Disruptive technologies are revolutionizing fighting forces, turning them into highly mobile, connected units. Exciting developments in middleware, fusion, cloud and apps will usher in a new era of ERP connectivity, speed, security and utility from the rear echelon to combat zones.
In combat situations, where split-second decisions can literally mean the difference between life and death, defense forces need accurate, up-to-the-minute information at their fingertips.
The modern battlefield is becoming highly interconnected, with individual troops and military assets acting as a series of ‘nodes.’ Information must flow seamlessly and instantly between these nodes and be processed and analyzed, to give commanders and those in the theater, the tools to make critical choices.
Traditional ERPs are ill-suited to an environment characterized by low bandwidth, high latency and disconnected communications creating ‘black holes’ where field forces are left unsupported. Additionally, ERPs may be great at processing ‘vertical’ logistics functions that run from A to Z, but they are less effective at linking up a range of different systems concurrently and generating force readiness status.
Many military organizations, therefore, are forced to ‘add-on’ logistics processes to battle management systems, or resort to manual number crunching, in order to report upon operational status and evaluate replenishment and combat needs.
‘Middleware data object caching’ enables messages to be saved and moved between different systems and has been successfully used in the US Marine Corps (USMC) Global Combat Support System. Although the middleware must still connect with the main database, it caches its own memory for use when offline, minimizing disruption to information flow and satisfying complex front line demands via mobile or fixed devices for both transactional and readiness reporting purposes.
Middleware is also used to enable emerging applications, such as fusion technology, to further extend ERP deployability, agility and capability. Beyond the use of middleware architecture used by USMC for deployments and concurrent readiness reporting, other emerging systems such as ALIS (Autonomous Logistics Information System) for F-35 fighter jets, will provide users with autonomous operations. Instant reports on the state of the aircraft, its supply chain and operations, generate pro-active mission planning and quicker sortie turnarounds.
Cloud technologies are also having a big impact. Cloud and applications vendors are ‘fusing’ defense ERP and battle management systems, bridging the classified system divide and removing traditional boundaries between database, hardware and middleware. This brings full access to data, significantly enhancing battlefield capability, mobility and agility while assisting non-combat, rear echelon personnel with real and near real time visibility of operational combat consumption and attrition.
There are a wide range of cloud service providers and outsourcers, with some vendors’ applications capable of cloud deployment within hosted environments. Others provide cloud at the platform level such as the one adopted within the USMC Explosives Ordnance inventory. Security remains a major concern for governments with public network cloud, which has slowed adoption rates. Consequently, most defense departments opt for on-premise, private cloud services.
The good news is that several innovative security innovations are emerging, such as private premises engineered systems, total end-to-end data encryption, chip level security, key vaults and client-managed private cloud, which makes public cloud a viable alternative.
And, because cloud services are outsourced, defense organizations no longer need to build expensive infrastructure and can invest instead in middleware caching.
A number of commercial businesses, notably in healthcare, telecommunications and fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG), are reaping the benefits of transitioning to hybrid cloud to get the most out of existing infrastructure; an approach that has significant potential in the defense sector.
In a hybrid ERP environment, many functions can be delivered as cloud services, with some core ERP elements, such as financials and operations, typically remaining on-premises.
The beauty of hybrid models is that workloads can be continuously shifted between private and public clouds as computing needs and costs change. This brings greater flexibility, more data deployment options and tighter security, with the most sensitive data retained locally.
Giants such as Oracle, SAP, IBM and IFS are all developing secure, cloud-based defense ERP. All approach it from different angles using a variety of disruptive fusion, middleware and processing technologies. As a result, cloud take-up can only grow as part of a wider trend towards increased outsourcing, to meet the increased demands of defense IT services. Such developments can only help the world’s defense forces better meet the unique information challenges of mobile battlefields and large static, data-rich ERPs.
A commander of a small unit may not want to trawl through HR records to access data. And, troops on land or sea only need access to specific logistics information covering their immediate area of deployment, rather than large cuts of the entire defense ERP database.
With millennials, in particular, increasingly dependent upon apps for their mobiles, surely fighting forces will go the same way? Many battle management systems are, after all, essentially apps. I’m not alone in this thinking. At a recent military logistics conference I attended, tailored apps for their operations were on virtually every speaker’s wish list.
In the age of the app, it is no longer acceptable to blame the ‘fog of war’ for poor access to ERP systems. From back office to front line, small will become beautiful, with cloud enabled apps helping those on (and off) the battlefield to process relevant data faster, giving them a vital edge over their opponents.
Whether in combat or in a rear echelon, timely, accurate and highly relevant knowledge will always give you a decisive edge. Any future technology investment in Defense must, therefore, have connectivity, integration and mobility front of mind, to give defense personnel the best possible information support wherever they are and be truly “Operation Ready ERP.”
Read more about ERPs for defense, which features a series of insights on the use of technology in modern defense forces along with profiles of the US, UK, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.