COVID has imposed chaos on industry supply chains around the world. The pandemic has curtailed people’s ability to work in close proximity to assemble products in large facilities for transport by land, air or sea. It has sent demand soaring for personal protective equipment and package delivery of consumer goods. Both of these effects have been detrimental to the traditional operations of business markets, with significant delays in production and distribution.
The U.S. Army’s modernization efforts require careful management of multitiered supply chains to synthesize products that are essential to maximizing Soldier lethality and ensuring an unparalleled advantage to the close combat fighting force. Disruptions to these supply chains can set back production timelines for modernization projects, potentially delaying the fielding of critical weapons and equipment to a deploying Soldier and squad.
In order to mitigate these compounding risks, the Army’s Project Manager for Integrated Visual Augmentation System (PM IVAS) overlaid data on COVID “hot spots”—areas where the rate of infection is rising—with the display of their tiered supply-chain tracker. The objective was to equip leadership with the best data possible to make optimal acquisition and fielding decisions for the project.
PM IVAS had already paved the way in Army acquisition best practices by applying rapid-prototype acquisition approaches to deliver a single platform for Soldiers to fight, rehearse and train.
EYES ON THE FUTURE
IVAS, assigned to the Program Executive Office (PEO) for Soldier, is adapting Microsoft’s HoloLens commercial mixed-reality technology to develop a tactical goggle display complete with a conformal wearable battery, squad radio and integrated sensors that will increase a Soldier’s battlefield awareness and ability to rapidly identify and engage potential threats. The device integrates next-generation 24/7 situational awareness tools, including aided target recognition and squad performance metrics; high-resolution simulations that enable a portable synthetic training environment; and a networked cloud package for increased secure communications, ultimately delivering a suite of capabilities that improve Soldier sensing, decision-making, target acquisition and target engagement.
PM IVAS found success partnering with industry and other Army organizations, collectively making up “Team IVAS,” to develop and procure the highly specialized, integrated materiel solution. However, as COVID-19 emerged, international quarantine protocols impacted the global supply chain and had the potential to severely impact the project’s delivery schedule.
Nicholas Pate, PM IVAS manufacturing engineer, and Daniel Maxwell, PM IVAS senior business intelligence analyst, were part of the team that was integral in leveraging the already instituted Microsoft Power BI business intelligence software and elevating it to meet the evolving needs of the project during the pandemic. Pate explained the impact of the pandemic.
“The lockdown measures began just ahead of the scheduled opening of Microsoft’s IVAS manufacturing facility and start of the process of honing and refining the manufacturing procedures in preparation for IVAS early prototype production and then rapid-fielding production,” he said.
The pandemic threatened the success of the manufacturing facility, as the limited availability of resources and overall disruptions to the supply chain of subcomponent suppliers could have slowed or even prevented production.
A SENSE OF URGENCY
Fortunately, leadership understood the significance of the pandemic and its potential impact to the program.
“IVAS and PEO Soldier leadership recognized the urgent importance of monitoring how domestic and international vendors could be affected in their own localities and how the realities on the ground could potentially impact supply chain deliveries and, in turn, the IVAS schedule,” said Maxwell.
More importantly, leadership realized that Team IVAS had the capability to manage the risks in a more effective way than past traditional efforts.
“Our program’s aggressive schedule depends upon a global supply chain that is firing on all cylinders, and ‘black swan’ events like natural disasters and pandemics wreak havoc to such supply chains,” said Pate. “This most recent pandemic event has quickly brought the topic of supply chain risk to the forefront of the program’s risk management efforts.”
DASHBOARD ON BOARD
Because Team IVAS initially understood the importance of this process from both product quality and security perspectives, they had already developed a dashboard to navigate the IVAS bill of materials that breaks down individual pieces of the composite system and tracks each component’s associated vendor on a global map.
“The overall dashboard allows our visibility into the tiered assemblies of an IVAS, and how the lowest-level components are built into the highest-level device,” said Maxwell. “The bill of materials helps us build a great picture of our vendor map, while still only representing a small sliver of the truly expansive supply chain.”
Therefore, in response to the impending pandemic, PM IVAS data management and quality teams optimized their existing dashboard capability and organized it to best view and manage potential COVID-19 supply chain implications as well.
“The team leveraged World Health Organization source data and began constructing the data model that merges it with the IVAS vendor list, creating a single heat map overlay of the two,” said Maxwell. “This creates a dashboard that highlights IVAS vendors in precise locations across the global map and reflects the most recent COVID-19 status at virtually any location.”
IVAS leaders refer to the overlay of data on coronavirus-positive areas with their supply chain as the “IVAS Supply Chain vs Black Swan Event” dashboard. This overlay allowed leadership and vendors to optimize information flow, exchange information across tiers and identity pandemic-related disruptions throughout the tiered chain so that minor obstacles and bottlenecks could be addressed before they had the potential to cause major disruptions.
“The objective is to allow stakeholders the ability to plan and manage the program with full visibility of the supply chain, including the sole, limited source and long-lead items as well as key raw materials,” said Pate. “In reality, each item has its own unique supply chain consisting of numerous steps for manufacturing, assembly, calibration, test, packaging, transport and warehousing. So the dashboard has been an effective tool for allowing leadership to better understand where potential problems lie so that appropriate actions can be taken to keep the program on track.”
Team IVAS has developed this solution to enable the project’s supply chain visibility. The goal of increased transparency is to enable the accurate communication of data and streamline monitoring processes to best support informed, data-based acquisition and fielding decisions. These solutions are valuable to both military programs and private vendors due to the high cost of supply chain losses as well as the real-world implications to the warfighter of a product delay.
“It is a big deal right now, considering the massive realignment of global supply chains as a result of recent events such as COVID-19, international trade disputes and new laws for foreign-owned businesses,” said Pate.
NO WEAK LINKS
Disruptive events are occurring more frequently. Therefore, stakeholders and customers must have redundancy and flexible mitigation plans in place.
“This is not the first time, nor will it be the last time, that a program encounters a black swan event that wreaks havoc with the schedule due to impacts on the supply chain,” said Pate.
Mark Stephens, PM IVAS director of acquisition and operations, led the team that prioritized supply chain visibility and security, and explained the critical need for supply chain visibility solutions across the board.
“Organizations need better tools for quickly assessing the impact and reacting to black swan events. A [supply chain visibility] solution will enable entirely new risk mitigation strategies to ensure business continuity in spite of such occurrences.”
Although preparation and forward thinking can streamline supply chain logistics, the problem is complex. “Currently there is no enterprise-wide supply tracking system, as each vendor has individualized methods of monitoring their production, with data housed in different departments and locations, and with various requirements for database communication. This causes information to be stovepiped and fragmented, leading to inaccurate delivery projections,” Stephens added.
Stovepiped information is problematic, especially because supply chain disruptions can have real-world impacts to the Soldier and squad. At a program level, supply chain visibility provides oversight to end-product fielding timelines that impact military readiness across the enterprise.
For supply chain visibility to work, there must be trust and collaboration between the company and its customer, as the solution hinges on the ability to partner with vendors to track supply movement. While for some the transparency component may sound daunting, the benefits are numerous.
“An end-to-end [supply chain visibility] solution aims to reduce supply chain risks, improve lead times and identify problems in product security, quality and shortage along the chain,” Pate said. “The visibility allows for improved lead times, more evenly distributed sourcing and risks, more efficient shipping routes, better understanding of diminishing manufacturing sources and materiel shortages and a better understanding of security and quality risks.”
Stephens contrasted the projected improvements of enterprise-wide supply chain visibility with current contracting processes.
“Our vision is that this enterprise-wide [supply chain visibility] monitoring system initiative is the next revolution of program management in predicting probability of successful project delivery. Even with firm fixed-price contracts, if the manufacturer misses delivery dates, the impact is felt by a waiting unit commander,” he said.
The ideal end state of the dashboard will allow the tracking of component movements across the supply chain, ultimately ensuring minimal impact to the project and warfighter.
“A comprehensive [supply chain visibility] solution gives program managers the ability to better forecast production and delivery schedules, prioritize risks and implement alternate sources of supply or contingency plans to ensure equipment can be fielded as planned,” said Stephens. “For fielded systems, [supply chain visibility] will provide unit commanders the ability to better estimate the material availability and readiness for mission tasking and training exercises.”
Team IVAS, strengthened by its collaboration between government and industry partners, initially prioritized supply chain visibility efforts to ensure the security and quality of the composite system. The supply chain visibility solution postured the team for maximum flexibility, which allowed them to better manage both the direct and indirect impacts of COVID-19 to the full scope of the project.
According to Maxwell, “In other words, we are currently tracking ‘what’ is being built, but our goal is to expand into ‘how’ it is built by tackling [supply chain visibility].”
For more information, visit the PEO Soldier website at https://www.peosoldier.army.mil/.
COURTNEY E. BACON is a public affairs specialist providing contract support to PEO Soldier PM IVAS on behalf of TMGL LLC. She has a B.S. in biology from George Mason University and is working toward a master’s degree in biodefense and international security from George Mason’s Schar School of Policy and Government. She previously worked in communications and public affairs for the Defense Information Systems Agency.
Subscribe to Army AL&T--the premiere source of Army acquisition news and information.