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*Note this article was published in the U.S. Army Communicator
Automating the Local Purchasing Process at Karshi-Kanabad Airbase, Uzbekistan.
By CPT David J. Stern, USAR

Karshi-Kanabad (K2) Airbase is the home of Camp Stronghold Freedom, an Army logistics base in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. After transitioning with the initial base Signal Officer (SIGO), I quickly learned that our baseís mission was largely affected by our ability to order and receive equipment and services not available through the regular Army supply system. To accomplish this mission, our team built a web based Purchase Request & Commitment (PR&C) system that has saved both time and money. The project has attracted the attention of the Army Audit Agency (AAA) and The Army Central Command (ARCENT). We have validated the concept; now we want to share our experience and lessons learned.

THE MISSION

The Logistics Task Force (LTF)/ base commander initiated a Joint Acquisition Review Board (JARB) to add management controls to the local purchase of supplies and equipment at K2. The review board included members of the Army LTF, as well as Army, Air Force, and Marine tenants deployed to the base. The requirement was to build a web-based system to enter and display all PR&Cís (DA Form 3953) slated for review by the board. In addition to displaying the actual PR&C, the ability to view supporting documentation and to add/view comments was also required. The suspense for this project was 14 days.



APPROACH

My team of reservists from Phoenix, Arizona included an internet service corporation president, a mid-level Qwest DSL technical support technician, a UNIX system administrator, and a Hewlett-Packard technical support technician. Our team utilized experience gained in the commercial communications sector and applied it directly towards accomplishing this mission.

The project was initiated by evaluating the options for developing the web-based automation required. We quickly dismissed the use of software like Microsoft Access or the advanced database features in Microsoft FrontPage or Macromedia Dreamweaver because of the difficulty in using software programs to create programming code. The need to upload documents for review and to create dynamic fields (like a purchase requestís document number) led us to the use of the PERL programming language with a custom non-database filing system. The wealth of free (open source) programming resources available on the internet, was another factor that confirmed our course of action.



For the test and evaluation portion of the project, we utilized a locally procured computer and converted it from a windows based operating system to a UNIX based Apache/LINUX server. The Apache web server used open source code at no cost to the government.

During the initial development stage our intent was to develop the code required for the project independent of the Department of Information Managementís (DOIM) servers (to protect them from any programming errors.) Our team worked around the clock to program the initial requirements, and bring the PR&Cís for the JARB onto the Secret Internet Protocol Network (SIPRNET). The SIPRNET was chosen in this wartime theater over the regular internet (NIPRNET) because SIPRNET has the priority for restoral in the event of any outage and because the data is available worldwide to anyone with access to the SIPRNET. There is nothing in the systemís code that requires it to be placed on the SIPRNET.

Prior to placing the UNIX server onto the SIPRNET, we requested and received permission from the Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) Coalition/Joint Task Force 180 (CJTF180) Automation Officer to stand our server up. Through the discussions with the Joint Automation Officer (JAMO), we also learned that even if we succeeded with our mission, the task force could not support our project. Furthermore, the active duty Corps Support Group (CSG) replacing us would not be nearly as knowledgeable or robust as our reserve CSGís communications section. With the knowledge that the JAMO would not support our project, we also learned that the K2 DOIM would not let us place our project on any of their servers. We found that there was plenty of experience in the theater using software to create webpages, like Frontpage and Dreamweaver, but almost no experience in the actual programming code that these types of software programs create behind the scenes. With permission to stand our server up and a near-term mission at hand, we drove on despite the organization challenges we were experiencing.



SYSTEM FEATURES

The system has many features that are commonplace to products in the civilian sector but are not widely used in military web based systems. Our automated PR&C System has the following advantages to the traditional paper-based system:

Allows anyone with access to the SIPRNET to submit a PRC for consideration.
No need to load or update software.
Dynamically lists supply sergeants that are authorized to process automated PR&Cís.
Provides links to required documentation and allows electronic attachment of supporting documentation.
Shows an actual copy of the DA Form 3953 with signatures that can be printed if necessary.
Automatically generates the PR&C document number for all PR&C requests submitted.
Search tools allow visibility of the process from requirement generation to fulfillment.
Search tools allow visibility of all PR&Cís and supporting documentation.
Users have the ability to add and view comments about individual PR&Cís.
Signature authorities can electronically return documents for further action.
Users have the ability to upload additional supporting documentation at any time.
Administration tools are dynamic and web based.
Runs utilizing PERL scripts that can run on virtually any platform.
Judge Advocate General (JAG) and the Joint Acquisition Review Board (JARB) have been seamlessly added into the process flow for additional regulatory controls.
JARB minutes uploaded the JARB secretary by using Microsoft Sharepoint software.

FIELDING THE PROJECT AND ANTICIPATING ADDITIONAL REQUIREMENTS

The project was initially launched with a briefing to the JARB board members and a desk side training session with the JARB secretary. For the purpose of giving the JARB members access to the PR&Cís in advance of the actual JARB meeting, the JARB secretary entered all paper-based PR&Cís and supporting documentation into the system. This process was time consuming for the secretary, and our team quickly realized that in order for the project to be successful, the next requirement was going to be to automate the entire PR&C process on K2.

With recommendations from the JARB and the baseís logistics personnel, the team took an additional week to expand the system, add approval levels, and train personnel on its use. There was an initial class on



the automated PR&C system with the basesí supply sergeants and purchasing officers, at which time we determined their passwords and received their signatures. As a paperless system, all signatures are scanned and the userís password is required to digitally sign the documents. In addition, the userís password also provides them with access to their web based action item box, which contains all PR&Cís at their level for action. With the training of the JARB secretary, the supply sergeants, and PBO team, the Resource Managers and Contracting Officers were trained on the use of the system and the procedures for adding fund sites and other information to the PR&C. The training was successful and the system was adopted by the base. The development team took close notes from all the training and sensing sessions with the users and continued to modify the system to meet their needs.

WEB BASED ADMINISTRATION FEATURES

Faced with the fact that our project was going to receive very little support when we rotated out of theater, we began to streamline the administrator functions for the management of the automated PR&C process.

We instituted a dynamic web page allowing the administrator to change the board members instantly,



which in turn updated the webpage real-time. We automated the uploading of signatures as well as the signature blocks and passwords of the signature authorities for the process. An intense amount of work has been placed into making sure that the system continues to run for years after we leave, with little to no maintenance.

VALIDATING THE CONCEPT

The automated PR&C project was launched in August of 2002, and since that time has processed in excess of $20 million dollars of local purchases. The systems features and benefits have attracted the attention of the Army Audit Agency as well as Army Central Command (ARCENT). The concept has been briefed to congressman, the DODís senior military and civilian leaders, as well as many of the civilian and military leaders that have visited the Afghanistan theater. In addition, the system has been adopted by additional bases in the Army Central Command (CENTCOM) Area of Operations (AOR) including Camp Doha, Kuwait.

LESSONS LEARNED

The biggest challenge with accomplishing this mission in a wartime environment was the availability of resources and soldiers trained to accomplish this type of mission. The After Action Review (AAR) for this project revealed several suggestions I would like to share with the Regiment.

First, as school trained signal soldiers (25A, 74B, and 31U), our team did not receive institution based training in actual computer programming. Some of us received basic training in software products like FrontPage and Dreamweaver, but our experience has found that we needed a working knowledge of at least one computer programming language like PERL, C++, or JAVA. In addition to the current Computer Based Training (CBT) programs available through Army Knowledge Online (AKO), we need electronic reference and training books that are available worldwide through the internet. As an example, my team purchased several reference books through amazon.com and had them shipped to Uzbekistan. This could be prevented in the future if detailed reference and training books were available for signal-specific subjects through a command supported web portal. Soldiers will continue to need on-the-job training and detailed electronic reference books will allow us to properly train them.

Second, K2 is still in the process of commercializing. The contractors and officers running the DOIM denied our request to use the SIPRNET web server for our project. What we learned is that there is a significant ďFear of the UnknownĒ with respect to programming languages and allowing commercially accepted programming language interpreters to be installed on IIS servers. In this case, we had to stand up our own web server. In the optimum case, all DOIMís will have the exact same capabilities and support requirements for their automation customers. A variety of commercially accepted programming languages like PERL, C++, and JAVA should be available to automation personnel worldwide. In addition, there should be a central portal where the Armyís automation personnel can share programs and scripts that they have designed, built, and implemented. There are many of these types of collaboration sites on the internet, but a command supported site where we could share programs previously written and modify for a new use would produce immediate results. Achievements like this automated PR&C process could be mirrored across the Army in other specialties like maintenance and personnel. In addition, programs and scripts that have made a significant impact can be evaluated and eventually implemented Army wide through AKO or similar sites.

The final lesson we learned while accomplishing the mission in Uzbekistan is that the Army soldier is very knowledgeable with respect to computers and the internet. The majority of non-signal soldiers can use Army CBT and other classes to design, operate, and maintain websites. Automation soldiers need the training, tools, and resources to go a step further. Automation soldiers need to have a clear understanding of the programming code behind the software to accomplish the mission. Todayís signal soldiers are capable of accomplishing bigger projects and missions if we can provide the tools and guidance to support them.
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Captain David J. Stern is a reservist assigned to the 164th Corps Support Group from Mesa, Arizona. In his civilian role he is the President of Stern Internet Services Corporation located in Sierra Vista, AZ. He holds a Masters Degree in Business Administration/Technology Management from the University of Phoenix and a Bachelors degree in Microelectronic Engineering from Rochester Institute of Technology. CPT Stern has served on active duty in positions of increasing importance such as Signal Battalion Detachment Commander, ASC Direct Support Engineer, Signal Battalion Logistics Officer, and Cable/Wire Platoon Leader.
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