Productivity: New software improves efficiency, saves time

by Capt. Amy West
Air Force Reserve Command

1/21/2010 - Citizen Airman/Feb 10 -- With the level of activity at such a high rate throughout Air Force Reserve Command, you would be hard-pressed to find anyone who wouldn't like to simplify their job. With that goal in mind, AFRC is rolling out a new software program designed to improve efficiency and save people time.

The Task Management Tool is a multi-faceted program that provides a framework for creating, tracking, answering and managing a wide range of taskers, significantly improving workflow efficiency for the command's 4,000 action officers, said Bret Wilson, chief of the Network Systems Division within the Directorate of Communications at Headquarters AFRC, Robins Air Force Base, Ga.

"The program offers rapid task creation, real-time visibility, collaboration, standardization and an audit trail while eliminating duplication and storage space," Mr. Wilson said.

Initial program deployment began in January at the headquarters, the Air Reserve Personnel Center in Denver and the Office of Air Force Reserve at the Pentagon. AFRC's numbered air forces and wings can expect to begin using the program by July.

"This isn't just another software program for users to learn," said Lt. Gen. Charles E. Stenner Jr., AFRC commander. "The benefits are numerous, and TMT will drastically improve the way taskers are managed in the command."

Breck Ruppelius, principle consultant for Ascentium Federal and facilitating functional manager for AFRC's TMT installation, highlighted some of the program's features.

Interfacing with Microsoft Office Outlook and the SharePoint server, users will experience an easy-to-use environment with a familiar look and feel, Mr. Ruppelius said.

The Outlook integration provides rapid task creation. With a single click of a button, TMT packages an Outlook e-mail, adds a tracking number, and allows the initiator to include additional comments, a suspense date, and select the offices of primary responsibility and coordinating responsibility, he said.

Another program feature, Mr. Ruppelius said, is a centralized repository for supporting documents and comments related to a task. Data is saved at one team site for all action officers to upload documents to a single location or library associated with the particular task, allowing them to collaborate on a single document.

Additionally, centralized storage ensures all users have access to any documents associated with a tasker at any time.

"Oftentimes what happens now is users save e-mails and documents related to a task on their own computers, so the files are not available once members change duty stations or are on leave," Mr. Ruppelius said. That's not the case when using TMT. With the documents stored on a server, they are readily accessible today or five years from now, he said.

Mr. Wilson said this features gives users the ability to research previous tasks, enhancing the quality and timeliness of responses.

An added benefit to having single-source storage is the space saved on the network server.

"When each user saves a copy of a working document, it takes up bandwidth," Mr. Ruppelius said. "With centralized storage, members no longer need to save the document or e-mail trail."

U.S. Air Forces in Europe was the first major command to use this task management program, implementing it in 2007. Studies show USAFE has achieved a 90-percent reduction in data storage. Mr. Ruppelius said he expects AFRC to experience similar results.

Throughout the life of a tasker, users have real-time visibility on the item's status.

"There's no more picking up the phone to hunt down the location and status," Mr. Ruppelius said. "Instead, users can easily view this information within the tasking package."

With these features, TMT has proven to be a significant timesaver, Mr. Ruppelius said.

"After USAFE's implementation, EOs (executive officers) saved an hour a day, while AOs (action officers) spent 10 minutes less a day on tasker management," he said.

When it's time for the commander's review and/or approval, "it's one-stop shopping," Mr. Ruppelius said. "Since TMT packages all associated comments, e-mails and documents within each tasker, a complete picture is presented for the commander's review or approval."
TMT also offers a dashboard capability, which provides real-time metrics to measure the task completion rate, Mr. Wilson said.

During program implementation, users at the action officer, executive officer and senior leader levels will receive in-depth training, Mr. Ruppelius said. In addition, templates and intuitive training modules are available within the program to ensure standardization and ease of use.

AFRC is joining the ranks of other major commands, combatant commands and services already using TMT. Recognizing a need to improve task management within AFRC, General Stenner commissioned a 17-member integrated process team in March 2009 to chart a way ahead. Team members surveyed representatives throughout the command, who identified 120 requirements. IPT members reviewed the four best candidate systems and scored them against these requirements, recommending TMT for implementation.

(Captain West is an individual mobilization augmentee assigned to the 56th Fighter Wing public affairs office at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. She wrote this story while on a temporary duty assignment at the Headquarters AFRC public affairs office, Robins AFB, Ga.)