Jun 12 2013

Feds Go Mobile on Multiple Fronts

Air Force saves money and increases mission effectiveness with tablets, while the U.S. Geological Survey plans to offer mapping data on the go.

By replacing heavy flight bags full of manuals with Apple iPad devices, the Air Force saves $5 million in printing and distribution and another $750,000 in fuel costs per year.

Last summer, the agency deployed 16,000 iPad electronic flight bags (EFBs) containing flight information and mapping data. Maj. Brian Moritz, EFB program manager based at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois, says as important as the cost savings are, the primary goal of the implementation was to increase mission effectiveness.

“Picture our pilots in some kind of emergency situation over the North Atlantic,” Moritz says. “We have checklists we use to combat an in-flight emergency. Under the old system, an additional crew member would have to leave his post and run to retrieve the 90-pound bag of information and pull out a 2,000-page flight manual.”

All the information the crew needs to handle an emergency resides right in front of them on the iPad. “Pulling out all the paper can be challenging, especially when you are under the gun,” Moritz notes.

The iPads are used worldwide by the Air Force, Air Force Reserves and the Air National Guard. Moritz says everyone from the most experienced pilots to 18-year-old enlisted airmen starting their careers use the EFBs. “The convenience and mobility of the iPads lets pilots easily prepare for the next day’s flight in their hotel rooms or their living rooms at home,” Moritz says. “Our overall general knowledge has strengthened by having 24/7 digital access.”

Focused on Services

Chris Silva, an industry analyst for the Altimeter Group, says while the device type was an important choice for the Air Force, organizations today are often more focused on what they can do with mobile technology, rather than which platform they are using.


The percentage of executives and IT managers who say better communications and knowledge sharing are the primary benefits of mobile technology

SOURCE: “Business Technology Innovation: Six Key Trends in Optimizing IT for Competitive Advantage” (Ventana Research, December 2012)

“What’s stood out to me the past several months is that we’re moving away from caring about the device and are focused more on experiences and services,” Silva says. “People want to access the information that’s critical to them, regardless of screen or location.”

The U.S. Geological Survey is a case in point. Brian Fox, systems development branch chief for the National Geospatial Technical Operations Center in Denver, says USGS wants to offer up data from the National Map so people can use it on any mobile device.

Fox says USGS has worked with third parties to develop applications for Android devices (OruxMaps and AlpineQuest) and the iPad (Galileo). USGS has also helped deploy its map data on the Mobile Atlas Creator (MOBAC), an open-source tool that lets users take map data with them in an offline environment.

“These tools will be very useful to hikers and campers, and we’re also interested in working with firefighters and first responders in remote areas so they can make more meaningful maps,” Fox says. “The beauty of these tools is you can make a map the night before and carry it with you offline. That’s very important to a first responder in a remote area, where they typically work without cellular capabilities.”

<p>Natalia Silych, ThinkStock</p>

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