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Thursday, April 4, 2013

Why Mobile Apps work for the Military: It’s all about operability in the field

Five key elements of a successful mobile deployment

Mobile apps are a hot topic in the Aerospace and Defence industry right now. It's important that we understand how mobile apps can best help military personnel to focus on their primary task.

Jeff Pike, Head of Marketing and Global Markets Development for IFS in the Aerospace and Defence (A&D) industry, takes a look at how mobile apps can provide targeted elements of the functionality of an A&D support solution or a full ERP suite, in a mobile form. He outlines five key elements which are key to a successful military mobile app.

Enterprise solutions are key in Defence. Back at the Main Operating Base (MOB), all of the ERP functionality is typically required to manage strategy, heavy maintenance, warehouse management and the like. And even through a deployed solution model, Deployed Operating Bases (DOB) can still be supported through mobile servers, netbooks and tablets, all focused on the full ERP suite. DOBs are often about second line maintenance or distribution or convoy management, where rich functionality is still required – Maintenance, Repair and Operations (MRO), fleet management, supply chain management and HR are all required to manage compliance, configuration management and of course, finance for the secretariat.

But let's consider the soldier out in the field. They don't want – or need – to be bothered with complex functionality and information management. Traditionally, feedback from the field is either paper-based (and prone to error), or military HQs have imposed functionality-rich solutions onto the soldiers driven by the march of enhanced network technology. Yet providing all this full functionality means that a soldier can be overloaded by support functionality and information on one hand, whilst in the other, he needs to focus on direct combat and trying to avoid IEDs. In this scenario, he is often fully CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear) defence kitted up and is trying to access a complex full suite deployed application with big finger gloves. It just doesn’t work.

Information from the front line needs to be captured, be that in the context of a Forward Operating Base (FOB), first line support, or maintenance of vehicles. Feedback is key to optimising the military supply or support chain, optimising MRO, and optimising the fleet as well as processing improvements to the maintenance/engineering teams to improve availability and sustainability of equipment.

The conundrum is how to get the essential feedback of operational information without overloading the soldier with support function.

Providing specific functionality for individual soldiers
Mobile apps provide the answer.

It's important to recognise a number of factors when developing a mobile app for the military, particularly in terms of providing specific functionality for each individual soldier.

The military needs to steer away from trying to operate a device with a functionally rich full-suite application just because network enabled capability (NEC) suggests it is possible. Instead, the military should look at deploying simple, easy-to-use mobile applications which offer the necessary essentials for soldiers out in the field, whilst still enabling regular updates to the full functionality suite once they're back at base.

Some of the key elements which should be included within a military mobile app are as follows:

  1. Only give soldiers the sections of functionality in the app which they need for the specific task they need to complete
  2. Only offer the functionality in a form they are familiar with – for example, a mobile app. It increases efficiency and effectiveness
  3. Make the apps CBRN 'big finger' friendly – easy to see, bold in appearance and provide a simplistic presentation of necessary processes
  4. Make the apps agile and easy to create/adapt, so that the soldier can get a new or amended app tailored for each campaign, not one provided for ten years
  5. Don't clutter the soldier with superfluous overhead

In reality, mobile apps have one purpose in the military, and that is to help military personnel to focus on the specific primary, rather than support job, no matter how important it is.

By understanding and answering the pains of the military in their different roles, mobile apps can help by addressing a specific focus and provide functionality to do that job – nothing more, nothing less – increasing effectiveness and agility of individual soldiers.

Jeff Pike is Head of Marketing and Global Markets Development (Aerospace & Defense) for IFS.
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Author: The Fonecast
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