Mobile e-Forms and the Military Leader

Being an IT professional, and an Army Lieutenant Colonel, I have a somewhat unique perspective regarding mobile application functionality related to military leaders. As a Battalion Commander (my current military position), I frequently need access to various pieces of information and forms while out of the office/on the road. If I have my military-issued laptop with me, and can find a Wi-Fi hotspot (or use tethering), I have access to the appropriate forms and information needed. However this isn’t always the most convenient…not to mention that I normally don’t even have my military-issued laptop with me. The same is true when I’m at home, sitting on the couch, watching TV with my family and don’t necessarily want to pull out the laptop.

An Alternative

A better solution would allow me to use my tablet or phone. As a leader, a small fraction of the electronic forms that I need to complete on a recurring basis are: quarterly performance counselings and annual evaluation reports on subordinates; approving and signing of various personnel and supply actions; and submitting award requests.

Prerequisites

Being able to electronically sign one of these forms requires several things: a DOD-issued CAC (smartcard), a smartcard reader with corresponding software, and software to let you digitally sign a document. The smartcard reader and software tend to be platform specific, although Bluetooth-based solutions are now starting to appear (although they are somewhat costly). Provided you have all of these in place and connected to your laptop/tablet/phone, you’ll have the ability to electronically sign a document, however, this is only one side of the equation: You still need to store the data somewhere, an electronic form.

The Army adopted IBM Forms Viewer (currently version 4) as its standard forms viewing/filling software. While some forms are available in PDF format, the vast preponderance of them use IBM Forms Viewer. IBM Forms Viewer stores the forms as Extensible Forms Description Language (XFDL) files, which contain both the form definition and the data used to populate it.

Keep Good Notes

The key to completing performance-related forms is to keep good notes throughout the year. While there are various “leader book” mobile applications out there to store notes and other information in your subordinates, none of them (at least that I’m aware of) let you push data to these form files. The information and notes that you acquire throughout the year are invaluable in helping you to write counseling and evaluation reports. How great would it be to simply push your notes and data from the app directly to the appropriate form to pre-populate a good portion of it? Furthermore, if I use other applications such as OneNote, Notes, Excel or some contact manager app, I have no way to pre-populate the appropriate form with data from them.

Pre-Populate the Form For Me

One way a mobile application could allow you to populate the form would be to provide an interface to define the mapping of data points from the source application to the corresponding ones in the form using an easy-to-use/mobile-friendly, intuitive interface. The application would need to be able to interrogate the destination form and display a listing of available fields to use in the mapping. A second, and perhaps more preferable, alternative would be to provide the automatic populating of data based on the selected, predefined, form (smart populating).

Now What?

Of course, there also needs to be a way/place to save a working copy and the completed form, whether it’s to the local storage on the device or a cloud-based service. Once the form has been completed, you’ll need to be able to send it to someone for action, preferably as an email attachment.

Mobile Warrior

Military leaders need a way, on mobile devices, to view, edit and save data to XFDL files/forms.

Military leaders need a way, on mobile devices, to view, edit and save data to XFDL files/forms. Once we have that ability, we’ll need a way to take and keep notes on various aspects of a subordinate’s job performance throughout the year, and be able to use that data to pre-populate the various mandatory forms that are used on a daily basis. Having this type of functionality on mobile platforms would allow military leaders, starting at the team and squad leader level, to make better use of their time and help them to complete various forms in a more effective and timely manner.

About Stephen Iacovelli

Stephen joined AIS in 2013 as a Principal Software Engineer, bringing with him over 24-years of progressive experience in all aspects of systems design, implementation and management. He has led and managed complex technical implementation projects for clients in various sectors and industries including banking, insurance, printing, telecommunications, manufacturing, retail and national defense. For the past two years, Stephen has focused his efforts on development mobile applications on the Android, iOS, and Windows Phone platforms. He has a Master’s of Science in Information Systems from Roosevelt University, in Chicago as well as a Bachelor’s in Computer Science. Currently a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve, Stephen has nearly 30-years of combined enlisted and officer service in the Army.

  • Is it currently feasible to launch “IBM Forms Viewer” on any mobile devices?