Integration Cell marks first anniversary as Air University continues transformation

MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. --

This February marks the first anniversary since the creation of the Air University’s (AU) Integration Cell. Designed to assist the nearly 20 schools and centers within the university in their continuing efforts to discover and develop professional networks and relationships, as well as to identify education and research opportunities, this modest office of 12 military and civilian employees has already made a big difference in AU’s efforts to “be the intellectual and leadership-development center of the Air Force.”

In February 2016, AU Commander and President Lt. Gen. Steven Kwast directed the activation of the Integration Cell, tasking it to create and implement tools that would be key to realizing the goals laid out in the 2015 AU Strategic Plan.  The strategic plan acknowledges the tremendous work happening within AU but also challenges AU to think well beyond the mission of educating Airmen. The Integration Cell has been helping to align and focus AU resources to strategy and priorities ever since. 

“The Integration Cell has helped to promote a culture shift at AU, from stovepipes of functions and information to a more flat and collaborative organization,” said Kwast. “This type of large-scale transformation does not happen overnight, but I’ve already seen remarkable progress toward that at AU—and part of that momentum can be attributed to the Integration Cell’s energy and creativity in finding novel ways to connect and inform the staff and students.”  

One of the most recent and significant tools the Integration Cell has created for networking and collaboration is the Common Operating Picture, or “COP,” located on an intranet website that all who have common access cards can see on their network-linked computers.

“In essence, the COP provides a dashboard accessible for all AU personnel to find calendars of visitors and speaking events at the university, current AU research topics, communities of interest, and the latest AU research papers, among other helpful resources,” said Todd Westhauser, the Integration Cell director. “Our vision is to expand the COP beyond AU, eventually allowing other universities and industry to easily see what we’re doing and encourage even more opportunities for partnership.”

The Integration Cell’s current team of instructors, researchers, administrators, and planners—all “matrixed” to the cell from other AU organizations—meet daily around their teaching and research schedules to formulate and refine ideas and initiatives. Posters of AU, Air Force, and Air Education and Training Command missions, visions and strategies, as well as dry-erase boards full of idea proposals, line the walls of a collaboration room on the second floor of building 693, the Integration Cell’s new “home” near the Academic Circle. New “smart boards” pepper various rooms and offer a way to bring up presentations from laptops while talking virtually to those not collocated at the university. Hundreds of tabbed books from those on military strategy like “Pure Strategy: Power and Principle in the Space and Information Age,” by Everett Dolman, to manuals on improving organizational structure like retired Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s “Team of Teams: New Rules for Engagement in a Complex World,” dot the tables and bookshelves. A visitor to the office area will have no doubt that “big-picture” work is taking place here.

“From the beginning, the Integration Cell set ambitious goals,” said Dr. Dale Hayden, a senior researcher in the Integration Cell. “We don’t have tasking authority, and thus must use the foundation of trust and relationships we’ve built to encourage—not impede—the creativity and tremendous efforts of the AU chain of command, its AU deans, the faculty, the staff, and the students.”

Hayden said that the Integration Cell has taken on redesigning AU research where responsibility no longer lies within a single organization, but rather cuts across the university, accountable through leadership and the chain of command. 

“We created Research Task Forces designed to tackle the most pressing topics for today and tomorrow’s Air Force,” Hayden said.

Research Task Forces (RTFs) are chartered by the AU vice commander, Maj. Gen. Timothy Leahy, and report through the chain of command, covering such diverse areas as airpower; intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; command and control; space; deterrence; and cyber. They can be easily accessed through the COP and the All Partners Access Network or APAN, an unclassified DOD information-sharing service.

“The RTFs are designed to exist only as long as the Air Force needs them for relevant research and set the stage for addressing topics of greatest interest to Airmen across the globe,” added Hayden.

Another notable achievement spearheaded by the Integration Cell was moving research from the outdated corporate structure of working groups, boards, and councils, which met only annually, to reporting quarterly or more frequently to the AU Strategy Council, chaired by the AU commander and president and comprised of AU senior leaders and commanders. 

“The Strategy Council not only established the overall research agenda for the university, but also directs the appropriate resources toward the most challenging topics of today,” said Hayden. “As a part of the move toward being responsive to AU and the Air Force, the Integration Cell worked to establish a research topics list where students and faculty can draw topics for consideration.  The list is prioritized against the Air Force Strategic Master Plan and the AU Strategic Plan.”

The topics list, which AU faculty are free to add to throughout the year, forms the basis for AU directing its resources to support Air Force initiatives. 

“The Integration Cell places tremendous value on the resource of time and will be working to ensure time expenditures and investments are appropriate for the actions and efforts undertaken,” said Hayden. 

Ultimately, Air University sees the Integration Cell as a smart investment now that will pay dividends later. 

“I envision the Integration Cell as being the ‘core of ideas’ at AU,” said Kwast. “It’s helping us find and capitalize on common-ground areas between our schools here at AU and well beyond—nationally and internationally. As we grow this culture of information sharing, I’m confident we’ll save resources while aligning our efforts with Air Force and national defense-level strategy and priorities.”

More information about Air University and its continuing efforts toward transformation can be found on its recently revamped public website, www.AirUniversity.af.mil. The Integration Cell and its Communities of Interest can also be found on the site at www.AirUniversity.af.mil/IntegrationCell/