Doing Business With the Defense Commissary Agency

Information about the Defense Commissary Agency<@VM>The CIO File: Kendra Warren

Things to note

Commissaries generate about $5 billion in sales annually, and the sales forecast for fiscal 2004 is $5.2 billion. To help manage the stores, the Defense Department established a marketing business unit within DeCA. It came about after it was found many manufacturers had a hard time doing business with DeCA because of the complexities in dealing with the many military distributors who provide daily delivery services. This unit reviews products to ensure they are still what the patron wants and at a good price.

Since the commissary system is supported by congressional appropriations, federal government regulations apply to it.

Commissaries are considered part of the pay and benefits package for the military. In an August 1999 Government Accounting Office report, the commissary benefit was ranked second by enlisted members and third by officers among the quality-of-life factors that made it worth staying in the military.

Address

Defense Commissary Agency

ATTN: SSP

1300 E Ave.

Fort Lee, VA 23801-1800

(804) 734-8253


www.commissaries.com

Founded: 1991

Director: Air Force Maj. Gen. Michael Wiedemer

Employees: About 18,000

What it does: The Defense Commissary Agency operates commissaries, which provide groceries and household goods to active military personnel, their families, military retirees and other authorized users. These patrons save an average of 30 percent on goods compared to what they would pay through commercial outlets. DeCA was created to help streamline the commissary operation while saving money.

Major subagencies: 276 commissaries and 12 Navy Exchange Marts worldwide. There are two business areas: Commissary Operations, which finances resale stores, command and region headquarters and support services; and the Commissary Resale Stocks, which finances the inventory of goods.

Number crunching

2004 budget request: $1.1 billion

2003 budget: $1 billion

2002 budget: $1 billion


The Web site: I got to "Doing Business With DeCA" (www.commissaries.com/business.htm) from the homepage by clicking on the "Business" header. This could be clearer, for instance saying "Doing business with..." but it's better than nothing, and certainly better than other Web sites. Once inside, there is a wealth of information on working with DeCA, including contracts up for award and previously awarded. One thing I really like is that it's explained on this page how to search for DeCA work on FedBizOpps.gov. That might be obvious to some, but not to those who've never worked with the federal government before.

Commissaries generate about $5 billion in sales annually, and the sales forecast for fiscal 2004 is $5.2 billion. To help manage the stores, the Defense Department established a marketing business unit within DeCA. It came about after it was found many manufacturers had a hard time doing business with DeCA because of the complexities in dealing with the many military distributors who provide daily delivery services. This unit reviews products to ensure they are still what the patron wants and at a good price.

Kendra Warren

Title: Director of information technology and chief information officer

Took the job: May 2002

Hometown: "Raised in an Air Force family. I rarely lived anywhere for long!"

Home now: "Dayton, Ohio, is where I have the longest roots, and it is the place I now consider home. For this assignment, I've relocated to Virginia."

Family: Two young boys

Hobbies: "I love to find time for hot-air balloon flights. The tranquility and beauty of a flight can erase any stress that life creates. At home, the boys get my time. The three of us are constantly on the go with their school or sports schedules, and we're voracious readers. I share my enthusiasm for gardening and collecting (too many things!) with them also."

Currently reading: "Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation" by Joseph Ellis, and "Jefferson's Great Gamble: The Remarkable Story of Jefferson, Napoleon and the Men Behind the Louisiana Purchase" by Charles Cerami.

Alma mater: Undergraduate degree from Wright State University, master's degree from Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government.

WT: What are the main technology needs of your agency? How are they different from what someone might think of as typical technology needs?

Warren: Like CIOs everywhere who are challenged to do more with less, I lead a team of dedicated professionals who wrestle with unrelenting budget pressures to meet increasing information security demands, resolve interoperability and integration issues and deliver ways to more effectively exploit the business value of our data. Our needs include refining delivery models for agile supply-side and demand-side business processes, improving our IT governance and managing risk.

Our enterprise is different in terms of our obligations to the taxpayer and our social compact with our patrons. Each of DeCA's IT initiatives must produce the benefits of greater savings and service and lower operating costs.

We are focusing on merging systems and streamlining our data strategies to improve our decision-making and transforming fledgling customer relationship management into stellar customer relationship optimization. We rely heavily on our quickly growing data warehouse, powered by Teradata, to provide commissary managers and executives with cost, sales and inventory information that facilitates timely decisions on product selection and revenue trends.

The data warehouse also allows the agency to cut overhead costs by providing our managers with an instant self-help view of key data.

We also have some unique network and help desk needs. DeCA provides the commissary benefit in nearly 280 stores around the world ? every minute of every day somewhere we're open for business. Because our commissaries are in geographic locations as diverse as Guam, Turkey, Germany, Iceland and across the United States, we have an extensive communications network and complexity in information assurance as well as system service assistance requirements. Working with the telecommunications standards, languages and cultures of so many countries is a challenge.

WT: In a recent General Accounting Office report, your agency was commended for cutting staff without sacrificing quality. Did technology play a role in that?

Warren: Our IT initiatives played an important role in our quality of service. They have enabled us to save considerable operational expense by consolidating and automating our business processes, such as ordering and vendor bill paying, while also moving the agency toward more modern platforms and data management strategy. For example, our computer-assisted ordering system captures front-end sales data and determines the proper number of items to be reordered. Using [this system] our commissary workers can maintain a more effective product mix and stock level.

WT: What do you look for in companies with which you are thinking of doing business?

Warren: I look for innovation, sound system-engineering practices and a strong track record of performance. Additionally, I value three qualities: loyalty, integrity and excellence.

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