Mobile app gives soldiers, civilians digital information about bases

The Army has a single mobile app that tries to tell soldiers, civilians and retirees pretty much anything they might need to know about their local installation...

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As the saying goes, if you’ve seen one Army base, you’ve seen one Army base. But now the Army has a single mobile app that tries to tell soldiers, civilians and retirees pretty much anything they might need to know about their local installation, no matter where they happen to be. It’s called Digital Garrison, and it launched across its first 60 installations this month, with more to come. Scott Malcom is the director of public affairs for Army Installation Management Command, and he joined Federal Drive with Tom Temin to talk more about Digital Garrison.

Interview transcript:

Jared Serbu: Scott, thanks for joining us. And for starters, talk with us a little bit about why the Army decided to do this at the IMCOM level rather than at the individual Garrison level.

Scott Malcom: That’s a good way to start because we did it at the IMCOM level and not at the Garrison level because we needed an enterprise solution. We needed a solution that would work for all Garrisons because what we found was last summer, every Garrison Commander desired a mobile app to help provide information about their installation for people that access the services on it. And several Garrison Commanders using their initiative went out and secured local solutions. And unfortunately, they they lacked consistency through all those apps in terms of security, standardization, cost, and such. And so we wanted to develop an enterprise solution that we could provide to all Garrisons that we knew would be secure in terms of FISMA compliance, Federal Information Security Management Act, the cybersecurity types of concerns, we wanted to make sure that what we provided was secure. So back to your point about why IMCOM and not Garrisons, we wanted to leverage just the power of the network. So we’ve got a network now of 70 standardized public facing websites that are Garrisons. And we’ve developed a way that all that data there can feed into the app through an API. The app is also fed by All of the Army Morale, Welfare and Recreation Services are displayed on that network, and that network feeds the app. And then also the network of Army Air Force exchange services, facilities, retail facilities and dining facilities that are on our installations are also represented. So it provides a holistic picture of all the services that are represented on any given installation. Just this last week, we added a basic capability to link to commissaries as well. We’ve got hundreds of thousands of people literally access Army installations around the world every day. And I think almost every one of them has a phone in their pocket. And Digital Garrison is going to provide them up to date information and facilitate access to a full array of on post services that are going to add value to their lives. And so we just encourage everybody who’s out there that accesses army installations either for work, play, shopping, training, whatever, to go to the app store, search for Digital Garrison and download it. And I think that you’ll find that it’s going to add value to the time that you spend on Army installations.

Jared Serbu: Yeah. And by virtue of the fact that you’re feeding the app via APIs, I guess the big virtue of that is it doesn’t create any new workload for installation level public affairs folks. Aactually, it probably takes some workload off because they’re no longer maintaining their own apps, which, frankly, the ones I’ve seen have not been all that great.

Scott Malcom: Yeah, so this is a real big benefit of the way we’ve designed Digital Garrison, and that is when a webmaster or a Garrison PAO or a director of FMWR on a Garrison updates the information on their website, when they hit enter, it automatically feeds the app, and there is no more labor or time or energy spent by that person to update additional sites. Matter of fact, we are moving toward a system when Garrison PAOs enter announcements, for example, they can also click a box so it’ll feed their social media sites as well. We’re all about minimizing follow on labor costs for our folks.

Jared Serbu: This is obviously something that IMCOM can’t do on its own, but are there any plans or are you looking at all at consolidating this new app with the various other army apps that are out there? Because there are several I mean, you’ve got one for IPSS-A, you’ve got a separate one for housing, to eventually get soldiers to the point where there really is a one stop shop in one app.

Scott Malcom: So yes, and no, there is a balance that we’ve got to strike. We don’t want the app to try and do everything, because then it won’t do what it does well. I hope that makes sense. So we’ve got to take an appetite suppressant on connecting it to everything. But for example, I know that the Army is working on a sponsorship app, and that’s a good thing. But right now in Digital Garrison, depending on the Garrison that you choose, you’ll be able to right from one click away, you’ll be able to go to installation newcomer page for that Garrison. So that’s a start. So we’re going to get after some of those things by can we connect now with our RCI partner housing apps. So for example, if you’re in the app and you’re on Fort Riley, and your RCI privatized company is Corvias, when you find housing in the installation directory, one of the options that you can choose will take you right to Corvias Fort Riley. So it can link to our privatized companies. We’re still working on on a capability inside the Army to have either an app or a web function to provide those same services like submitting work orders and checking status and all that, the Army’s working on an app for government owned housing and barracks, but we’re not there yet. They believe we’re still a few months out on that one. And when that happens, Digital Garrison will link to it.

Jared Serbu: I know you piloted this earlier this year back, I think in the January timeframe with just a few installations. What did you learn out of that process and how did it inform the final go live here in August?

Scott Malcom: So in January, we actually did a smaller beta tests with people that were a small group of about 50 people that were involved in the in the project. And then in March and April, we had pilot tests that we did at 10 installations that included installations in the United States, which included Alaska and Hawaii, and then also in Germany, so that we would practice it in an OCONUS environment. We did that for about a month. We had 450 users. And we learned a couple of main things from that test, and one was that it seemed too much like a shopping app. It was a little too heavy. And so we went back and we rebalanced the information there that provided information and facilitated access to IMCOM and MWR facilities as much as as the exchange. We also learned that we needed to communicate more with Garrison Commanders, who really at the end of the day are our primary customers. And we brought them in. And we did another focus group with those leaders. And from there, we have added certain capabilities to the app, we’ve enhanced its ability to message directly with people in the community. We’ve added COVID information, relevant up to date COVID information. We also have a new capability that’s in addition to the push notifications capability that we had originally, we added a new capability based on those Garrison Commanders input to have a free forum announcement section so that they could reach out and give real up to date announcements about important things that were happening on the Garrison. For example, if it’s August 18th as it is today, and it’s 100 degrees out in the air conditioning goes out and the CDC and a Garrison Commander needed to know every notify everybody on the installation to come pick up their children. If they had them there, then that’d be an example of that capability.

Jared Serbu: So you kind of alluded to before one advantage here is that since it is an enterprise capability, you’ve got the same look and feel every time you PCS, probably unless you’re going to a Joint Base, what happens there?

Scott Malcom: So Good question. Because the the app operates off API’s from networks that we in the Army operate, if a Joint Base is run by the Army or run by IMCOM, us, than it is in the app. For example, Joint Base Lewis McChord, run by the Army so they’re represented completely in the app. When joint bases are run by other services and then those services are represented on website networks that we don’t own, they are not represented.

Jared Serbu: Scott Malcom is Director of Public Affairs for Army Installation Management Command.

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