JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas –
A small team of innovation experts at the Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center is empowering speed, innovation and change across the service.
Since its inception in Novembers 2018, the center’s Ventures innovation office has helped Airmen land $70 million in funding to pursue ideas for delivering better, faster installation and mission support.
The team has fully developed a dozen of those ideas, ranging from software and mobile applications to equipment modifications and quality of life projects. They have several more innovations in various stages of design.
“Our innovation team knows how to cut through bureaucracy, forging partnerships between industry and our Airmen and Guardians to deliver innovative solutions, including sourcing the funding to turn concepts into capabilities,” said Col. Lance Clark, director of AFIMSC’s Expeditionary Support and Innovation Directorate. “Their work is helping families get better support and giving commanders tools to deliver faster, leaner and more lethal operations."
The team combines strong government and industry partnerships with a knack for navigating contract, acquisition and funding programs to take ideas from conception and development to testing and implementation.
The office, comprised of three project managers, stood up with a budget of $1 million. Nearly 90 percent of project funding, however, comes from other government and industry sources.
“It’s pretty great to be a part of innovation full time,” said Emilie Miller, one of the project managers. “We’re moving much-needed innovative ideas forward, working with key stakeholders and seeing projects come to life.”
Serving as the innovation center for the entire installation and mission support community, ideas come to the team through a variety of ways, including the annual AFIMSC Innovation Rodeo. During the 2021 event, all eight finalists received funding and support for their ideas.
“We are always happy to talk through ideas and help drive them to full implementation,” said Dustin Dickens, another project manager. “We often connect with innovators, Spark Cells and other innovation teams at AFWERX innovation collaboration events and project efforts. We also had great success at the San Antonio Innovation Summit, connecting with city, industry, and Airmen and Guardians.”
When a good idea comes in, the project managers get to work determining viability, building a team with the right stakeholders and partners, and charting a path forward.
The overall goal is an innovation that is repeatable and available across the enterprise, said Pitman Kennedy, the third member of the team.
“We work very hard to vet the ideas with the appropriate functional owners and key stakeholders early in the process. We determine feasibility and a path to scale in parallel to project execution,” he said. “This allows us to align the right stakeholders to sustain the projects long term.”
AFIMSC primary subordinate unit spark teams also help evaluate ideas, especially during the innovation rodeo, and support them through the innovation process, Miller said.
“Their involvement helps us include the appropriate stakeholders and supports our efforts as we further refine and potentially transition these projects into sustainment, building a bridge over that innovation valley of death,” she said. “They have invaluable functional expertise that keeps us working together and moving forward.”
Fully developed projects by the team include:
- Intelligent (Smart) Lockers – A secure mail locker system on installations available to Airmen and Guardians living in dorms. The systems give residents convenient access to their mail and packages while freeing up space and reducing mail-processing times at installation post offices. Installation of the first lockers at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, by the end of the year will establish a repeatable process available to other installations.
- eCitations – An electronic system to replace hand-written traffic citations. The eCitation system allows Defenders on patrol to rapidly scan driver’s licenses and auto-populate information onto a citation. A contract for the system has been awarded; delivery and implementation is underway at Mountain Home AFB, Idaho.
- Agility for Firefighters – An initiative to switch from gas-powered to electric tools for firefighters. Switching to electric reduces equipment weight, lowers fuel costs and, most importantly, makes it easier and faster to reach and treat victims. Firefighting equipment was purchased and is being tested for feasibility and sustainability at Eglin AFB, Florida.
- Augmented Reality for Utility and Communications Infrastructure – Replacing the current manual mapping of underground cabling and wiring with the use of augmented reality glasses to save time and simplify processes. Testing and training is in progress at Eglin AFB and Hurlburt Field, Florida.
- Virtual Innovation Support Integration Operations Network, or VISION – A web-based software application establishing an Air Force innovation ecosystem tool allowing project entry, management, education, team establishment, collaboration, chat, analytics, task management and tracking of innovation ideas. Developed and tested under the name Digital Innovation Dashboard, the concept was revised using input from AFWERX, Spark Cells and multiple major commands. It resulted in full release with collaboration from Platform One in record time. VISION is now available for use Air Force wide: https://vision.apps.dso.mil.
- Kinderspot App – A mobile app that centralizes and streamlines the subletting of short-term slots at military child development centers. The app launched at nine installations in 2021; further refinement is in progress and future rollout is expected soon.
- What’s Up App – An installation community events mobile app aimed at building connectedness and camaraderie among Airmen and Guardians. The app serves as a centralized bulletin board for an installation or organization. It has been released at Yokota Air Base, Japan, and Clear Space Force Station, Alaska, and is in testing at AFIMSC. The team is prepping for additional base rollout including Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.