February 12, 2020

The US Air Force empowers its service members, regardless of rank, to become mission-driven entrepreneurs; they harness their innovative ideas, connect them with solution providers, and develop a roadmap for transitioning their ideas into daily use across the Service. But this isn’t easy – turning the Airmen’s grassroots ideas into functioning, adopted solutions requires the ideas’ survival through the proverbial “Valley of Death” –  the middle ground of bureaucracy that notoriously stalls projects into obsolescence.

AFWERX, the organization charged with fostering a culture of innovation and solving problems for the Air Force, is gaining traction in removing such bureaucratic impediments. Last year, AFWERX used the H4X® Innovation Pipeline and the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program to identify a way for The Air Force Services Center (AFSVC) to keep track of all Air Force personnel responding to contingencies around the world at any given time.

In addition to knowing the whereabouts of all Air Force personnel, AFSVC must ensure Airmen have a place to lay their heads at night; at some locations, these are tents, and in others, they are fully functioning hotel-like entities. The process for checking-in arriving personnel and tracking them during their time on the ground is handled at each location using a complex combination of manual processes and spreadsheets; it is inefficient and inaccurate much of the time. That is, until one inspired Airman came up with a way to fix the problem.

In early 2019, SSgt Alex Nestle developed a prototype for a universal software program to reduce time for check-in and improve the accuracy of personnel reporting.  He pitched his prototype to AFWERX, which encouraged AFSVC to implement the solution across the entire Service. As it was uncertain how they should get started, we helped SSgt Nestle and AFSVC develop a pathway. In just three days of collaboration, AFSVC identified and ranked six courses of action for leadership to consider, drafted a document describing the characteristics of the proposed system from multiple users’ viewpoints, and developed a comprehensive list of desired features for the future software solution. Within two months of this work, AFSVC identified available funding and received a funds-matching contract through the SBIR process to award Aviture $1.5M. Aviture will provide bespoke software development services based on the validated prototype.

AFSVC does not yet have a solution in place to solve its check-in and tracking challenges, but its dedicated attention to one mission-driven entrepreneur’s innovative prototype rendered enough momentum to push through the initial bureaucratic processes and deliver a course of action to quickly adopt his solution.