By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (Aug. 04, 2010) -- Knowledge learned from the Army's recent "Apps for the Army" application-development challenge will be used to help the service more quickly acquire software applications.
The Apps for the Army challenge, which kicked off in March, and was set up to test a rapid-acquisition process for software applications -- similar to what is done when developing applications for both the iPhone and Android cellular phones, said Lt. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sorenson, the Army chief information officer and G-6.
The challenge was set up with minimal requirements, with the Army asking developers to submit software applications for mobile phones in certain categories, including morale, welfare and recreation; Army mission; information access; location awareness and training.
Sorenson said about 140 individuals or teams signed up to participate in the program. About 53 applications had been submitted when the contest closed, May 15.
"Of those 53, we got 25 through the certification process," Sorenson said, adding that the contest foreshadows a future for getting applications into the Army more quickly. "I think at some point in time we are going to extend this to the commercial sector."
Today, the process to develop applications for Army use is time-consuming and difficult, Sorenson said. With the acquisition process that was piloted during the Apps for the Army challenge, the Army demonstrated a faster way to get capability to the warfighter -- a process the Army can extend now to include industry.
"We say we are looking for an application to do XYZ, we'll give you 30 days and come back and show us what you have," Sorenson said. After that, he said, commanders that originally expressed a need for new software will have the opportunity to vote on what comes back from industry.
"Then we give them 60 more days to develop it, and in 90 days we have an app," Sorenson said.
The speed of the process demonstrated with A4A eliminates the need for writing a requirements document, doing a request for proposal, and doing all the "bureaucratic acquisition process that sort of slows us down in trying to deliver a capability," Sorenson said.
What was demonstrated in the contest, where Soldiers and Army civilians were invited to write applications for the Army, will translate into new commercial software being delivered to the Army faster than it has been before, Sorenson said.
"We haven't walked through all the capabilities, but I think this contest ... portends a way for how we can more rapidly develop applications in the future, using the collaborative forums to help define the requirements, using this contest methodology to go out and have companies participate, and then build it in a manner that we can more rapidly bring it in," he said.
Maj. Gregory Motes, Capt. Christopher Braunstein and Capt. Stacey Osborn of the Army Signal Center at Fort Gordon, Ga., worked as a team to develop four applications for the contest. Their "Physical Training Program" for the iPhone, helps Soldiers develop their own physical training program based on the Army's new Physical Readiness Training program. The application provides training plans and videos of various exercises.
"We took a look at the new training manual -- we didn't want to put a wall of words, a PDF, into an application -- and we sat down as a group and started to break it apart," Motes said.
What they developed was an application that develops a training regiment for an individual Soldier and demonstrates to users how to do individual exercises using both still images and video.
"We saw this as a new way that maybe training manuals could be in the future," Motes said. "Some people, we know, learn better by reading words and looking at pictures, and some people appreciate the videos."
Sorenson said the Army is looking at both the hardware and software-development process demonstrated by the iPhone and the Android to help shape the way the Army does business. Using commercial hardware like the iPhone or the Android can provide for the Army a common operating environment, he said.
Additionally, the software development process demonstrated by the "application stores" for both systems -- one that was proven inside the Army through the Apps for the Army contest -- can help the Army get applications and capability to the warfighter faster, because developers will already know what systems their software will run on.
Sorenson said he's already seen that industry is working to use technology like the iPhone or Android to develop applications that may be suitable for the Army.
"There are some continual capabilities these companies are looking at on how to push the edge on how to use these more advanced cellular capabilities," Sorenson said.
He said some of those capabilities could be fielded to the Army within the next year.
"We are going to move forward to figure out how we can take better advantage of the commercial sector," he said.
From the 53 applications submitted to the Apps for the Army challenge, 15 winners were chosen -- a 1st, 2nd and 3rd-place winner in each of five categories. Additionally, 10 "honorable mentions" were named.
The first-place winners in each category will be honored Aug. 5 at the 2010 Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association's "LandWarNet" conference in Tampa, Fla.
The winning applications and their development teams include:
-- The Movement Projection application, developed by Luke Catania of the Engineer Research and Development Center, Alexandria, Va.
-- The New Recruit application, developed by Thomas Maroulis of Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center, Picatinny Arsenal, N.J.
The complete list of 25 winners are available on the CIO/G-6 website at http://ciog6.army.mil/Apps4Army.aspx.