Lt Col Michael Helgeson, Deputy Director of AF CyberWorx
What does an AF CyberWorx “win” look like? We use our unique blend of user experience and modern problem solving and product development methods to tackle a wide range of operational and organizational challenges. We had three major wins in quarter three, representing that wide range: Early Warning Radar Sustainment, Six Degrees of Kevin Beacon, and OPTIMIS.
Each represents our end-user focused processes as we re-imagine how people, organizations, and technology interact to best accomplish and support the Air Force mission. When we help with solutions, we don’t just stop with an idea or concept as we solve a problem. We support that idea with strategies and coordination to identify and engage partners for development and transition to sustainment. What would an AF CyberWorx-powered win look like for your organization?
We had three major wins in quarter three representing how we work to support Air Force solutions:
- Early Warning Radar Sustainment: As we supported Air Combat Command’s legacy radar sustainment effort, we not only assisted operators, maintainers, and sustainers in bringing together different viewpoints of the challenge, we combined a common future vision with acquisition strategies to engage industry to achieve the optimal solution for the Air Force.
- Six Degrees of Kevin Beacon: In our work with the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center, we helped them develop the concept for process flows and a software tool to streamline identification and response tracking to emergency beacons across the continental United States.
- OPTIMIS: The originally airlift-focused flight evaluation app developed into a project originally taken up by Academy cadets took a different turn as we recognized complementary flight scheduling efforts under way by Kessel Run, another partner in the AF innovation ecosystem. We transitioned our user-tested, minimum viable product into their portfolio to broaden its scope across all mission platforms, allow for full mission support integration, and provide for out-year sustainment.
What all our solutions have in common is that through our end-user focused processes, we re-imagine how people, organizations, and technology interact to best accomplish and support the Air Force mission. When we help with solutions, we don’t just stop with an idea or concept to solve a problem. We support with strategies and coordination to identify and engage partners for development and transition to sustainment.
Successful outcomes from AF CyberWorx engagements are as diverse as the challenges they answer but always focus on the end-user to maximize mission impact and bring to bear our full range of academic, industry, and government partnerships to maximize transition potential. Resolve, Accelerate, Deliver! What would an AF CyberWorx-powered win look like for your organization?
USAFA Strong – Academy cadets and new Lts led a USAFA-wide project focused on fostering cadet connectedness and engagement opportunities to increase mental health at USAFA.
F-35 Mission Planning – Our UX designers assisted with improving the F-35 Link 16 editor with a larger picture of eventually improving the overall mission planning process.
CSfC – Government and industry specialists explored the capabilities and efficacy of Commercial Solutions for Classified use in a discovery forum.
OPTIMIS – The C-17 community needed an upgrade to their standards and evaluation scoring system. AF CyberWorx expanded on USAFA cadet capstone work, designed and coded a working prototype, and transitioned the project to Kessel Run.
ECO Talent Development – Air Force ECO experts examined career progression and placement capabilities of Expeditionary Cyber and Communications officers.
The Other Airmen – The right tool would allow Air Force innovators to develop their own custom solutions without specialized skills and resources.
T-38 Kubernetes – We are assisting in the UI and marketing for a joint Kubernetes trial on a T-38 enabling aircraft software upgrades mid-flight.
Missile Warning – The NORAD/NORTHCOM missile warning system needs to take advantage of the Next Gen architecture to reduce redundancy and eliminate stove-piped systems.
Genisys – We are helping the Air Force Test Center improve the design and user interface for their data analysis platform.
US Space Force Cyber Officer Talent Management – The US Space Force wants to start their incoming professionals on the right path with an upgraded talent development plan.
As Lt Col Helgeson stated above, we’ve had multiple wins the last quarter. OPTIMIS is but one example and shows what we love to do: take a previously unaddressed end-user problem, design potential solutions based on user needs, develop a prototype, and transition it to maturity and full sustainment. It had the added win of prompting another project that has the potential to greatly empower citizen developers.
In March 2018, the 21st Airlift Squadron (AS), Travis Air Force Base, California, needed help with updating their home-grown pilot standards and evaluation grading system, OPTIMIS. The unit built their database in MS Access years before and the developer had long since departed, leaving an unsupported system. Add to that their desire for more functionality and compatibility with the Graduate Training Integration Management System (GTIMS) system, and they were ready for some help.
During the Fall 2018/Spring 2019 USAFA semesters, the AF CyberWorx team guided a cadet capstone project, focusing on user research, refining problem understanding, and development of a lightweight prototype. As the cadets worked on the discovery phase of the new application, they developed their skills in teamwork, user design fundamentals, and project management. By the end of their capstone, the cadets created a low-fidelity prototype that had gone through the first phase of user testing at Travis AFB.
After the cadet team moved on, we continued iterating OPTIMIS through design and development with persistent user testing by our design professionals and application/feature coding by our developer. The effort culminated with a minimum viable product (MVP) running on a mobile platform with a cloud-hosted backend that could be demonstrated and further tested by users in the broader C-17 community.
While our design and development professionals matured the MVP through modern product development methods, other team members engaged a variety of champions and stakeholders across the Mobility Air Force and PEO/PMO community to find programs with similar objectives. The team identified Kessel Run as being the best fit with their similar, parallel efforts to modernize flight planning and mission support.
The team demonstrated the MVP to Kessel Run and they liked what they saw. The prototype was easy to understand, met all their requirements, was scalable to a larger user base, and was already designed for mobile applications. OPTIMIS officially transitioned to Kessel Run for integration into their planned suite of matured applications. That transition came with further development, maturity, long-term sustainment, and most importantly, delivering capability to the user. That’s our favorite part of a “win”: seeing the needs of end users being addressed as a solution moves from an idea through prototyping and testing to sustainment and implementation.
Another winning aspect of the OPTIMIS project was its influence on another AF CyberWorx project: The Other Airmen grew from discussions during OPTIMIS development and collaboration as team members identified problems with tool availability and a “valley of death” gap between citizen developers and sustainers. The new project brings focus to bridging those gaps through use of low-code/no-code capability. OPTIMIS is an excellent example of what an AF CyberWorx win looks like: enabling high-potential follow-on projects and growing a home-grown solution to meet the needs of a wider user base. Here’s to many more wins in the future.