The Department of Defense (DOD) constantly moves equipment around, all over the world. Gaining visibility into those assets in order to track their movement and know the location of any given item at any time requires extraordinarily complex processes.
It’s easy to think of total asset visibility (TAV) as simple supply chain management, but it has the potential to be much more. Think of TAV as business process visibility—a window into operational parameters to inform decision-making at any given point.
Anytime a ship unloads vehicles, weapons systems, communications equipment and supplies for the base, everything comes off the ship and the appropriate personnel assumes care of the assets, then moves each asset from the dock or yard to its next location—a maintenance facility, a warehouse or an ad hoc storage facility, for example.
Today’s technology theoretically simplifies the task of tracing each asset through every checkpoint it crosses with barcodes, radio frequency identification (RFID), inventory control solutions and handheld scanners.
A vast amount of material remains in play, and the technology's effectiveness depends on humans applying it correctly—but the technology goes a long way toward turning the task into a manageable challenge.
Beginning around 2008, DOD began to mandate the use of Item Unique Identifiers (IUID) on most of its assets. The IUID appears as a barcode which a scanner can read, logging the item’s existence on the given date and time. Early on, defense agencies and the military set out to tag only major assets—the most critical and the most expensive—because of the significant expense of the IUID system, which requires a lot of man-hours to deploy. With economies of scale and technology advancements, everything can be marked, all through the supply chain. This thoroughness provides a necessary base for total asset visibility (TAV).
However, government assets move constantly. Conversely in retail stores, incoming inventory typically arrives through one entry point (a loading dock or warehouse). For outgoing items, check-out lines and cash wrap counters provide natural chokepoints. In a DOD organization, things move everywhere, all the time. Using a barcode and scanner system, organizations have to ensure the availability of enough personnel at the necessary locations to scan everything. When assets constantly move, are staged for onward movement or are in a state of temporary storage it is not hard to miss items.
Don’t underestimate the power of visibility and automation
With a nodal supply chain, as assets move from one point to the next, we can track their journey from origin to destination. However, we also can leverage TAV to surge resources to the points of greatest need or demand. The supply chain is a defined process, whereas TAV needs to be dynamic, responding to changing circumstances. This allows us to streamline the efficiencies of the organizations we work with.
Think of it this way: With real-time information in an amusement park, managers can move portable food carts and souvenir stands to the rides where crowds are gathering to maximize their exposure to potential customers. If other ride(s) draw more attention an hour later, those concession booths can move yet again. This predictability allows expedited positioning of resources to new locations —current or future—no matter the context. It could just as easily work for weapons systems, medical resources and food stores moving to supply troops in the battlefield. Manual processes cannot provide this level of efficiency.
Boosting the value of IUID
RFID technology significantly enhances the utility of IUID. RFID readers can read the RFID tags from 20 or 30 feet away, even if the reader is moving. A few people—or even robots—in a warehouse can catalog everything there more quickly than with barcodes. To track movement, place RFID readers along the paths that assets follow to read the tags as they pass.
RFID readers can record the identifier of each piece of equipment as it passes—such as when service members are loading them aboard a transportation conveyance. It becomes possible to gather much more—and more complete—data with fewer people.
If you can track the movement of RFID-tagged items in real time, you can add video cameras to visually record anomalous activity. For example, if a warehouse operates from 8 a.m. to midnight, and the RFID scan detects items being moved at 3 a.m., the cameras can capture the events for later investigation. In an enclosed area—such as a military base, arsenal or port—installing the technology at the entry and exit points will capture whether the assets arrive on time, early or late; if they are the correct size and weight. It will also immediately notify the decision-maker if they need to conduct further examination. Countless use cases and permutations of circumstances show how a combination of technologies can amplify TAV’s utility.
This degree of completion turns asset tracking into mappable data. As that happens, skeptics begin to realize that gathering the data isn’t just about accountability and auditing—it carries real practical value.
Passive RFID got another boost when the International Organization for Standardization issued ISO-18000-6, which establishes standards for the technology when used in item management. Vendors responded by developing and marketing wider ranges of interoperable products that comply with the standard.
Other technologies come into play, as well, adding to the capabilities that RFID brings. Optical character recognition, a variety of scanners, artificial intelligence and machine learning are all part of the mix now, although RFID still remains the core technology.
The recovery of lost assets can be tremendously time consuming and costly. CGI leverages technology and deep expertise to ensure that assets don’t get lost. Collecting RFID data provides auditability. All of this enables our clients to be efficient.
With technology inexorably advancing, CGI’s team of experts are equipped to help our clients enable total asset visibility and allow optimal decision-making for our nation’s most critical missions. Contact Chris Hetman for more information.