Navy arms inspectors with handhelds

The Navy's Military Sealift Command is using Sybase Inc.'s SQL Anywhere Studio with its Ultralite database to develop a handheld application designed to allow ship inspectors to enter readiness information on 120 ships used to supply troops worldwide.

Running on Palm Inc.'s OS, the application allows the command to eliminate the paper forms that inspectors previously used to note maintenance and safety needs, information that was manually entered into laptop computers. When command officials set out to create the handheld application, called Snapshot, they wanted a low-maintenance solution for remote operations that would support multiple platforms including handheld devices, officials said.

Sybase's MobiLink synchronization will enable the command to use Navy networks to move data back and forth between ships and operations centers that also run SQL Anywhere.

"The success of this project was the rapid extension of an existing laptop data collection application into a handheld database application," said Mark Andress, project manager for the Snapshot application. "The inspectors needed more efficiency in the data collection, sorting and report generation, so that they could spend more time conducting the actual machinery assessments."

The command's development approach was based on a two-screen interface. The inspectors use one side to record deficiencies and the other to record the severity of the deficiencies. The application was also designed to enable inspectors to collect data regarding the normal operation of various systems so that in the future they will have a baseline against which to compare faulty readings.

One area of concern was whether the application would run quickly enough on a handheld computer, according to Andress. Command officials didn't want frustrated inspectors waiting for the application to bring up another screen.

"We had two Sybase programmers working with our prime contractor to improve handheld efficiency and still allow for growth with the data," he said. "We also took advantage of improved processor speeds on the handhelds themselves. Time savings is the main benefit."

An added benefit is that the application has cleaned up a lot of the data because, to save inspectors time, the command grouped more data together with pick-lists, Andress said. As a result, the data is more consistent across the inspectors, and officials will be able to perform sophisticated data analysis of the information gathered, he added.

Command officials estimate that the new application will enable them to reduce the amount of time required to manually update and extract data from the ships by at least 70 percent. In addition, the data will be more timely. Previously, the data had up to a one-year lag time, which will be reduced to 48 hours.

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