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Mobile Apps Taking Flight in U.S. Air Force, Across Government

The drill is a familiar one. In the interim between when a plane lands and takes off again, crews go to work. They check that there’s enough fuel, the tires are pumped and all of the metrics are what they should be.

In the Air Force, these jobs belong to maintainers, who are generally younger service members charged with making sure aircrafts are operating efficiently and safely. As of recently,  maintainers have been researching and tracking information on smartphones, a breakthrough that allows more aircrafts to be serviced, said Maj. Johnathan Jordan, Aircraft Maintenance Officer for the U.S. Air Force.

“We wanted to find a way to bring in technology to remove some pain points in what the aircraft maintainers were feeling,” Jordan said on a recent GovLoop webinar about field work mobile apps.

Maintainers have to meet aircrafts on the tarmac, where they trudge out with hundreds of pounds of tools to an aircraft that’s hundreds of feet away.

Previously, when they came across an issue or needed to research the job, they’d have to schlep their gear back to the office space to access a computer. Once maintainers had found their answer, it was back out to the aircraft to apply the fix. And as the final step, the maintainers headed back inside to log all of the information they had written down on a notebook.

The introduction of the Battle Record Information Core Environment, or BRICE, app saved at minimum an hour a day for each maintainer, Jordan said. The mobile app allows maintainers to research and track aircraft data and information with an app on their phone, saving multiple hundred-foot, hundred-pound aircraft servicing journeys every day.

“I ask aircraft maintainers come in and perform aircraft maintenance. Anything I can do to give them time back to perform aircraft maintenance is a win for the Air Force,” Jordan said. “BRICE allowed me to do that.”

The use cases for these sorts of field apps are permeating throughout government. For child services professionals who need to make house visits and park rangers who need to be in nature, going back to the computer after a day out is an unnecessary, time-consuming and burdensome trip.

And now, with more teleworkers because of COVID-19, these apps are all the more needed, said Marleen Welsh, Director of Medical and Health Global Government at Samsung.

The advantages to these sorts of mobile apps broadly are increased efficiency, accuracy, resilience and user-friendliness. What Jordan also noticed is that BRICE helped his employees, who were raised with smartphones “in their hands,” settle into their element and deliver better data.

Welsh said that while “most places faced issues about lack of laptops for the whole workforce,” most employees will have smartphones – or other smart devices. Using mobile apps carried off premises through the cloud lets employees break free of locational barriers to productivity and unlocks several benefits, she said. First, data transfers are immediate and accurate, and second, there is less threat that data is lost or stolen.

Joining Welsh and Jordan as panelists, Monkton Chief Operating Officer and Cofounder Chris Gorman said agencies can look to governmentwide security measures for these devices and apps. NIST 800-63-3, for example, covers digital identity guidelines. A more expansive list can be found on the webinar.

“With security addressed, we can now shift our focus back to the needs of the field-based workforce,” Gorman said.

The panelists recommended starting with small projects and identifying common pain points. When developing the BRICE app, Jordan had maintainers in the same room as developers, to make sure the application was useful for the people in the field.

By building around pain points, he said, agencies can find meaningful success.

“It’s not rocket science,” Jordan said. “It is computer science, but it is fully capable to be employed in anything we’re doing.”

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