Phase II SBIR partnership leads to improved resource access for CNS/ATM customers
By Jessica Casserly, 66th Air Base Group Public Affairs
/ Published July 09, 2020
HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. – The Communications, Navigation, Surveillance and Air Traffic Management Center of Excellence here is using a collaborative approach to enhance access to resources for aircraft program offices, avionics engineers and budget planners across the Air Force.
Through a Phase II Small Business Innovation Research contract, the CNS/ATM team partnered with the Business and Enterprise Systems Product Innovation, or BESPIN, office, an agile software factory located at Maxwell Air Force Base Gunter Annex, Alabama, and Omni Federal, a startup company focused on designing and delivering user-centric digital solutions.
Together they created a website designed to boost information sharing with key stakeholders and mission partners. The minimum viable product is on track to be released this summer and customers will be able to access it through the Air Force Portal.
Brett Johnson, the CNS/ATM COE branch chief, explained that his team recognized the need for a better way to quickly, easily, and reliably share information related to the more than 30 aircraft program offices it supports.
“One of our challenges as an organization is figuring out how we can share consistent information with an ever-changing community of CNS/ATM and avionics experts,” he said. “We had 20-plus years of performance assessments, knowledge, and experience, but it was in SharePoint folders, local hard drives, shared drives, and file cabinets. If you had a question, you really needed to find the right person who knew where to look to find your answer.”
Since the CNS/ATM team is not a traditional acquisition program of record and the organization operates with a small budget, Johnson knew they’d need to tackle this project creatively.
“I started in our own backyard with Kessel Run and they recommended BESPIN at [Program Executive Office] Business and Enterprise Systems,” he said. “Our requirement fit very nicely with the BESPIN portfolio. I had funding available at the right time and it all just came together.”
The BESPIN team saw the CNS/ATM project as an opportunity to obtain valuable training for their Air Force developers, while creating a tool to meet the CNS/ATM community’s needs.
“What drew us to this project was the ability to pair our enlisted, officer, and civilian in-house developers with industry developers, not only to get hands-on experience, but so they could learn the agile way of doing things and be able to offer flexible solutions and create real results quickly,” said Traci Howell, BESPIN service manager for the CNS/ATM project.
The contract is managed by the Air Force Research Laboratory, and Omni Federal and BESPIN developers have worked together closely to build the tool, she said.
“We worked with our Air Force counterparts so they could get familiar with our technologies and now they can do about 75 percent of what my team can do,” said Bryan Winston, the project lead for Omni Federal. “All of the individuals working on this project have been really great about reaching out when they need to and helping each other. I think that’s been a huge part of our success.”
While he said it’s still too early to measure how effectively the new tool will improve CNS/ATM processes, Johnson is confident the return on investment will be very significant for his organization and the aircraft programs his staff supports daily.
“We unveiled a pre-MVP at our annual working group in June and there was a lot of excitement and a lot of interest,” he said. “One office at Headquarters Air Force has already indicated their interest in using the tool to track involvement between the program offices, CNS/ATM COE, and the major commands.”
Johnson said that once the MVP is released, the development team will observe end user interaction with the tool and leverage feedback to prioritize necessary adjustments.
“In the end, we’re here to help the Air Force fly safely and efficiently around the world, and this tool will help us do that even better,” he said.