Air Force doubles down on tech to stay on top of supply chain demands

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Officials recently shed light on a system that explores “what-ifs” connected to needed assets.

As exigent strains across global supply chains persist, the Air Force is expanding its use of a cloud-based technology platform to help ensure assets throughout its own massive service parts supply chain are ready right when they’re needed.

Through an up to five-year contract—worth up to $95 million if all options are exercised—the branch is broadening its use of PTC's Servigistics Service Parts Management Software as a Service solution, which is now compliant with stringent government security standards.

“Obviously, the supply chain is top of mind for everybody, and no one is immune to the stresses that exist in the supply chain world. But what our solution allows the users to do is to focus,” PTC’s Servigistics Business Unit General Manager Leslie Paulson told Nextgov last week. “It allows them to do what we call ‘what-if modeling’ and look at a variety of different scenarios—but then just focus on the parts that matter the most.”

The company’s work with the Defense Department and the supply chain associated with it dates back to around 1999. At this point, its capabilities are deployed within the USAF, Coast Guard, and with equipment manufacturers including Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, among others.

This fresh expansion with the Air Force builds on a five-year contract PTC was previously awarded, which was nearing its set end. The company recently re-competed on a contract to continue the work and was selected to be the sole source in this next phase. 

Specifically, the Servigistics platform will support the service’s Enterprise Supply Chain Analysis, Planning and Execution, or ESCAPE program that aims to boost aircraft availability and modernize how the Air Force prepares for the future. 

"Our principal objective is maximizing the readiness of assets and equipment," Air Force Materiel Command Program Manager Abigail Strobell said. "It is an immense and complex challenge. PTC's Servigistics solution gives us confidence from a proven track record of success and powerful capabilities that will enable us to optimize our service parts supply chain."

In Paulson’s view, “at its core, the ESCAPE program is about” helping ensure that Air Force officials have “the right parts in the right places at the right times” to hit the readiness levels they’re aiming for.

“You want that aircraft to be able to fly when you need to fly,” she noted. 

During the conversation with Nextgov, Paulson and Servigistics Divisional Vice President Lee Smith shared details about the solutions’ technological infrastructure. 

“Servigistics is a completely web-enabled platform,” Smith explained. “It’s a single platform that can be used through a web browser.” 

The technology stack runs in a PTC data center, he confirmed. And the application infrastructure, Smith noted, has four key components.

“One of them is forecasting. We have very sophisticated forecasting techniques and capabilities that are used specifically for, number one, aftermarket service—but more specifically for Air Force-type platforms,” he said. 

Another helps optimize items down to all mission levels and the third involves a supply planning capability that enables users to leverage all parts in their entire network. The fourth piece includes alerting and analytics. This essentially involves “a very sophisticated analytics and reporting engine” and a dashboard, Smith said, that officials use to provide visibility and “drill down” into supply chain shortages. 

“The science, if you will, that's embedded in each one of those major modules that we talked about are very sophisticated algorithms that have been built up over decades—but we also leverage emerging technology as it comes along,” Paulson noted. “So, definitely, we have machine learning and artificial intelligence-type capabilities that have been layered in on top of these already extraordinarily sophisticated algorithms to continue to enhance them.”

Technology providers that work with the military are required to prove that they meet specific security requirements, which depend on the sensitivity of the data they will host. Data cleared for public release is covered by lower “impact levels,” but impact level six, or IL6, envelops classified national security information.

Smith confirmed that following their prior pursuit, through this latest contract the Servigistics platform is “moving into” that sixth level.

“It's the most secret data in the Air Force that can be managed, and we're in a unique position to do that given our capabilities,” he said. “So it's a pretty significant expansion, both in software and services, and in the training and the infrastructure to support that level of security.”

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