When the new Army Chief of Staff wanted the mountains of paper off his desk, it was up to Lt. Col. (P) Michael Gilligan and his team to find a way to automate headquarters' systems. Little more than a year later, the project is now its own office – Army Enterprise Staff Management Systems, or AESMS – with plans to have all of Army HQ paperless by July.
When was the AESMS office first stood up?
The office was stood up in October 2016, and that was a result of our efforts in implementing a task management solution to the headquarters department of the Army. And in our efforts with HQDA, a lot of the other Army commands and organizations subordinate to HQDA started coming to us seeking similar solutions to what we're providing, and as a result we had to establish a project office to manage all those requirements.
When you set out, what was the problem you were looking to solve?
HQDA identified a capability gap with task management. Prior to us implementing the task management tool for them, they were leveraging a technology-based tracking system; however, they were still using the blue folders to manage all their correspondence, as they were routing them through office to office for the various levels of edits, reviews and concurrences. The capability we’re providing them digitizes the entire process from the version control of the documents, editing of the documents, to including digital signatures for the final product.
It eliminates the personnel walking down the hallways and eliminates the stacks of papers. And it provides real-time feedback on exactly where the document is in the process and who actually has it at that time. Senior leaders can look and query that at any time and figure out where things are.
Do the blue folders still exist?
In the end, the blue folders will be phased out. Right now, the plan is for HQDA to be fully operational using the new task management tool by June.
Why didn’t you just go with the Pentagon’s system?
The product that we're using to meet HQDA’s requirements is the task management tool, which is a product of the Accenture Federal Services. We came to that solution based on the requirement that we had to be able to interact with OSD’s staff management solution. That was a specified requirement that we had to meet; we couldn't fold on that.
As we were doing our market research at the time, the task management tool was the only commercial off-the-shelf system that was able to interact with CATMS [Correspondence and Task Management System] out of the box.
What functionality will the system have when it reaches full operating capability in July?
By July, the vision end-state on how HQDA staff will be running is that you won't see the folders with the staff action summary sheets on people's desks. It'll all be virtual in their computer and on the network.
So, first, the elimination of all those staffing folders. Secondly, I'm expecting the senior leaders to see efficiencies in the timeliness of actions being processed. Where normally you would have a policy memorandum or a revision to an Army regulation or a memorandum for record being staffed through – that would take several days to a couple weeks for it to go through three different offices – we're hoping to be able to measure that in the number of hours or maybe even the number of days.
And then, obviously, we're going to eliminate a lot of waste, with using a lot of paper and printing out things and whatnot. And, lastly, we'll be able to have a concise archiving process because anything that goes into the system will be archived.
Paperwork management isn’t always sexy. How important is this tool?
For me, it’s that I can go to bed at night saying, I'm saving the taxpayer and the government money.
At a minimum, it provides a capability, at least right now, within the Army that makes everybody's job more efficient and in some aspects easier to do. Whether that be a simple policy letter or whether it be an Army regulation or revision to doctrine, in some way that has a direct impact to the war fighter.
What is the future of AESMS?
A year from now, I see HQDA running self-sustained as far as working with AESMS and the task management tool. But I also see our interactions with other Army agencies increasing.
Supporting HQDA was just the start of the evolution. I would say that we're going to probably have ten or so additional customers this time next year. Then, five years from now, I see this, hopefully, as a formal enterprise solution for the Army and maybe DoD; maybe not being hosted at ALTESS [Acquisition, Logistics and Technology Enterprise Systems and Services] but maybe one of the DoD clouds or in the commercial cloud environment.
What advice do you have for other project managers thinking of starting a new program office?
If you're thinking about it within DoD, as far as trying to develop a solution set to fill in a capability gap, I would say definitely foster relationships with your industry partners because they either already have a solution or they're already thinking about the same solution that you're trying to do. … And, two, when you're dealing with information technology, things are continually evolving, things are always changing, whether it be in the cybersecurity arena or whether it be in computing capacity, computing power or whether it be in software code. ... The more you can leverage your relationship with industry, the more you can be in step with them and in step with the modernization.
Aaron Boyd is an awarding-winning journalist currently serving as editor of Federal Times — a Washington, D.C. institution covering federal workforce and contracting for more than 50 years — and Fifth Domain — a news and information hub focused on cybersecurity and cyberwar from a civilian, military and international perspective.