By Tara Clements
FORT BELVOIR, Va. – If you think the movie “Her” is futuristic, members of the Office of the Army Director for Acquisition Career Management (DACM) have someone for you to meet.
“Ellie” is her name and this virtual human looks and speaks to you just as any human would in the Virtual Acquisition Career Guide (VACG) prototype. The prototype program provides the opportunity for a user to interact with a virtual “person” and receive personalized career feedback and assistance. The Army DACM team presented the prototype to the Army DACM, Lt. Gen. William Phillips on Jan. 16.
“Even though we support and encourage mentoring across the entire community, it is still an activity that is under-utilized by our workforce and particularly so by our newer and more junior professionals,” said Craig Spisak, director of the Army Acquisition Support Center and the deputy DACM. “I believe that the VACG will not only provide that help and basic mentoring that many of that population need today, but will also expose them to the ideas and concept of a mentor-protégé relationship and get them more accustomed to it,” he added.
And while the traditional mentor-protégé relationship has been through human interaction, Ellie provides a similar capability with a few clicks and keystrokes. She won’t help with life experiences, because she has none. What she can do is check files; see where you’ve gone and where you need to be.
Ellie interfaces with the Career Acquisition Management Portal (CAMP), the Army acquisition community’s centralized personnel system, and has the capability to check a user’s file, including individual develop plan status, acquisition certification and glide path, to name a few.
During last week’s demonstration, Ellie welcomed Phillips, checked his file, noting he was “good to go” and current. At that point, Phillips, like any other user, had the opportunity to pose a question, such as, “How can I access the Defense Acquisition University class schedule?”—or anything else that might be related to career development. Ellie politely responds both verbally and in writing right on the monitor, taking the typical FAQs to a new, interactive level.
Through a series of testing and data building, Ellie has increased her ability to answer questions at a nearly 80 percent accuracy rate. “She has the ability to learn and get smarter with additional questions and input, and with time, we’re aiming for a 95 percent accuracy rate,” said Scott Greene, chief, Army DACM Office Acquisition Education and Training Branch.
Bringing Ellie to life and continuing to develop her knowledge is not a small undertaking. The Army DACM team has partnered with the University of Southern California’s Institute for Creative Technologies and the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, Simulation & Training Technology Center to bring Ellie to this point, but there’s a long way to go.
“We’re in the very early stages of building the VACG. We’re taking great care to test the prototype and determine if this would be a good career guidance capability for the Army Acquisition Workforce,” said Kelly Terry, project lead. “To date, focus group testing has been on our contracting community and testing the application among members of Program Executive Office for Simulation, Training and Instrumentation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, but we are looking to expand into other career fields in the future,” she added.
How far in the future? According to Greene, if the results and feedback from upcoming testing are successful, the acquisition community may have a chance to meet Ellie in an initial version later in this fiscal year.
And from Phillips’ point of view, “this is very exciting.”