Gleason Research Associates (GRA) has one core mission: “Do what's right for the Soldier, Sailor, Airman, Marine and First Responders who defend our great nation.” The veteran-owned small business, with four U.S. locations, provides advanced weapons systems engineering, inventory management solutions, counterinsurgency/covert operations training and operational support to the Department of Defense and other federal agencies.
Back in the early 90s, GRA had under a dozen employees. For its inventory management unit, the processes were completely manual: filling out paperwork on site and completing data entry back at the office.
In an interview with Mobile Enterprise, Sharlene Hicks, VP, Business Systems & Services, GRA, explained that previously, employees had to eyeball items out in the field and manually enter serial numbers for each piece of equipment. GRA decided to take the manual processes, which were prone to human error and inaccuracy, and automate them in a system using Filemaker Pro.
By the mid-1990s, the company decided to take it up a notch by integrating barcode scanners. These devices initially improved automation. However, the quality of hardware was rather lacking and eventually became a problem.
“We really needed devices that withstood harsh conditions,” Hicks said. About five years ago, GRA partnered with Intermec for its technically sound and fully rugged mobile computers, and has never looked back. With these integrated devices in place, the entire system has evolved to be web-based – automating all transactions from the field. “That really took us to another level,” she said.
From Task to Task
Property management for GRA’s inventory solution unit involves a wide range of tasks on a daily basis: moving equipment, conducting spot inventory, disposing and adding equipment, and deploying equipment to military exercises - anything from computers to combat vehicles. Each task has an associated automated process.
“We have over 480K lines of code,” Hicks noted. “What started out as a system to complete government forms and monitor inventory has turned into a full blow property management system.”
GRA currently has 200 Intermec scanners - the CN70 and CN3 - employed by its field workers and additional third-party users who also have access to the system. “Built to survive the rigors of the road,” the devices live up to their claim; according to GRA, some rugged scanners have actually been in the field for a full five years. “We never had one just die,” Hicks said, explaining that devices have never been replaced because of hardware failures, but simply because of access to enhanced technology.
The company updates its proprietary software two times annually, working with each customer to make sure the mobile computers are also updated. GRA’s software interfaces with the Army’s system but all data resides on the client’s server. (The customer is responsible for data security.)
As a result of using Intermec mobile computers to automate processes, GRA has reduced the amount of time to complete annual inventory from 6 months to 7 days. But it won’t stop there. The company makes a substantial investment in internal research and development each year and continues to increase efficiency and productivity.
And, now with 120 employees - half of which are routinely in the field - it’s safe to say that automation grows the business.