Turnaround for Air Force System

It is not difficult to find government contractors with portfolios full of success stories. However, it is rare to find one that will admit to being part of a project where things did not work out as planned.

With a nod toward real-world experience, Jeff Zimmerman, director of automation systems for Lockheed Martin, admits it was a rough flight for the Air Force Equipment Management System. The $70 million system is used to manage almost $60 billion of military equipment. It runs on an IBM mainframe that replaced five mainframes residing at the Air Force Logistics Command's headquarters at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. The old system was based on large amounts of batch processing while the new system focuses on transaction processing.

The contract got off to a rough start when losing bidder SAIC filed and lost an award protest. Martin Marietta (now part of Lockheed Martin) started work on the project, but by last year, problems brought the program to a standstill. Most of the difficulties arose from a misunderstanding of initial user requirements, combined with unrealistic expectations.

"End-users wanted much more from the system than the Air Force had contracted for," says Zimmerman.

Part of the problem was that the user requirements had evolved significantly during the development phase of the project. The fixed-price contract did not have the flexibility to provide for evolving requirements.

"It was very hard to make changes to the contract," says Matt Mleziva, director of command and control systems at the Air Force's Electronic Systems Center. "Workers had been on the project for several frustrating years and they were tired."

After an Air Force program review, Lockheed Martin formed teams of government and contractor employees to tackle the issues. Part of the solution was to develop benchmarks for both the Air Force and Lockheed Martin. The teams found and fixed communication problems, and developed performance measurements with established thresholds.

"We needed more objective criteria to relate to," says Mleziva. "Everybody knew what the measurements were, and [Lockheed Martin] surpassed them."

The Air Force restructured the contract to be more responsive to changing user requirements. By this year the Air Force was able to turn off the old system and get the new one up and running. What's more, the Air Force Equipment Management System passed the acid test for new computer installations: "The users are happy," says Mleziva.

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