Web-Based Solution Helps U.S. Air Force Do Better Business with Small Business

Hillmer developed and managed strategic communications for the Secretary of the Air Force, Office of Small Business Programs. As part of an overall strategic communications and information technology solution, Hillmer consulted with Air Force leaders to develop a new web presence that more accurately reflects the Air Force’s small business strategy, alleviates the workload of overburdened staff and helps small businesses better reach targeted buying commands worldwide.

Problem

The Air Force Office of Small Business Programs had been relying upon an outdated website with a back-end database that was not equipped to handle the new and increasing demands of a robust Air Force small business community. The website was supposed to hold key data about acquisition forecasts and organizational activities as well as connect small businesses with the right personnel within the Air Force, but it was unreliable due to outdated programming and technological tools. Additionally, Air Force staff members were besieged with misrouted and improperly prioritized inquiries from both industry and internal Air Force customers. The lack of an automated, effective website frustrated Air Force leaders who recognized the importance of—and efficiencies that could be realized with—a web tool that could address information flow, scheduling priorities and market research needs.

Solution

Hillmer worked with senior executives in the Air Force to plan a multi-pronged website solution that addressed the needs of internal and external audiences. To solve the issue of an outdated, unreliable back-end database, Hillmer used a combination of PHP, MySQL and Flash to develop a solution that included a web-based, database-driven, long-range acquisition forecast tool, the first of its kind in use for the Department of Defense, and an easy-to-use content management system. The “Contract Opportunities” tool features a user-friendly interface for small businesses to search and view not only current opportunities but forecasts of projected contracting needs for the coming years. The information and search requests can be easily filtered and sorted by geographic areas (such as state or Air Force base), dollar-value ranges, purchasing organization and solicitation type. Another key feature of the robust website Hillmer developed is the automated stratification and tracking of incoming requests and a searchable market research database of small businesses interested in supporting the Air Force.

Processes

Hillmer developed and employed a rigid production process, including an intensive user focus group and testing ground, to create and maintain the website, which includes a public-facing portion and a firewalled portion for government employees. Hillmer worked closely with Air Force personnel to develop and implement flexible requirements and content management processes that are inclusive of field personnel and interested Air Force stakeholders. This flexible requirements process allowed Hillmer to respond quickly to changing Air Force needs without sacrificing schedule deadlines. The content management process allows for daily changes to the website to accommodate late breaking events and other news as well as strategic changes indicated by Hillmer’s monthly web analytics.

Tools/Skills

  • Content management
  • Event planning and management
  • Information technology consulting
  • Magazine design and production
  • Media relations
  • Multimedia production
  • Project/Program management
  • Search engine optimization
  • Strategic communications
  • Technical support and maintenance
  • Web analytics
  • Web design and development

Stats

Information collected with the “Register Your Small Business Tool” is accessible by approximately 180 government account holders. In its first full month of use, 178 individuals used the service 865 times. The web-based “Contract Opportunities” tool developed for the Air Force was not only the first of its kind in the Department of Defense, but it also has been proven to be valuable to the small business community. Over the most recent 12-month period, 12,689 unique visitors have searched Air Force contract opportunities 42,235 times. Over the same period, 20,681 unique visitors have used the website 33,017 times to use other tools and learn about Air Force small business outreach initiatives.

Accomplishment

As a result of the web-based solution Hillmer put in place, Air Force small business professionals are able to focus their resources on value-added activities resulting in improved responsiveness and increased efficiency. In fact, the market research tool alone is projected to save the Air Force more than a quarter million dollars in labor costs over the next five years. This efficiency brings better customer service to both inquiring small businesses as well as buying command personnel. Small businesses are quickly filling the database and market research is becoming easier and faster for small business specialists nationwide.