Center puts IDEAS to work

A team of six programmers re-engineered an aspect of Air Force Personnel Center
operations with a demographics information system that cost the government about $100,000
and has saved the center’s staff a lot of time.

As word of the Web application has spread, the Interactive Demographics Analysis System
(IDEAS) has noticeably reduced the number of pinkies, or personnel information requests,
the center gets, said Master Sgt. Eddie Stevens, Internet application developer for the
Air Force Personnel Center Reports and Analysis Division.

The requests, written on bright pink slips of paper, used to keep personnel center
employees running around for up to two weeks per request.

“Mostly, we answer to the air staff, major commanders and other commanders,”
Stevens said.

Recognizing the value of IDEAS, the Air Force has approved means for finding early
replacements for the team of six, “so there’s not a lag,” Stevens said.
“We’re going to have a brain drain here in a year because four out of the six of
us are retiring or separating from the Air Force.”

The applications that have reduced what Stevens called the cycle time are written in
the SAS language from SAS Institute Inc. of Cary, N.C. The programmers used SAS IntrNet to
crunch the data and build Hypertext Markup Language reports. They used Microsoft FrontPage
as a Web site builder.

In a year, the team has produced IDEAS I, IDEAS II and Demographic Drill Down.

The last is a limited-access application that lets major command units view individual
personnel records, whereas the IDEAS applications produce only demographic snapshots.

“We figure IDEAS answers 100 million questions,” said Stevens, whose boss,
Col. Mike Schiefer, came up with the number.

“I cannot begin to tell you how he figured this out,” Stevens said.

What is the percentage of female personnel in the Air Force? In 14 seconds or less, the
SAS database application produces the answer: 18 percent. How many active-duty Air Force
personnel? Answer: 358,656 men and women.

What is the average age of the officer force? Answer: 35, not counting officers at the
rank of general. “The generals decided they didn’t want their information
displayed,” Stevens said.

The team stays busy coding new applications in SAS to generate demographic snapshots of
the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve. “It takes us three to six weeks of
concentrated effort to develop one of these applications,” preceeded by three to six
months’ approval time, said Stevens, a SAS programmer for five years.

The original IDEAS application runs under Microsoft Windows NT Server 4.0 on a Compaq
ProLiant 6000 server with dual 200-MHz Pentium Pro processors. The IDEAS database is
populated with data that SAS programs extract from the personnel center’s 20-year-old
Honeywell mainframe data retrieval tool, Atlas.

IDEAS stores personnel data from as far back as 1994. It provides historical views and
current demographic snapshots of officers and enlisted and civilian personnel.

“We also have a casualty statistics application that the youngest member of our
team, who is also the smartest member, put together,” Stevens said. The casualty
statistics appear at

IDEAS users can view the output in 3-D tables online, or they can copy and paste the
output into a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet, Microsoft Word document or text-delimited
file. Any search involving more than four variables produces a table “so huge it
takes forever to download,” Stevens said.

The programmers relied on the corporate knowledge of Steven Heitkamp, chief of the Air
Force Personnel Center Reports and Retrieval Branch, to design IDEAS and its successor.

“He’s the brains behind the code that built the database,” Stevens said.
“For marital status, for example, he knows what ‘single’ means. You’d
think it would be simple,” but it isn’t, he said.

Heitkamp, a civilian employee, has been in the Air Force longer than the programmers.
“He’s got the corporate knowledge to grab the right variables and connect them
the right way to build the database,” he said.

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