October 16, 2015

Expert Interview: How Oracle OpenWorld Changed the U.S. Air Force

Lieutenant Colonel Michael Ortiz is the Chief Digital Officer at the Headquarters Air Reserve Personnel Center. He was a recent guest on the TechnologyAdvice Expert Interview Series to share his insight on how the Air Force is learning from private companies like Oracle and sharing their story at Oracle OpenWorld 2015. The series, which is hosted by TechnologyAdvice’s Josh Bland, explores a variety of business and technology landscapes through conversations with industry leaders.

In this episode, we discuss why a positive customer experience is so critical, what it’s like to keep track of over one million records, and what Lt. Col. Ortiz is most looking forward to at Oracle OpenWorld 2015.

SEE ALSO: 8 Reasons You Must Attend Oracle OpenWorld 2015

Below are a few highlights from our conversation:

TA: What’s the history of the Air Force’s relationship with HR software?

Lt. Col. Ortiz: In 1954, headquarters at Reserve Personnel Center was established. The main purpose for the Air Reserve Personnel Center during the early ’50s was to capture data and records of our airmen that were departing from active service. Prior to 1954, many of our servicemen would leave the service — in particular, the Air Force — and we had no control over where they were. They still had a military obligation by law and the Department of Defense found that it was a problem whenever we needed to recall previously active airmen in the service. So really the Air Reserve Personnel Center was created and established as a record center.

Through the first ten years of the establishment, the Air Reserve Personnel Center became one of the most technologically advanced HR offices west of the Mississippi. We say that because in 1957, the Air Force decided to procure a computer mainframe system which was the most high-end system west of the Mississippi at that time. It was the RCA 501 and it basically managed all of our airmen’s records.

Historically, when we look at the history books in ARPC, every ten years — since 1954 through 2015 — we leveraged technology and innovation that was high-end during those eras. The ARPC involved those technologies and policies that were in the Air Force at the time and built innovation for generations of airmen. Every ten years we noticed that we would find the best-in-breed, test it, and ultimately the Air Force, as a whole, would inherit some of those programs and those technologies.

TA: How is the Air Force Personnel Center working with private companies to stay ahead of the curve?

Lt. Col. Ortiz: A year and a half ago, our current commander, Brigadier General Bo Mahaney, took command of the Air Reserve Personnel Center. One of the first things he and I worked on was transitioning the way we do our business. I wrote a whitepaper for General Mahaney that talked about creating a small, very nimble, agile, and flexible office with three or four people tops in this office.

We coined the office “Skunk Works” from the old Lockheed Martin Skunk Works team that created the high-end aircrafts such as the B-2 bomber, where you didn’t even know what they were working on until they launched it. So Skunk Works was created at ARPC last year, and the number one goal for us at the time in 2014 was to leverage relationships across both federal and private sectors.

We did a lot of research on companies and federal agencies that were doing things around innovation — and not just technology but business processes and human behavioral sciences. So that was our goal. We’ve been able to connect with over 20 agencies in the past year, and we’ve built relationships across both federal and private sectors.

The first company that we worked with was Oracle because we already had a relationship. Now recently we’ve met with LinkedIn and Good Technology. We are also working with many companies in Silicon Valley, such as Y Media Labs. They build apps for companies like Apple, American Express, and other big names.

We’ve also decided to touch into the academia side of the house, so we have a relationship with Valencia University from Orlando. We have a relationship with Colorado Technical University, and we also have a relationship with the United States Air Force Academy. We thought that was important because we have a lot of bright, young individuals, Millennials and iGeneration folks that are in academia. We also have a lot of Ph.D. doctoral students who are in the private sector at the C-suite level. Instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, Skunk Works decided that, “Let’s go ahead and reach out to academia and have them help us understand what people know and do out in the world.”

TA: What does collaboration look like between a private company like Oracle and the Air Force?

Lt. Col. Ortiz: So the collaboration — and when I say collaboration, it’s not just we made a phone call and have their business card — we actually met with these different agencies face-to-face. We have helped them with some of their initiatives, and they’re now helping us with some of our initiatives. For example, we have an event with Colorado Tech University on the 15th of October. We’re going to be at the Denver Tech Center with over a hundred Ph.D. doctoral students.

They’ve asked us to give them a problem, so we’re going to give them some of problems that we’re dealing with — innovation and HR and pay — in the Air Force. Their task is basically to come back and answer that and use it for their dissertation. Whatever we end up finding in this journey, we’ll be able to harvest some of the great ideas that many of these young and seasoned professionals are going to offer us.

That’s breaking glass, and it’s now gotten the attention from the Pentagon. The Pentagon is taking that program and reinventing it for the entire Air Force and hopefully for other agencies in the DOD. So all that came out of our office, and it’s just in the last year of building relationships across state lines.

TA: What was your biggest learning moment or takeaway from Oracle OpenWorld 2014?

Lt. Col. Ortiz: The thing that we picked up, for the most part, was really the concept of how you improve your experience for your customers. What types of tools in the toolbox available to you — in this case, the Oracle toolbox — are meaningful for your plan as you build out towards the future? What we were able to find at Oracle OpenWorld was certain products that we thought were very meaningful to us. One of the products that we witnessed during a demo was the Oracle Policy Automation tool.

What we immediately said to ourselves after leaving San Francisco was, “We can eliminate a lot of waste and inefficiency and redirect workforces around our community to do work that needs to get done, that can’t be done because we’re mired in the problem and not the solution.” What we found was that OPA was a viable solution for our service centers and our 3 million plus customers. As we left the conference, we began to really do a lot of studying around that particular product and ultimately ended up purchasing that functionality.

We’re now building towards creating applications in our Oracle Service Cloud environment for airmen to use so that we can evolve it to things such as mobile device and applications on a mobile device for our airmen. Without attending the OpenWorld Session, we wouldn’t have been able to build the strategy to ask the Pentagon and leadership that this needed to be acquired, and the money that we needed should be spent on this item.

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Looking for more advice on cutting edge technology? Make sure to check out Oracle OpenWorld 2015 in San Francisco on October 25-29th, where you can learn about the latest HR software trends and cutting edge technologies. Industry experts include Meagen Eisenberg, Chief Marketing Officer at MongoDB; Alistair Pereira, CRM Manager at Oceaneering International Inc; and Annalisa Church, Director of Experience Design & Automation at Dell, Inc.

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