic sourcing saves you 20 percent right off the top.

By buying in bulk, how much is the Air Force saving? Are you talking about millions of dollars?

Hundreds of millions.

What is the Program Executive Office for Business Enterprise Systems?

If I want to talk numbers and people, it’s about 2,400 people. We are in five different states and one country. They are program managers. They are logistic specialists. They are engineers. They are computer specialists. They are medical folks. They are civil engineers. You can see it’s a real mix of people and skill sets spread across the country. We are responsible for about 130 what we call programs or systems that make the Air Force work because we deal with finance; we deal with pay; we deal with personnel records; we deal with the systems that help to assign people to move from one location to another. We have medical support programs.

Do you have an example?

When a brand-new airman shows up at a base today, they get assigned a house and the data system that tracks that individual getting assigned that house plus the work orders to fix it and all those such things – that’s an application we do.

Please talk about applications.

When I use the term application that gets lost on people sometimes – I know it does me. Do you know Quicken or TurboTax? Quicken is a software application. TurboTax is a software application that enables people to file their taxes. Those are software applications and that is what we build – those types of programs are what we build and what we sustain. Those types of programs are the things the men and women that are here at Gunter and four other locations around the U.S. and one overseas – that’s what we do. We either write them ourselves – we have programmers that write the software – or we contract with an industry partner to build some of the software; to sustain it. That’s a big part of our job as well. These programs need to be updated annually and sometimes monthly for different software patches, security issues or enhancements in capabilities. A big part of our mission is that we provide the software applications – those TurboTax-like, those Quicken-like applications that make the Air Force run.

What’s another key area of the organization?

Another key area you already highlighted is the NETCENTS. Certainly, a number of the industry partners in the local area (are interested) … those are very large contracts with multiple contractors. Let’s say that Maxwell Air Force Base needs someone to come in and fix their network. Previously, they had to go out all by themselves and do a solicitation – sometimes a very lengthy process to bring on someone to (fix the network). With NETCENTS, we’ve made it a lot easier. We have basically pre-approved a number of vendors to go do the work. We’ve taken a lot of the work out of the Maxwell Air Force Base contracting shop because they can come to NETCENTS. It’s much faster for them to say they need this kind of capability. We have all of these pre-approved vendors. They bid for the work so the cycle time is much, much faster for someone at Maxwell or any Air Force Base. That’s what the NETCENTS vehicles do.

How much faster is the cycle?

It could be a year for some of these and now it’s months. It could be three to four months, but still, that is a lot faster than an entire year. We also cut the number of people required. We have good vendors and good prices. We made it easier.

What are your responsibilities as the program executive officer or the chief procurement officer?

Chief procurement officer sounds like I’m only about the buying. I am responsible for the men and women of my organization. I have what I call my mission card that I carry in my pocket.

What’s on it?

One of the biggest things on my mission card is to take care of the people: To enable them, to get them trained, to ensure they are fairly compensated, to clear obstacles. A big part of my job is taking care of the people that are actually doing the procurement. Another big part of my job is to approve selections. I typically have a large role in the final selection (of a contract). They would bring an analysis to me and I would say based on the analysis, I’m selecting …

Is your approval authority limited by the dollar-size of a contract?

There are and I don’t want to get too technical. It depends on the type of money, what we call the appropriation. Typically, I have authority for anything that is going to cause an expenditure of $40 million a year or less. That’s a single activity. Or over the course of a life of a program about $500 million. I do have some additional authorities in terms of some of the NETCENTS vehicles that are bigger than that. At the end of the day, for most of those acquisitions, I have decision authority of what we buy and procure. I delegate some of those to my senior leaders because if I had to make 130 decisions a year, I would run out of time real fast.

Please elaborate about the 130 decisions a year.

It’s actually much higher than that. The 130 is the programs. In a lot of cases I have different sustainment contracts; I have different analysis contracts. A single program could have a handful – three, four or five different contracts or may have one. That’s why I have a team of senior leaders.

What are your priorities?

One of the things that I learned since I’ve been at this job is that we (the Air Force) had really started to focus on the big programs. I have a lot of very large programs – one of which was canceled – Expeditionary Combat Support System. Sometimes, it’s really easy to get focused on those and sometimes to the detriment of everything else. One of my priorities is what I call balanced execution. That means that we’re going to make sure that we’re not going to lose the bubble on those big programs, but we’re going to revisit and look at all of our smaller programs as well. I want to make sure my people are trained to manage those programs; they’re getting the resources that they need; that we’re following good systems in generating discipline. I’m just trying to make sure that we don’t keep our eyes just focused on the big programs. We will focus on all programs. We also tended to be focused on sustainment. The organization thinking was much about new capabilities and the Air Force has lots of requirements for new capabilities on these programs.

What is another priority?

The second priority is integration. Over the course of time, we tended to treat every single program unto itself. We never really thought about, what are the implications, if I’m doing something on this program does it have an effect on this other program. We never really thought about maximizing what we call the infrastructure of the network. In some cases over time, we allowed individual programs to build their own network. That’s just very inefficient. One of the things that we’re looking at is what I call to enable integration.

So the systems work better together?

Yes, and to drive in some efficiencies. Instead of letting everybody build their own network, why don’t I work with Gen. (Craig) Olson who was the predecessor to me, who does infrastructure and does the networks? Let’s look what we call building some commonality because that’s when you’re going to save some money. We are trying to take a better look across our programs and that’s the integration.

It sounds like you’re talking about taking a big-picture approach and moving away from a tunnel-vision approach.

That’s exactly it and that drives efficiencies both in terms of our people and costs. Why don’t we look at combining some contracts? In order to do that, that means we have to be looking outside my office walls, so we created an office that is basically helping program managers look across the cubicles at another program and look for opportunities to drive in some efficiencies; and drive in some of the increase in effectiveness. That to me is integration and we try to do that across five states and (one country).

Isn’t this all about modernizing the systems – moving to 21st century technology or is that too much of a stretch?

No, that’s not too much of a stretch. I would tell you it’s also as much about the process – not just about technology, but how we approach modernizing our systems.

Do you have other priorities?

Another is communicating with our stakeholders. Stakeholders are someone outside of us. I am very concerned about how we deal with headquarters; how we deal with other parts of the Air Force; how we talk and communicate with our industry partners. We want to make sure we are communicating with all of our stakeholders; make sure there are no surprises; and just being as transparent with them as we can.

Is there a fourth priority?

I really want to give my folks an opportunity to lead. I want to make sure we’re enabling them; we’re training them; and giving them chances to lead. I have to make sure that I’m not a micro-manager. I don’t want my other leaders to be micro-managers. We have incredible talent. I’ve got young, 21-year-old men and women, who are over here writing software just as good as any company that is generating software today.

Do you see this organization adding missions and adding personnel?

I’m so glad you asked that. BES – business and enterprise systems – we are growing because … there is a recognition now in the Air Force that we are good at what we do. There are a lot of organizations – the headquarters, the staff – are saying, ‘I’ve been shepherding this program for 10 years. I highly think that Shof and his folks can do a better job than me.’ We’re going through right now what is called a lot of transitions. Those transitions are basically someone else is doing the work, but there is a recognition that my men and women do the job better or for lower cost, so they are bringing work to us. In a lot of cases, that does not necessarily mean people are moving to Montgomery. The responsibility for BES is growing because we are picking up offices in other places.

You’re saying it’s unlikely personnel will be added.

We’re really not going to get bigger. The Air Force is not going to get bigger. We have to find smarter ways and more efficient ways to do this.

How much money does this organization oversee in contracts?

We have authority that reaches about $34 billion. We put in a place a contract and there is a ceiling on it. We anticipate on a contract that we will need over the course of most cases a five-year period – to spend about $7 billion. We have to put in place contracts that allow us to get to that ceiling. The big number you’ve heard is about $34 billion. NETCENTS is a big contributor – some of the NETCENTS contracts are $7 billion to $8 billion. In terms of the actual money that flows through all of BES it’s about $1 billion, but our reach is $34 billion.

Those contracts could have a lot of sub-contractors.

Hundreds and thousands. I think again it’s (BES) little known how far we reach from (here) – the entire Air Force; global reach. We touch every airman every single day. There are very few people and very few organizations that can say that. I’m proud that by virtue of what we do the Air Force is able to operate whether it’s logistics; it’s maintenance; it’s medical; it’s finance; human resources – you name it – we touch it. It’s a story we ought to tell more and we couldn’t get there without our industry partners. 


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