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Bright Idea in Government Award: A Rapid Logistics Solution for the UK Ministry of Defence


The United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence (UK MOD) approached the Volpe Center’s logistics experts with a challenge: design an interim solution for real-time active management of MOD cargo operations worldwide to bridge the gap between the shutdown of its old tracking system and the implementation of a new one. The intended replacement system was inadequate and behind schedule.

The Volpe Center designed a functional Interim Cargo Solution (ICS) system for UK MOD within seven months. The system has been operating so well that UK MOD is planning to use ICS as its main cargo solution until it is replaced by the developing system, at least to mid-2012. The ICS fills a system "gap" between the retirement of a legacy cargo booking system and the introduction of a new system, which is under development.

The ICS has been developed using Agile Development methods over an eight-month time period, allowing the old system to be shut down. The alternative for the MOD would have been to revert to a manual system—with its greater costs and reduced flow of cargo to various operational venues across the world. ICS provides the United Kingdom with worldwide visibility of air transport operations, including passengers, cargo containers, and end items packaged within those containers.

The overall Agile Development team included system developers from the Volpe Center, augmented by subject matter experts from the MOD. Together, they were able to produce more than a basically viable system: they created one designed to specifically meet the needs of existing operations in real time, with a very high degree of user input and satisfaction. It was made clear at the outset that many at the MOD considered such a project impossible. However, not only was the task completed on time, but at a fraction of the cost estimated to replace the legacy system.

In addition to meeting performance goals, the Volpe Center team developed the solution for under US$ 375,000, a fraction of the planned cost to replace the legacy system.

The Volpe Center’s solution was recently recognized by Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government as a "Bright Idea in Government." UK MOD sponsors are delighted by this honor, and have expressed that it "directly reflects the value we place upon the Volpe Center’s contributions to the UK MOD."

The work is continuing, with additional enhancements and an operational system configuration that includes very low cost, secure, mirrored servers running at the MOD in the UK and at the Volpe Center in the U.S., so as to provide for rapid contingency and fail-safe operations.

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