Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Military, Mobile Strategies and Mobile Apps

My son, a 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Army, was reviewing the list of speakers at an upcoming Enterprise Mobility for Defense conference where I will be speaking and said, "You are the only non-General on the agenda.  Why would they ask you to speak?"  Our kids humble us don't they?  The bottom line though is the military desperately wants to use commercially available mobile apps and mobile technologies whenever they can.  They are very keen to learn all they can about mobility and how it can be used to the advantage of our military forces.

In advance of the conference, I participated in an interview with the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement.  Here is the interview transcript.

Welcome Kevin.

Thank you for having me, Chris.

Let’s talk mobility—highlight for us the main benefits of being mobile for the military.

There are a many, but they really have to do with situational awareness in the field. The ability for both commanders and their soldiers in the field to be able to know where they are located, where their opponents are located, where their supplies and assets are located and their numbers and availabilities, and what areas are safe or unsafe.  They need to know where there are imminent threats.  They need to be able to collect data and access data from any kind of sensors, whether they are drones in the sky or data collected through other sources, and then overlay that information on a map on a mobile device.  These capabilities enable them to have an awareness of what’s going on around them.

Historically in the military, 95% of the challenge a commander faced was finding the opponent, and then finding their own resources so they could develop a successful plan or mission.

Mobility and wireless sensors are what allow data to be collected in real time, fed back to intelligence analysts, and then on to the soldiers in the field.   Again, it is all about situational awareness made possible through a connected or network-centric environment.

What is your advice for the consultants working with defense on mobile enterprise solutions? What are the keys to remember?

Well, the key is always going to be security and understanding the connectivity issues that the real world presents to soldiers.  In many cases the landscape is not conducive to certain kinds of communication. So any time you have consultants working in the defense industry, they need to always be thinking of those two points, because no matter how clever or innovative a mobile app or solution works in an optimal environment, it must continue to work in bad environments as well.  That means a lot of testing in rough and deadly environments.

Explain for us how consultants can bridge the gap between commerical solutions aand defense with enterprise mobility.

The military today is ahead of the commercial sector on mobile strategy.  However, the commercial sector is ahead on mobile devices and mobile apps.  So consultants that have a foot in both the commercial sector and the defense side have an advantage.  They need to understand the latest mobile technologies available in the commercial space, and the communication, connectivity and security requirements of defense, the military strategies in use, and then offer an appropriate solution.

I’ve been reading recently that the U.S. Marines are actually testing the concept of having Android developers assigned to particular units in the field, so they can quickly develop mission specific apps in just a few hours.  That’s a concept that’s way ahead of what most companies are doing in the commercial sector.  What makes it possible is having a library of widgets and pre-developed apps that are small and simple but can be quickly aggregated together for a mission.  I think these strategies are really demonstrating the power of combining the military's strategies with commercial app store concepts.

Talk to us a little bit more about how mobility can truly be transformative.

There are concepts like activity based intelligence and patterns of life in the military that are being evolved right now. These concepts are really focused on the use of persistent surveillance and analytics that are looking for patterns.  Patterns of activities and behaviors in a particular region can tell analysts a lot about the risk involved in a region.  That information can make all the difference in how a mission is planned and executed. To be able to overlay patterns of activity and behavior from a particular region on a map and then view it on your mobile device is powerful.  These kinds of capabilities require good security and connectivity in the field.  You need the ability to query for information and to be able to see real time data on what’s over the hill and around the corner.  These kinds of technologies and strategies are saving American and allied forces' lives every day and completely changing how missions are executed.

Real time data helps our soldiers avoid walking into areas blind.  Real time visibility on a mobile device, connected to a network-centric environment, can help soldiers by providing information on neighborhoods, buildings, roads, cultural environments and event history in their area.   We can then add things like live video feeds and social sentiment analysis where data on attitudes and opinions of people living in the region can be analyzed to better understand an area. All of these capabilities combined can completely change the way a mission is planned and executed – that is transformative innovation that can save the lives of our soldiers.

Lastly, I want to ask if you’re witnessing any trends with regard to mobile apps and mobile adoption - it’s something you write about quite a bit on your blog

I noticed the other day that the NSA has approved a unique variation of Android for use by soldiers.  They wrote a document that says how you can secure an Android device to the security levels required for military use.  This is likely just a hypothetical scenario now but an interesting development. 

I also read where a military commander was saying he uses an iPhone, he knows his soldiers use iPhones, and his goal is to make sure that those iPhones in the pockets of his soldiers are more useful.  There is a lot of information the military needs to share with their forces and their families, and these devices can be useful for that purpose.  In order to save money, rather than buying purpose built military grade devices and apps where there is likely a premium on the cost, the military wants to use commercially available technology whenever possible. 

It is my observation that the military is ahead of the commercial side on mobile strategy, but not on the latest mobile technologies and apps.  There is a lot these two sectors can learn from each other.

Thank you for your time today Kevin, we look forward to meeting you when you present at the Enterprise Mobility for Defense Summit.


Kevin Benedict, Head Analyst for SMAC (Social, MOBILE, Analytics and Cloud), Cognizant
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Full Disclosure: These are my personal opinions. No company is silly enough to claim them. I am a mobility analyst, consultant and writer. I work with and have worked with many of the companies mentioned in my articles.