Social Solutions to Coast Guard Acquisition Strategy

April 29, 2011
By Rachel Eisenhower

As the U.S. Coast Guard examines new ways to consolidate its logistics systems into a single business model, it is using social media platforms to open a dialogue with government and industry. In the process, the guard is learning how the acquisition community responds to unfamiliar tools in their familiar environment.

In this month's issue of SIGNAL Magazine, Editor in Chief Robert K. Ackerman describes how these social platforms are helping to solve age-old problems in his article, "Coast Guard Logistics Learns Social Media."

The Coast Guard is using social media, such as blogs and wikis, to gain input for the development of its Coast Guard Logistics Information Management System (CG-LIMS), which is designed to consolidate its logistics business processes into a standard set of information technology tools and guidelines. According to Capt. Daniel P. Taylor, USCG, project manager for CG-LIMS, this use of social media is promoting transparency and collaboration as the Coast Guard defines its new acquisition strategy.

While the Coast Guard has been working for years to consolidate its processes, the efforts often ended in a more complex and difficult system than what existed, says Capt. Taylor. So the guard changed its approach. Using a blog tool on Intelink, project managers can now bring team members up to speed on transition efforts, and the Coast Guard periodically makes blogs open to the public. The tool has helped the guard communicate with both staff and industry.

In addition, the guard uses from the U.S. General Services Administration, which allows anyone with a .mil or .gov email address to use open-source wikis, blogs and bulletin boards to share new information, respond to questions and obtain insight. According to Capt. Taylor, this tool has helped create a collaborative environment:

"It was very useful to solve the short-term need that I had to communicate rapidly with industry and others, to share where we were and get their feedback on potential direction that we might take and use them as a sounding board," he offers.

While these tools won't be the ultimate technology used for CG-LIMS, Capt. Taylor says the Coast Guard has learned many valuable lessons during the process. The captain originally expected people to be reluctant to share information, but he has found a willingness to examine problems and share solutions.

"I was frankly surprised by the amount of feedback that I did get, both by name and anonymously-some of it from large companies," he reveals.

However, Capt. Taylor does relate that the tools come with certain disadvantages. There is a big learning curve with the wiki tools, which the captain says is too great for this to be the final solution. Program leaders and users must be comfortable, he explains, and the wikis seem too complicated. "Usability is paramount," notes Capt. Taylor.

Ultimately, Capt. Taylor says, the Coast Guard hopes the social media experience sets the tone for a collaborative, transparent relationship for the final acquisition strategy.

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