This year SMSgt. Jacob Coenen, Inspector General Senior Enlisted Leader for the 115th Fighter Wing, participated in the SBIR Ready program. During this process he was able to partner with the Center for Technology Commercialization on a challenge he was facing in his office. Ultimately, several civilian companies pitched their solutions for Coenen’s challenge.
“The problem I presented was in regards to our Risk Based Sampling Strategy and pulling information from Management Internal Control Toolset and Inspector General Evaluation Management System and being able to analyze it,” said Coenen. “The solutions that were pitched included data analyzing tools and software that could pull data from MICT and IGEMS.”
Part of Coenen’s responsibilities in the IG office are to create exercises to test how the base responds to different situations in order to prepare the unit for real-world events. This office also inspects multiple areas and programs on base to find errors and deficiencies so that they may be corrected, said Coenen. The IG office is accustomed to being proactive in finding solutions when faced with challenges, this is a valuable mindset that AFWERX is trying to implement across the Air Force.
However, finding solutions within the bubble of the Wisconsin Air National Guard (WIANG) and the military in general is much different than working with companies to find solutions in the civilian sector.
“I really didn’t know what to expect for solutions,” said Coenen. “I’ve been in the military for 25 years with little exposure to working with civilian companies. This experience, working with the ForwardWERX team and talking with civilian companies, has opened my eyes to how businesses pitch their ideas and receive feedback. At first, I felt bad providing feedback to the companies by asking if their databases could do more than they could, but I later learned this feedback is essential to better their chances of being selected.”
Not only is the challenge presented by Coenen an issue for the WIANG, but it is an issue for all Air Force IG offices with additional members that are able to provide information and support as potential end users.
“I’ve been in the office for over seven years and have built relationships with other offices across the nation and we all share the same issues,” said Coenen. “All my POCs were eager to listen in to the companies and help me determine which business would best fit our issue.”
As a result of Coenen’s internal connections, civilian companies that pitched their solutions to Coenen also have an opportunity to market their idea to a much wider audience if they receive Small Business Innovation Research funding. Not only is this a great opportunity for Coenen to assist in resolving issues across his office and many others, but it is an opportunity for civilian companies to receive feedback and support from multiple subject matter experts. However, a barrier in this process is translating what can be two very different languages.
“The biggest challenge in working with civilian companies is being able to understand common acronyms used in the military and comprehend how we operate,” said Coenen. “If a company could partner up with someone in the military or someone who was prior service, communication would vastly improve.”
Coenen also emphasized the importance of having active involvement from the National Guard Bureau due to overcoming military regulations, security requirements and various other necessary approvals.
“We are essentially telling the world the areas we are not effective and may show some weak areas with some key programs,” said Coenen. “A way we could improve the communication and share data with civilian companies is having the NGB IG office more involved. They have access to everybody’s data and fewer hoops to jump through as far as sharing information with companies to test their products. A challenge we may see once a company is able to share their program is ensuring government computers are able to access the website or download the data.”
Although there may be more challenges down the line, Coenen’s eagerness and innovative and proactive mindset are a perfect match for the ForwardWERX program. This way of thinking is also incredibly valuable for civilian companies looking to partner with guard members and create positive change and solutions for the United States Air Force.
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