New Army software helps US Division-South track its hardware
July 5, 2010
- The Logistics Reporting Tool can track everything from bottled water to missiles.
- The new, improved system can save supply personnel several hours per week.
- The LRT makes supply updates almost instantly visible worldwide, as opposed to using spreadsheets and e-mailing them under the old system.
BASRA, Iraq - The U.S. Army is implementing a revolutionary system that allows commanders and logistics Soldiers from the field level all the way to the top to see what they have and where they have it in real time.
The system, which can track everything from bottled water to missiles, is the refined result of software developers asking logisticians what they need and delivering it. It has the capacity to evolve to meet the needs of both the troops on the ground and the commanders moving the pieces.
The effort to have the system widely embraced by the entire Army is being spearheaded from Iraq by the 1st Infantry Division's operations section, and began with a coordinated effort involving the 36th Sustainment Brigade, who were responsible for logistics throughout southern Iraq when the 'Big Red One' came to theater, and the 13th Expeditionary Sustainment Command - the theater-level logistics command at that time.
The 1st Inf. Div. assumed responsibility for the command and control of United States Division-South Feb. 2, 2010, and at the beginning of March, Capt. David Shaffer began the long battle to get the unimplemented system into use by the division and its subordinate units in theater.
The software in question is called the Logistics Reporting Tool.
The software tool is a smaller part of a larger system with a mixed reputation due to experiences Soldiers had with the earlier, unrefined version. The larger program, the Battle Command Sustainment Support System, or BCS3, which is now managed by the software company Tapestry Solutions, is a far cry from the software most Soldiers remember, but convincing them of that has been a bit of a battle for Shaffer.
Even Shaffer was skeptical at first due to an encounter he had with an earlier version of BCS3 in 2006.
Shortly after taking on the project, he called Larry Wise, a retired Army Inspector General command sergeant major from Dunn, N.C., and field service engineer (FSE) for Boeing subsidiary Tapestry Solutions Inc.
"I wanted my people to get training on it, but I wasn't 'drinking from the glass;' I wasn't a big fan of it," Shaffer said.
According to the two, their first meeting was the result of a "heated discussion" and a challenge from Wise for Shaffer to visit Contingency Operating Base Adder and have some of his perceptions "corrected."
"I was going to go up and have a few choice words with this FSE who was trying to tell me what to do or what not to do with BCS3," Shaffer said. "I called him back and told him, 'I'm on the next bird, I'm coming,' and so Larry said, 'Ok, come on.'"
"I felt like I was going to a duel," Shaffer said.
Once Wise had the chance to walk Shaffer, an experienced logistician, through the tremendous functionality that the program offered, Shaffer was a full convert.
"It led to a great relationship between Larry and I and led me to 'drink out of the glass,'" Shaffer said of the encounter.
After that first meeting, Shaffer, Wise and every ally they could find worked tirelessly to gain acceptance of the LRT. The key to progress came from working directly with the logisticians who will use the software, Wise said.
"You get them in there and you get them to stop thinking about everything they don't want to do and get them looking at what they need to do," he said.
Chief Warrant Officer Kristie-Marie Dean, sustainment automation support management chief for the 36th SB, said that the current LRT is notably different than the original software most Soldiers remember.
"It's more functional, easier to put it online, not so many steps, more user-friendly, and uses terms that deal more with military terms and not civilian terms," said Dean, a guardsman who, as a civilian, works as a federal technician at a combined support maintenance facility in Fort Worth, Texas.
Col. Sean Ryan, 36th SB commander, is familiar with the issues Shaffer and Wise encountered.
In the civilian world, Ryan, a guardsman from Cedar Park, Texas, works with the implementation of software in corporate environments. When he first encountered the LRT during the 36th SB's mobilization, Ryan immediately saw the usefulness of the program.
"I had to do a lot of convincing that we were going to do this," Ryan said. "Having [Shaffer] come in and having that support from the division, gave me the momentum that I needed to push it forward."
Ryan noted that, from his experience in the civilian world, he knows that any software is going to have issues when it is first fielded, and that the only answer is to get into the program and identify the bugs.
"We've spent millions of dollars to field these systems, and I just felt it was my duty to do a proof of concept to start really understanding how to utilize it, figure out what the true shortfalls are," he said. "For me, it was time to stop having a paperweight on my desk and start really understanding how to use it."
Though the LRT organizes information in a format familiar to those who previously spent hours of every day compiling the information into spreadsheets, that is where the similarities between the old, manual system and the new, free-flowing, real-time system stop.
Greg Miller, the BCS3 embed FSE with the 13th ESC and deputy BCS3 southwest Asia manager, from Killeen, Texas, a retired logistics sergeant major, said the LRT has come a long way from the original system introduced in 2004.
"It's an outstanding tool," he said. "It's so powerful that it takes things that we do now by PowerPoint or Excel spreadsheet, where people have to collect those through email and they have to combine them - cut, paste, collate everything together and roll it up - now it starts from the bottom end, with the user, and as soon as the user inputs, everybody can see it."
"It saves time, it saves effort, it puts logisticians back to work doing logistics work instead of PowerPoint or Excel spreadsheet work," he said.
The difference in time between the old system and the LRT is not even comparable.
"Depending on the level of the unit, the units probably spend three to four or more man-hours per day collecting their reports," Miller said. "If you add that up over the course of a week, that's 28 man-hours, that's a half a person that you've given back to the unit."
In addition, the information entered at the field level is viewable all the way back in the U.S. only seconds later, giving commanders at all levels an immediate and realistic picture of what is on the ground.
"It's going to free-up a lot of time for Soldiers," said Dean, a Bloomington, Minn. native. "It's going to take the time, down below, to enter the data, but once that data is entered, it just becomes a logistical tool for us to analyze."
"Instead of going from one spot to another spot through all the echelons, it's going to free up your Soldiers' time," she said. "Because, right now, our Soldiers' time is very limited."
With the capability to track not only military equipment, but also non-standard items such as the non-tactical SUVs used on U.S. bases in every theater, and even occupancy of barracks, the system offers a nearly limitless number of ways for commanders to know what they have and where they have it, and all in a real-time and easily updatable format.
"If it's something that's essential to your mission or has some effect on your mission, you can track it," Wise said.