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Reform the Organization

  • Published
  • By Commander’s Action Group
  • Citizen Airman Magazine

Change is inevitable. Change is uncertain. Change may be uncomfortable. However, it is often necessary because the risks of complacency are too great.
Lt. Gen. Richard Scobee, Chief of the Air Force Reserve

(Editor’s note: In 2018, Lt. Gen. Richard Scobee, chief of the Air Force Reserve and commander of Air Force Reserve Command, Chief Master Sgt. Timothy White, Scobee’s senior enlisted advisor and AFRC command chief master sergeant, and their command team established three strategic priorities: Prioritize Strategic Depth and Accelerate Readiness, Develop Resilient Leaders and Reform the Organization. These priorities were designed to ensure the Air Force Reserve was prepared to meet the challenges outlined in the National Defense Strategy. These priorities were visionary in that they nested nearly seamlessly with the initiatives of Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown, Jr.’s Accelerate Change or Lose while predating it by two years. Many of these efforts are just beginning to show results at the unit level, with more visible results on the way. These priorities serve the dual purpose of making the Air Force Reserve more lethal and ready, while also improving the lives of Airmen. In this issue of Citizen Airman, we do a deep dive into each of the strategic priorities, highlighting how implementing these priorities have made a difference for Reserve Citizen Airmen.)

When Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown, Jr. released his Accelerate Change or Lose directive, one of his action orders called for a change to “decision processes to make analytically-informed timely decisions to outpace key competitors’ decision cycles.” The Air Force Reserve has been at the vanguard of accelerating change by prioritizing reforming the organization to improve decision-making timeliness and accuracy two years before the publication of Brown’s groundbreaking paper.

We started this journey for three reasons. Adapting to strategic competition requires agility. Maintaining readiness with constrained resources needs precise information to govern resource allocation. And, recruiting and retaining the best possible Reserve Citizen Airmen demands that we identify and address institutional barriers that impede their success.

This has not been an easy task because the information technology systems underpinning our daily operations reflect a Cold War-era bureaucracy with a Total Force of nearly one million Airmen. The stark reality is that our information technology systems are optimized for an era that has long since passed, resulting in a decision cycle speed that is inadequate and struggles to adapt to more nimble adversaries.

Reforming the organization seeks to increase this decision speed by removing institutional barriers and reengineering the way we use data in nearly every aspect of our mission. Rethinking, updating and providing easily accessible and actionable information is the driving vision.

Current systems governing our personnel processes and pay are antiquated and worthy of reform. For example, when a traditional Reservist or individual mobilization augmentee moves for their civilian career, finding a Reserve job in a new unit can be frustrating at best. This problem can be driven by Reserve vacancy data that is inaccurate or outdated, resulting in redundant local tracking at the unit level.

Additionally, the systems governing our enterprise finances are cumbersome, slowing decision cycles. For example, at the start of every fiscal year, it can take up to six weeks to properly baseline the command’s financial position and distribute Reserve Personnel Appropriation funds to units. The lag in this decision sequence causes unpredictability in the lives of Reserve Citizen Airmen, as funding delays lead to delays in cutting orders. 

Financial uncertainty at the enterprise level also makes problems like our 1,700-person basic military training backlog even more difficult to solve. Further, this blind spot contributes to our using only 10%of our inactive duty training travel budget.

Compounding on these problems, much of the data needed to manage a unit is stored in a patchwork of systems owned by different entities. This problem becomes readily apparent when new leadership enters a squadron. One of their first tasks is to gain access to the data needed to run the squadron, which means getting access to no less than 13 information systems.

We recognized each of these pain points, along with several others caused by our antiquated ways of doing business and committed to fundamentally upending the status quo to improve the function of the command. For the last two years, Brig. Gen. William Kountz, AFRC’s director of logistics, engineering and force protection, has been the team’s champion, providing guidance to a cross-functional team of experts.

The Shared Data Environment

As the Air Force Reserve continues migrating to a digital environment, the volume and variety of data increases. The first priority was to develop a Shared Data Environment integrating a vast array of stove-piped systems. The SDE compiles data from more than 100 unique information systems containing financial, medical readiness, personnel, training, logistics, maintenance and deployment information. 

Before data was integrated into the SDE, our data scientists curated the data to ensure it was usable by Business Intelligence tools for end users. Developers then built BI tools to analyze the data in collaboration with end users. These tools will be shared as a part of the Business Suite application store, which allows users throughout the Air Force Reserve to analyze data for their respective units.

Business Intelligence Applications

One of the first BI applications in development is the Finance BI Tool. Our financial systems are arcane to those without financial management or resource advisor backgrounds. The Finance BI Tool provides leadership insight into their budgets on an intuitive dashboard with only 24 hours of latency. 

Instead of having to log into one system for RPA funding data and another for Operations and Maintenance data, the Finance BI Tool will merge the data and display it on an intuitive dashboard. Moving to a simplified financial data user interface is comparable to pushing toward a seamless online banking experience. This transition allows for decision-making at the speed of relevance and prevent duplication of effort experienced with cumbersome manual tracking.

A second tool in the final stages of development is the Bonus Log Tool. Late last year, the 310th Space Wing, Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado, identified how unwieldy determining bonus eligibility was and proposed a tool to solve the problem. 

Within six months, the Reform the Organization Team was able to work with the Air Reserve Personnel Center to identify the necessary data elements to solve the problem. Because the data was already in the Shared Data Environment, developers could rapidly build an application that applies ARPC’s business rules to determine bonus eligibility.

Once launched, each wing’s Force Support Squadron and Career Assistance Advisor will be able to generate bonus rosters automatically based on Military Personnel Data System data from the past 24 hours. Automating this process frees up time for ARPC personnel to work on other issues. Most importantly, the tool will enable faster processing for bonus pay, ensuring every Reserve Citizen Airman who is eligible gets their bonus in a more efficient and timely manner.

Institutionalizing Reform

Building applications like the Finance BI Tool and the Bonus Log Tool help to solve discrete problems. However, Reforming the Organization goes beyond just tools. It also involves a cultural shift toward incorporating more data-driven decision-making at all levels. 

The Reform the Organization Team is committed to developing our workforce with enough multi-capable Reserve Citizen Airmen who can incorporate basic data science into decision-making in their work centers. The team has developed a training catalog, most of which is free to access and can be found on the team’s CAC-accessible SharePoint site.

The Air Force Reserve is reforming its organization by fundamentally changing the way we use data to make decisions to make ourselves a more ready force. AFRC leads every other major command in data infrastructure maturity. Soon, leaders at all levels will have a common sight picture and a shared understanding of resources and how to best allocate them.

BI tools will provide faster decisions on resource allocations, reducing training backlogs and getting more qualified Airmen into units. They will also provide better data to take care of those Airmen with tools such as the Bonus Log Tool, which will help to ensure everyone is paid in a more timely and accurate way.

Maj. Gen. Matthew Burger, AFRC deputy commander, summed it up best when he said, “Data-driven decisions and the corresponding enabling analytics are fundamental to ensuring AFRC remains a premier force provider offering superb value and expertise to combatant commanders and on behalf of our nation. It is paramount that we continue to develop and employ the tools necessary to drive proper resourcing and readiness decisions at the time of need.”

As the Air Force Reserve institutionalizes continued reform, we will also scale it by developing Reserve Citizen Airmen capable of capitalizing on opportunities to modernize the Air Force Reserve by increasing automation and accelerating decision cycles enabling us to continue providing accessible combat power for the nation … anytime, anywhere.