Mobile enterprise platform keeps military logistics combat ready

Posted by David Wiseman, SYBASE

Tracking equipment, munitions and MREs (Meal, Ready to Eat) becomes mission-critical when members of the U.S. Air Force deploy to the battlefield. 



To handle such basic and vital logistics, the Air Force needs the ability to collect data on-site using handheld devices. Tracking this information by memory and pencil and paper leaves too much room for error. 



Personnel in the Air Force today rely on mobile- and database-technology powered systems to keep forces combat ready. 

By deploying a mobile enterprise platform that connects and syncs the mobile devices and database, the Air Force also has integrated hundreds of once-disparate logistics systems.

Similarly, to address its force build-up and draw-down requirements, the Army Sustainment Command (ASC), a global organization responsible for providing front-line logistics support to combat units, created an easily and rapidly deployable automated information system that tracks inventory, manages maintenance and facilitates the transfer of prepositioned equipment, spare parts and so forth from ASC to the soldier. 



This mobile- and database-technology powered system, called the Army War Reserve Deployment System (AWRDS), operates at all ASC locations worldwide and supports rapid military deployment anywhere in the world.
 
Whether they are connected or disconnected from the network, staff in other government agencies also need access to critical data and applications. The Bureau of Labor Statistics relies on mobile technologies as part of its field data collection projects. 

So does the U.S. Census Bureau for its ongoing American Community Surveys. And the USDA Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) uses mobile and database technologies for monitoring the import of food products at the U.S. borders.
 
For these government agencies, a mobile enterprise platform makes possible the access they need to data and applications while in the field. 

By tying these capabilities into the overall enterprise architecture rather than treating mobile computing as a one-off, agencies can mobilize any application or data set in a standard and secure manner.

Gaining these capabilities previously required laptop deployments. Now, with the rapid growth of smartphones, tablets and high-speed cellular networks, the technology exists to make these capabilities more broadly available.
 
Mobile Enterprise Platform Simplifies Deployments
 
With a mobile enterprise platform, IT staff can easily manage the entire mobile enterprise and integrate mobile and legacy systems in a seamless, flexible and cost-effective manner. 



A mobile enterprise platform addresses the difficult mobile application challenges of back-office integration, secure access for mobile devices into the enterprise, reliable push data synchronization and support for multiple device types.
 
Key features of a mobile enterprise platform include the following:

  • Broad device, operating system and application support
  • Simplified development capabilities
  • Easy integration with a variety of enterprise applications and databases
  • Proven, remote device management functionality
  • On-device and in-transit data security
  • Feature-rich, embeddable and zero-maintenance database management and data movement technologies
  • Ease of use for IT administrators and end users

Having these features in the mobile platform helps government organizations avoid expensive, one-off mobile deployments that could put them at a disadvantage in the future. 



A single platform approach with a standard framework can simplify mobile deployments and introduce new competencies that increase productivity, reduce costs and streamline workflow. These are the types of benefits that the U.S. Air Force and other government agencies now enjoy.

U.S. Air Force Integrates Disparate Systems through Mobile Platform
 
The U.S. Air Force uses Automatic Identification Technology (AIT) to accurately and efficiently track goods. For some time, the Air Force has used technology such as Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) to inventory everything from canteens to airplane engine parts. 



Working with AIT was sometimes difficult for Air Force personnel. Some information read from bar codes was not as descriptive as it could be, and other data needed to be manually logged or keyed in. Finding, recording and tracking data manually was a multi-step process that had to be achieved via a solid wired or wireless connection. 



Lines of communication are a precious commodity in war zones, and wireless connectivity is hard to come by. The Air Force needed a mobile computing and architecture solution to its AIT problem.
 
In addition, the Air Force has hundreds of processes and systems for logistics, and until recently, Air Force AIT capabilities were tied to specific operational systems. 

While one system would facilitate ammunition inventory and tracking, another would be specialized for warehouse management.

These custom applications were expensive to develop and maintain, and the disparate systems meant that hardware dedicated to one system was not available elsewhere.
 
The Air Force also needed an effective way to disseminate accurate and useful information among its various data collection tools and processes. 

To gain this capability, the Air Force required a mobile architecture for integrating AIT into existing logistics systems and processes, as well as for developing new AIT-enabled systems.
 
An Architecture for Mobile Applications

The Air Force initiated the Enterprise Data Collection Layer (EDCL) project to develop a centralized controlling layer that meets strict U.S. Department of Defense security standards and standardized Air Force AIT - all while operating without the safety net of a reliable wireless network. 



Sybase mobile synchronization technology, which is part of the EDCL solution, enables applications that ultimately limit the amount of manual data entry that users must perform, while connected to a network or while working offline.

In the battlefield, Air Force personnel cannot always count on a reliable communications infrastructure. The EDCL solution provides a consistent mechanism that makes up for the inherent uncertainty. 



By offering users the ability to input all incoming data to the local handheld or laptop database when a connection is unavailable, the EDCL solution provides a consistent experience for users connected and disconnected from the network.

The accurate collection of data is never compromised, and personnel have the benefit of knowing that they can capture supply chain information so they can make informed logistical decisions.
 
The EDCL solution also provides an infrastructure for the standard delivery of applications and content to the end-user via a mobile computing device. 

The platform allows IT personnel to concentrate on developing the unique business logic and processes of their mobile applications without worrying about hardware integration, network connectivity, or application and data synchronization that must span substantial security layers. 



This innovative platform positions the Air Force for the smooth rollout of technology upgrades in the future - so military logistics processes can continue as needed.
 
Better visibility to expedite requisitions. Because of the mobile computing and architecture created by the EDCL, more than 600 disparate logistical systems now have the ability to share a common AIT architecture. The variation in hardware alone previously caused issues when switching from systems such as warehouse management to maintenance. 



The EDCL solution ensures that the interface remains the same regardless of what hardware or device is used, and data is easily transferred between users.

Potentially more than 15,000 different handheld and laptop devices could be in use throughout the U.S. Air Force with more than 500 concurrent users.

They all have the capability to record and analyze supply chain data simultaneously. And, now that they have better visibility into the supply chain, Air Force personnel can make more educated decisions about how to expedite requisitions.
 
Mission Accomplished: Single Platform Streamlines Success
 
The mobile computing and architecture solution for logistics processes in the U.S. Air Force has enhanced military readiness and operational efficiency. 

By similarly adopting a single mobile enterprise platform, other government organizations also can more efficiently mobilize their enterprise and achieve the following:

  • Speed deployment times
  • Ensure standardization across different devices
  • Promote security across different devices and applications
  • Centrally manage mobile devices, data and applications
  • Enable the workforce to work where they want, when they want
  • Unleash multiple business applications
  • Future-proof current IT investments

A mobile enterprise platform approach helps federal, state and local agencies avoid the expense of ad hoc deployments that take longer to implement, are resource intensive and cannot be leveraged across the organization. 

The efficiency and cost-effectiveness gained through a platform approach enable organizations to better accomplish their overarching mission.
 
In the case of the U.S. Air Force, a robust supply line that is highly visible means that jets fly, ammunitions are accounted for and troops maintain confidence in their battle support system. 

Confidence and time well spent puts Air Force personnel and resources where they are needed most.
 
Article summary: 

  • Look at mobility from an enterprise architecture perspective and develop a reusable service so additional programs can more easily take advantage of that service.
  • Design for the real-world operating environment in which you must access, collect and process data independent of actual network connectivity.
  • Implement a solution that does not require management by the end user. The data synchronization should be automatic and invisible.

About the author: 


David Wiseman is director of Federal Business Development for Sybase.