Army Software Factory tackles problems big and small
In recent years, the military has had various problems with the design and delivery of software capabilities by contractors on time – the deployment of a new human resources platform has been delayed and the launch of a new tuition assistance platform has been marred by failures that have prompted Congress to demand answers.
One of the ongoing solutions that army leaders have touted is to transform internally. A growing cohort of soldiers gain hands-on experience at the Army Software Factory, a small unit aligned with Austin-based Futures Command tasked with developing Army-owned applications.
“We’ve only been in business for a little over a year,” noted its director, Lt. Col. Vito Errico, in a telephone interview. “We promised the army [to train] a cohort of 25 to 30 [personnel]…every six months. And I’m proud to tell you that we absolutely executed that.
Errico’s troops also helped the army solve problems along the way.
The fiscal year 2022 defense policy bill required the service to allow National Guard and Reserve troops to browse temporary active-duty visit lists on their personal devices — previously they had to surrender in an armory to access the site on a government network.
Unbeknownst to Congress, the Software Factory was already collaborating with the Army’s G-3 operations directorate on a website that did just that: Carrera, which launched in February in time to meet the legislative deadline.
“We had already been working on Carrera for four months before the [law] pointed that out,” said Errico, who added that having Soldiers involved in the development pipeline can help anticipate issues that matter to Soldiers. “We were able to respond to [congressional] instructions very quickly.
The app received more than 4,000 users – just under 1% of the entire Guard and Reserve – in its first two weeks, according to Errico.
The Software Factory has also produced applications that centralize preventive maintenance resources and streamline logistics warehousing processes.
Errico thinks his unit presents the army with a good problem to have, asking, “How can we as an army evolve this?” He said his highly skilled soldiers want to continue serving the military in their chosen fields, as long as the service can “offer this type of talent a viable way to stay in the military.”
“You might think that people with options…would be looking to get out into maybe more lucrative pastures, but instead what we’re finding is that if we can keep them in those kinds of roles, they are happy to stay,” Errico said. “[They’ve] already self-selected in service and self-selected in the idea of giving something of unique value every day.
He said Futures Command is working with the service’s personnel leadership and talent management task force to develop future assignments for soldiers completing their three-year tours at the Software Factory.
An important first step towards managing this talent was to assign additional Skill Identification Codes – ASI – to the troops there. This allows HR professionals in the department to track them and consider their skills in future assignments, Errico explained. New ASIs include Platform Engineering, Application Engineering, and Software Product Management.
Now the task is to figure out how to integrate trained coders into combat formations, Errico said.
“The [Army headquarters] the staff continues to iterate on the proper use of the talent that comes out of here – the mission…of the Software Factory is to build strength design where it makes sense for the military,” he said. he declares.
One option, according to defense intelligence firm Jane’s, is to deploy software development teams for future conflicts where technology contractors may not be able to serve freely in theater as they have done in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“You’re going to see us experimenting with a wide variety of uses,” Errico said. “Then the Army leadership will decide what makes the most sense… in the longer term.”
Davis Winkie is a staff reporter covering the military. He originally joined Military Times as a reporting intern in 2020. Prior to journalism, Davis worked as a military historian. He is also a human resources officer in the Army National Guard.