General calls for more speed, efficiency during 'State of ESC' address
Electronic Systems Center Commander Lt. Gen. Ted Bowlds delivers his fourth and final ‘State of ESC’ address at the Marriott Hotel in Newton, Mass., Jan. 26, 2011. The general said the center had performed well in 2010 but called for even greater speed and efficiency going forward. (U.S. Air Force photo/Rick Berry)
Posted 1/27/2011 Updated 1/27/2011
by Chuck Paone
66th Air Base Group Public Affairs
1/27/2011 - NEWTON, Mass. -- Delivering his fourth and final State of ESC address, Electronic Systems Center Commander Lt. Gen. Ted Bowlds said the center had performed well against some specific targets he set a year ago.
He delivered the address Jan. 26 at the Marriott Hotel in Newton, Mass., and his speech was simulcast live to Hanscom Air Force Base desktop computers. It came at the conclusion of the one-and-a-half-day New Horizons Symposium, which like the address itself, is sponsored by the Lexington-Concord Chapter of the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association.
As he's done in previous years, the commander literally graded the center on how well it met the five major tenets of his 2010 Commander's Intent. While he's never been shy about dishing out tough grades - last year's report card included a C, a C-minus and a D - this year's results were considerably better.
"We've made great progress from the standpoint of what we're being asked to do to support the warfighter, and in terms of making this new [program executive officer] construct stand up and be effective," General Bowlds said.
His highest mark came in response to efforts to "support the components of being a good wingman," where taking care of deployers and their family members helped ESC earn an A-minus. Multiple "Year of the Air Force Family" events also contributed.
The lowest marks this year were only B-minuses and came on two fronts: seamless transition to the new PEO structure; and executing as an enterprise. In both cases, the general acknowledged successes and problems.
He expressed pride in ESC's ability to execute its program management responsibilities, so customers were never adversely affected by the transition from wings, groups and squadrons to the new PEO alignment. On the other hand, some internal confusion and conflict did crop up.
Given the nature of the restructure, operating the center as a single enterprise was bound to be challenging. General Bowlds said center-level forums and exchanges among PEOs helped, but that standardizing processes and reigning in "rogue" processes remains an issue.
"The worst thing that could happen," he said, "is if six PEOs are doing business six different ways."
General Bowlds awarded Bs for the remaining two components of his 2010 Intent. He said that the center had mostly achieved its workforce management targets, meeting its hiring goals and successfully on-boarding new employees. At the same time, he cautioned that the recent hiring boom is probably over and that, as a result, a more flexible workforce will be needed.
Even at that, "with the amount of people we've got and the amount of work we're doing, something's got to give," the general said, predicting that program reductions will likely result.
As for agile acquisition, he said some progress has clearly been made. He also noted that some, including members of the acquisition community outside of ESC, remained reluctant to deviate from traditional acquisition approaches.
Going forward, ESC will need to improve core processes and get new technologies transitioned into systems faster and more efficiently, even as Pentagon oversight increases, he noted.
General Bowlds also told the mostly industry crowd in attendance that, "We need your best work upfront. There won't be enough resources to fix (problems) later."
Transitioning to the year ahead, the general identified a number of challenges, including budget reductions and Pentagon mandates, both in terms of efficiencies and a reduction in services contracts. Some challenges will also present opportunities, he said.
The general's prescription: ESC should make the most of its enterprise approach to acquisition, to using open technologies and architectures, filling urgent warfighting needs, providing "end-to-end testing and mission assurance," and finding and implementing its own efficiencies.
He said individual PEO priorities cannot trump overall enterprise needs, and that the "Knights of the Round Table" approach should help make center-wide program prioritization collaborative, transparent and fair.
Industry, too, should remain focused on this approach, he said. "Think about the enterprise; don't bring us stove-piped solutions."
All the PEOs, with functional support, must work together to better assess risks and allocate resources - both monetary and human, he said. Targeted hiring and strategic personnel moves should help the center close program personnel gaps, ensuring that programs have the right people with the right skills to meet specific needs.
He also talked about "integratable" systems based on open, or service-oriented architectures, which allow systems to be coupled so that certain critical information services can easily be shared. While acquirers can procure such systems, however, users have to develop the right concepts of operations.
"They need to tell us what data needs to be shared," General Bowlds said.
Collaboration is key to being agile enough to meet urgent needs, he noted. To be effective, industry, academia and government developers need to interact with users to seek out "quick-turn" capabilities for high-priority needs.
Various facilities and activities contribute to the end-to-end testing the general called for. He listed the Capabilities Integration Environment (CIE) at Gunter AFB, Ala., the C4ISR Enterprise Integration Facility at Hanscom and the Battlespace Evaluation Assessment Space Situational Awareness Test bed at Kirtland AFB, N.M., as part of that comprehensive network.
He said the CIE plays a particularly important role in allowing the Air Force to "wring things out before we plug them into the network." He also noted that having ESC Chief Technology Officer Dr. Tim Rudolph designated as the approval authority for Command and Control Platform Information Technology should help speed the accreditation process.
"One of the important things this new process does is put more emphasis on doing more of the certification activity up front in the process," he said. "This makes sense when you think about it; you don't wait until after you've built an aircraft to find out if it's airworthy."
General Bowlds also introduced the concept of "composability." The idea, he said, is that components can be assembled in various configurations to meet various needs.
The general concluded by reiterating that speed will determine which programs thrive. Programs that can't keep up will probably be terminated, he warned.
"Execute quickly, efficiently and get off the radar," General Bowlds said. "The slow antelope in the herd will get slaughtered."