Air Force tries a new way of buying
Lt. Col. Thomas L. Gaylord
Lt. Col. Thomas L. Gaylord helps the Air Force buy smarter.
As deputy director of the Air Force IT Commodity Council based at the Standard Systems Group, Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., Gaylord assisted all of the major commands in the Air Force to complete the purchase of more than 30,000 desktop and notebook PCs last September.
That commodity buy illustrated the fiscal power of the more than 550,000-member service branch, Gaylord said.
Before going to work with the IT Commodity Council, Gaylord was director of IT for the Headquarters Standard Systems Group at Maxwell. He has also worked as operations officer of Division 4 of the Air Command and Staff College at Maxwell and chief of the Acquisitions Office at Headquarters Air Force Materiel Command at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.
Gaylord earned a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from Lafayette College in Easton, Pa. He later received a master's in systems management at the Air Force Institute of Technology and a master's in operational art and military science at Air University.
GCN staff writer Dawn S. Onley interviewed Gaylord by telephone.GCN: The IT Commodity Council is almost a year old. What is your role?
GAYLORD: The Air Force IT Commodity Council's mission is to develop IT commodity strategies to shape Air Force buying power and reduce the total cost of ownership. When I say IT commodity strategies, take a look at where the Air Force buys from, how we contract for the IT products and services we need, and how we manage the services that affect the cost of ownership.
As the deputy director of the council, I oversee the daily operations and help the ITCC director lead council development of IT commodity strategies. We have a group of people at Maxwell Air Force Base's Gunter Annex that form the core team. I supervise them directly and do a lot of the schedule planning, data collection and market research.GCN: How often does the council meet? How many members does it have and how many organizations are represented by it?
GAYLORD: We meet face-to-face about twice each quarter, and each of those meetings lasts a few days to a week. We do a lot of our in-depth development and strategy work then.
Other times we have phone calls, teleconferences and videoconferences to coordinate and review documents, discuss strategy alternatives, and review or approve buying standards for Air Force desktop and notebook PCs.
The council is made up of 28 full-time members. Each of the major commands within the Air Force has a representative and that includes the National Guard and reserves. There are more than 20 Air Force organizations represented.GCN: What is AFWay and how does the council use the procurement system?
GAYLORD: AFWay is primarily an online ordering tool that allows Air Force organizations to buy commercial IT products. It has a workflow and approval process within it that helps ensure the equipment purchased meets Air Force requirements, and it also lets buyers look at vendor online catalogs to compare prices.
AFWay is important to the ITCC for several reasons. First, it helps us implement our buying strategies by giving us a place to host the business rules of our commodity strategy.
It serves as an important source of buying and policy information and is the primary location where suppliers with Air Force-wide purchasing agreements can post their product catalogs and prices for ordering.
And finally, it serves as an important source of spending data that the commodity council can use for refining, or developing future commodity strategies.GCN: What are some of the council's biggest accomplishments this past year?
GAYLORD: In addition to getting set up as the Air Force's first commodity council and getting our first commodity strategy approved, our biggest accomplishment has probably been the successful execution of an Air Force cooperative buy last September. This was a trial run of our new buying strategy that we have since refined and are implementing across the Air Force.
In a matter of two weeks, we got all the major commands in the Air Force to agree to the buying standards. We then pooled the requirements of six major commands and instead of purchasing as many separate organizations, we purchased more than 30,000 personal computers'29,000 desktops and 1,300 notebooks'as the Air Force.
That approach and cooperation allowed us to increase the purchasing power of each major command by about 22 percent and allowed us to get thousands of additional systems for the money we had available. Had each command tried to buy separately, we would not have been able to get the deep price discounts that our suppliers gave.GCN: What are some of the biggest challenges the council has faced and lessons it has learned?
GAYLORD: The biggest challenge facing the commodity council is getting the word out across the Air Force and managing the cultural change that comes with moving from tactical buying to strategic buying.
It's an area that we underestimated when we started last year, and we're looking at ways to improve our ability to communicate across the Air Force.
If you think about it, we are essentially changing the buying behavior of one of the world's largest and most technically advanced enterprises. That change is not going to happen overnight, but I think we're making some good progress.
Our biggest lesson learned was realizing that what we're doing is much more than just building a traditional contracting strategy. To do it right, we must look at the buying strategy, the lifecycle strategy, the funding strategy, the implementation strategy, the contracting strategy and a whole lot more.GCN: Is it now mandatory for all Air Force hardware and software purchases to go through the council and AFWay? And if not, what are the exceptions to that rule?
GAYLORD: Hardware and software purchases don't actually go through the ITCC. We only develop the strategies that result in policies, processes and other changes in the way we buy, contract for and support our IT commodities. But it is true that the Air Force CIO and Air Force secretary will be mandating the use of these buying standards.
The memos that implement those policy decisions are in coordination, and they should be released in the very near future. The use of AFWay is already mandatory for purchase of all desktop and notebook PCs.GCN: What will be the council's role if the Air Force decides to outsource its IT equipment and operations to a vendor?
GAYLORD: First of all, any decision regarding outsourcing is probably going to be made at the corporate Air Force level and would involve at a minimum the Air Force CIO, major command CIOs and the secretary of the Air Force.
But I would expect that the ITCC would play a significant role in helping to provide information or strategy recommendations. Afterward, if the Air Force were to go in that direction for some area of IT support, the ITCC would be interested in monitoring any outsourcing strategies to make sure that the strategy objectives were being achieved.GCN: How does the council provide incentives for commands to comply with ITCC strategies?
GAYLORD: There are both positive and negative ways to incentivize compliance with the ITCC commodity strategies. We believe that the men and women of our Air Force want to do what's best for the service as a whole.
We prefer as a council to focus on positive approaches and incentives that educate the field about the lifecyle benefits of buying under mainstream standards and about avoiding up-front costs by using the new quarterly enterprise buying process. That's sort of the build-it-and-they-will-come approach.
However, as soon as the policy is released mandating use across the Air Force, I expect that the major command CIOs and the functional communities will begin to look harder at who is, and who is not, complying with the new strategy.GCN: How much does the Air Force spend yearly on IT hardware, software and peripherals?
GAYLORD: The Air Force spends about $6 billion on IT products, services and systems each year. Most of that is to support our weapons systems, command and control systems, or other combat system support.