Lt. Col. Daniel J. Finkenstadt, USAF, PhD is an assistant professor in the Department of Defense Management. He is responsible for the USAF Contracting communities Enterprise Sourcing program. In this role, he develops curriculum and conducts research related to defense acquisition, supply chain management and innovation. He is the Principal Investigator for the Simulation and Ideation Lab for Applied Science (SILAS) in DDM. He holds a doctorate in Marketing and a Master of Science in Management from the Kenan-Flagler Business School, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and an MBA in Strategic Purchasing from NPS. Finkenstadt is a 22-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force having served in enlisted roles in aircraft maintenance and contracting, and in commissioned leadership roles in contracting. He has worked in operational contracting in Texas, North Carolina and throughout Europe. He led a Regional Contracting office in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom. He has worked in space acquisition/joint intelligence positions with the National Reconnaissance Office as well as Air Force Contracting (SAF/AQC) staff at the Pentagon. He supported the Department of the Air Force’s COVID-19 acquisition task force during the initial response to the pandemic in 2020. This experience has shaped much of his research since joining NPS. He is the father of three kids, is married to his High School sweetheart (for 22 years) and has way too many pets (his words not ours).
I came to NPS in 2010 as an MBA student in GSBPP as a contracting officer in the USAF. The most important thing I learned was that you need to advance theory through practice. We worked on projects for real users and leaned on literature and theory to advance real world solutions. The most impactful moment has actually been a series of small moments. When I see my students get excited about their research and the products they build for real users. They have worked for the WH COVID Task Force, DLA, Army Futures, National Guard, VCSAF, FFRDCs etc. Seeing them integrate, learn and advance knowledge at the highest levels of government without fear of failure and with a curious energy keeps me going. I count all the small moments as one amazing impactful experience. That and when the students in 2021 decided to name the new lab after my teenage son who inspired their gamification research, SILAS.
Defense acquisition is one of the largest systems we operate in the government – yet we have no test and evaluation unit for acquisition policies or practice. That would never fly for a weapon system. We have contracting for R&D, but not R&D for contracting. Not every innovation will be a cool new widget or app. Sometimes, innovating the edges of the day-to-day operations/policy/procedures can yield massive returns at scale. Modeling and simulation allows us as defense acquisition personnel, the ability to test out ideas without the fear of failure.
Dr. Erik Helzer and I have been looking at this with respect to gaming and simulations for defense acquisition personnel. DA specialists operate in a high-risk, tightly-regulated, zero-defect environment with acute public scrutiny. Decades of research in organizational science caution that such environments, which offer little room for experimentation and put a high price on failure, instill a performance orientation and stifle learning. So we observe a paradox: How do organizations promote effective, deep, and lifelong learning in professional fields where the conditions most supportive of learning are perceived as a risk to ultimate mission? Games, sim, models get after this paradox in an education and training environment. So far we find that games work about as good as in person instruction if they are delivered correctly. However, they aren’t a full replacement. We find that they would serve better as an augmentation function. Simulations and wargames – however – can be incredible tools for learning how to make new products, processes and ideas mainline into the daily operational workflow as students learn both the material being taught – but also the concept of operations for using this material in new and innovative ways.
So I think Dr. Jake Sotiriadis of NIU demonstrated this very well with his futures intelligence briefings that he delivered to our students and faculty using VR walkthroughs. It made the futures concepts that are traditionally read on paper come to life as 3D and interactive. The participant got to feel the future vs. just read about it. That evokes an urgency and call to action that traditional reports just can’t create. Immersive domes are amazing. NC State has 3D presentation rooms at its Centennial campus. Members of AF Contracting got to experience courses in that environment. It is so much more engaging b/c the interactive nature of the classroom forces student awareness and attention.
Academia has no value in and of itself. It has to inform real decisions in the world. We see so many disciplines become self-licking ice cream cones of elitist experts writing ego-driven papers that are shooting for citations vs impact. NPS has the remarkable position to be so close to the warfighter that this should be a trap that’s really hard for us to fall into. However, NPS is not great at working across campus and is hit or miss outside of campus. NPS has one of the easiest agreements offices I’ve ever worked with. They are great at helping professors and programs create CRADAs etc to work with industry and other agencies. We have the ability to tie into so many areas. We need to encourage the use of professional social media to make contacts with like-minded researchers and practitioners. We also need to maximize the use of project based learning. Not just case studies. Case studies analyze what did happen or might happen. Project based learning is about using educational skills to work for solutions with respect to what IS happening in the field. That takes faculty that are incentivized to pursue areas of research that don’t always come with money. The field is a source of data and inspiration, but we have to walk the tightrope of not becoming a pure consulting organization – because that limits discovery at the edge.
Most of my personal research and publications are around supply chain topics stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. I’ve included some cites/links below. Students have been working on more gamification research including the development of digital escape rooms for teaching defense acquisition principles/concepts. We have an entire cohort using a CRADA with Resilinc to leverage their commercial supply chain mapping platform to build 3 unique supply chain wargames that both teach supply chain disruption management concepts AND expose students to leading-edge commercial products. GEAC even helped us build a web-based tool for constructing case studies and war games in a manner that allows for asynchronous use and/or collaboration across distances. I have students teamed with the MITRE Corp. to build out their supply chain system of trust. We have four Hacking 4 Defense projects (running in my new cohort, including a Naval officer) that range from helping the AF with supply chain risk mgmt for SW, fuels logistics management, services contract management and even a project for VCSAF Gen. Allvin reimagining all of USAF personnel management. I have a student that built a source selection simulation exercise and was able to demonstrate how poorly DA personnel are at guessing which evaluation criteria matter most vs. how they actually make choices. I have a student evaluating visualization theory and models for developing the best business intelligence data displays etc. So, we have a lot going on. We were able to demonstrate that for Sec Skelly yesterday. One of my students even designed the interior modifications and furniture layout for SILAS+ the updates that the Foundation is sponsoring. Here is a video of a contracting video game built by my students that started the SILAS endeavor: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zknt6KGPaV0
Pending Book: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/supply-chain-immunity-robert-handfield/1142234178