5 Ways Mobile Tech Can Optimize the Federal Supply Chain

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Mobile devices can process more data and deliver richer capabilities than ever before.

Outfitting a remote outpost with electricity. Getting ammunition in the hands of warfighters. Maintaining aircraft to reliably transport troops. All of these mission-critical activities require a high-functioning supply chain capable of delivering resources at the point of need. As Gen. Gus Perna, Army Materiel Command's commander and the Army's senior logistician best put it, "Soldiers cannot win on the battlefield without weapons to shoot, tanks to maneuver, food to eat and the logistics support to ensure those provisions get to the right place at the right time."

Material readiness is clearly critical for gaining strategic advantage on the battlefield—but execution is not easy. The Defense Department must manage a complex system of RFID sensors, barcodes and other technologies to track of assets spanning land, sea and air. The scale of the enterprise is enormous, with the department managing a supply chain of 4.9 million secondary inventory items worth a reported $91.7 billion, according to the Government Accountability Office. With that much at stake, any supply chain breakdowns, or even simple inefficiencies, can have a massive impact on the safety of warfighters and the success of the mission.

But Defense is not alone in such supply chain challenges. Civilian agencies are also responsible for operating massive logistics systems to support their missions around the globe—whether it’s supplying spare vehicle parts to keep the postal fleet running or responding to natural disasters with life-saving supplies. What both defense and civilian agencies have in common, however, is that asset visibility, inventory tracking and warehouse management are vital to success.

New technologies, alongside the evolving procurement processes and policies, are showing what’s possible for the federal supply chain. Mobile technologies that seamlessly integrate with cloud, internet of things and artificial intelligence platforms are fundamentally changing how federal IT leaders approach operations—delivering flexibility, improved visibility and cost-effectiveness. Now, with rapid advancements in high-speed and high-bandwidth 5G networks, mobile devices can process more data and deliver richer capabilities than ever before.

Following are five examples of how mobile solutions can support federal supply chain and logistics management:

1. Enhance battlefield preparedness.

Mobile solutions can aid with battlefield operations, maintenance and logistics to ensure readiness and safety. For example, tablets and mobile devices can replace previously paper-based tools used by flightline crew to track aircraft maintenance schedules or locate spare parts.

2. Track assets globally.

Agencies can turn mobile devices, like smartphones and tablets, into enterprise-grade barcode scanners that are already connected into logistics systems and databases for real-time visibility. From mobile proof-of-delivery to inventory management, mobile solutions enable more efficient, real-time, secure operations that support the agency’s mission. The military could use this technology when setting up a new base or outpost to quickly identify equipment locations, check items in or out, monitor maintenance needs or assign custodial responsibility as assets move across locations or personnel.

3. Manage warehouse operations.

Using small sensors or tracking devices, warehouse floor personnel can use tablets to pinpoint the location of assets and manage operations. This allows agencies to better forecast demand for material, equipment and control inventory. Additionally, mobile devices can help reduce human error by eliminating manual processes and paper systems where information could be entered incorrectly. Ruggedized tablets with touch pens are also ideal for environments that can be dusty and hot, or require users to wear gloves.

4. Monitor vehicle fleets.

The armed forces have enormous motor pools that consist of battle tanks, armored personnel carriers, infantry fighting vehicles, engineering support vehicles, prime movers and trucks or light tactical and utility vehicles and more. Mobile devices aided by GPS applications can aid in the transport of goods by helping drivers eliminate paper logging. IT can then track fleets via mobile applications that also connect to inventory systems for greater real-time visibility. Richer data-driven insights on how vehicles and drivers are operating, plus access to onboard diagnostics information, can help significantly optimize fleet performance.

5. Secure and verify the integrity of goods.

Defense-grade mobile security solutions allow agencies to protect data down to the hardware level to protect against sabotage. An example could be a malicious actor introducing an unwanted function or otherwise compromising system integrity across design, manufacture, distribution, operation or maintenance. Agencies can also integrate mobile technologies with their verification system workflow, such as blockchain digital ledgers, to help record, track and verify the path of items traversing the supply chain.

From food to fuel, uniforms, medical supplies, tools, construction material and more—synchronizing logistics and managing an expansive global supply chain can be daunting. Just think of the quick resource planning and execution needed for the National Guard to respond to Hurricane Florence. By adopting mobile technologies, both Defense and civilian agencies can transform operations to enhance readiness and anticipate the need for supplies around the globe, whether in times of peace or war.

Chris Balcik is vice president of federal for Samsung.