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Capt. Madison Tikalsky, USAF

MBA, Acquisition & Contract Management ‘23

Capt. Madison Tikalsky is a Contracting Officer in the U.S. Air Force with five years of experience. While at NPS, she earned professional certifications in contracting and project management. She is currently assigned to the 763rd Enterprise Sourcing Squadron at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois.

Tikalsky was part of a team of NPS Department of Defense Management students whose research assessed the impact of implementing an Air Force-wide policy for software bills of materials (SBOMs). In their senior capstone project, they applied the Hacking for Defense® (H4D) approach to a problem generated by sponsor Air Force EITaaS, a Department of the Air Force program initiative based in Hanscom Air Force Base working to reinforce their cyber supply chain. The team produced a comprehensive protocol for the utilization of SBOMs within the DOD, outlining key strategies and considerations through each stage of implementation. Read their article, “What If? A Diverse Exploration of AI’s Impact in Contract Use Cases,” in the March 2024 issue of Contract Management Magazine.

"NPS gave me the tools to not only identify problems and possible solutions but the ability to think through and address it at every level."

Reflecting on your time at the Naval PostgraduateSchool, can you share any key takeaways or significant lessons learned from your time at NPS that have impacted you in your current role?

The most significant lesson I took away from NPS is how many layers and implications a problem and solution can have. That there are so many different aspects that you have to consider in both operational contracting and acquisition programs. NPS gave me the tools to not only identify problems and possible solutions but the ability to think through and address it at every level. 

What inspired you to address the challenge of securing the software supply chain with your research, and how did that lead to the focus on the concept of a Software Bill of Materials? Were there any personal experiences or observations that fueled your interest in addressing this particular challenge?

I think our team was so successful in working through the challenge of software supply chain security because none of us had any previous experience with the field at all. A lot of my passion for the subject came by focusing on solving this issue for a Department of the Air Force (DAF) program and knowing our final recommendations could immediately help both the specific DAF program and the DOD in general. The focus on Software Bill of Materials was organic as our team realized there were something industry was already using to understand what is in the software and where the open-source pieces were coming from. The Software Bill of Material's also turned out to be a key in having the information necessary to determine a software's supply and the link to determine how secure it is.

How does using an SBOM (software bill of materials) have the potential to mitigate software supply chain risks and offer more stability and security for users and their organizations?

Software Bill of Material's are key in offering more stability and security to our software because they have the critical information necessary to determine a software's supply chain, identifying vulnerabilities, and determining the amount of risk to our programs. It’s acquiring that information in a common form and turning it into something easily readable and understood to a wide variety of people that will allow programs the ability to quickly understand their supply chain risks and take action.

How did you use AI tools to address the complex challenges in software development and security, especially in the context of free and open-source software dependent systems?

Artificial Intelligence was invaluable in being able to take the information we were being given and turn it into a minimum viable product on our own. We created a dashboard to monitor supply chains for software with SBOMs only because we were able to turn to AI for the instructions on how to program Python.

How did partnerships and collaborations play a role in supporting your Innovation Capstone Project, particularly the role of the transition sponsorship and how they support moving projects from concept to capability?

Partnerships and collaborations were a huge reason why we had any success with our research and project. We would have needed so much more time to get to our final conclusions and recommendations without their support. Since our team was all contracting officers, we relied on experts in their fields for feedback on the validity of all our potential solutions.

What are some of the opportunities for AI to support contract management professionals? What are some of the challenges in integrating AI into the field?

One of the biggest challenges in incorporating Artificial Intelligence into contracting is in being able to trust the data behind the AI and the answers it may provide. There are a number of processes in our field that depend on a contracting officer’s discretion and decision. Where I believe AI can be incorporated is with information gathering. A tool that can gather information from all the tools the contracting career field already has, can give contract specialists all that information in a single place, and can start the process of filling out templates giving initial requirements would allow all of us to move faster.

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