Marines coding in their spare time built an application to ease the process of reporting and working with data readiness data.
The First Marine Expeditionary Force wanted to use code to solve the monthly process of reporting for much equipment ready to be used in a fight the corps have. The resulting app was the inaugural winner of the Micro-Application Development Innovation Challenge, a contest created to find problems in the Marine Corps that digital transformation could help solve.
“[T]he hard work by these coding teams focused on readiness offers opportunities to improve efficiency and effectiveness in accomplishing our mission,” said Brig. Gen. Joseph Matos, director of information, command, control, communications and computers (IC4), who hosted the competition.
The value of the application extends beyond just modernizing the legacy process of assessing readiness levels, showing the potential for Marine-built applications to digitally transform data-rich processes.
“We have a lot of talented Marines that have not been in a position to make as much of an impact as they can be,” said Maj. Henok Hall, a requirements officer who helped set up the contest.
The contest first called for ideas, grading them on their technical feasibility and impact level among other categories. Selected ideas were then put to the test with a short window for the three teams selected to try and deploy their solutions.
“The hardest thing was balancing the regular day job,” Maj. Victor Castro, coding team lead from the First Marine Expeditionary Force, said in an interview.
The winning app, dubbed the Global Combat Support System Marine Corps (GCSS-MC) Reconciliation Operations Organization Tool, or just “GROOT,” gives users digital tools to report, visualize and work with readiness data. A news release about the app says it “drastically reducing the time and effort” for those reporting out equipment levels.
“The GROOT application designed by the I MEF Coding Team enables Marines to conduct reconciliation and easily display trends of their GCSS-MC status reports. GROOT aggregates a large amount of data into a digestible format and allows Marines to easily report the status of gear,” according to the release.
GROOT aggregates data into digestible formats and gives users options to view long-term trends, Castro said.
“All the tools and processes we used were really with the user in mind,” Cpl. William Crum, another member of the team, said in an interview.
Key to the winning team’s ability to even start coding was a development environment launched in April 2020 called the Marine Corps Business Operations Support Services (MCBOSS) cloud-supported software factory that all teams used to create their software.
The project would never have gotten off the ground without it, the team told FedScoop.
MCBOSS is the Marine Corps’ version of the Air Force’s Platform One software factory or the Navy’s Black Pearl, a cloud-supported development platform that uses DevSecOps to enhance the security and speed of software development. MCBOSS was created by Naval Information Warfare Center (NIWC) Atlantic and NIWC Pacific.
“If you don’t have that, this challenge doesn’t happen,” said Maj. Andrew Hutcheon, co-founder of Marine Coders.
Marine Coders, an interest group of tech-savvy Marines, provided the initial spark for the idea of the contest and helped establish how it would be run.
During the development phase of the contest, engineering teams from NIWC assisted the teams of developers.
The platform is supported by companies like VMware with its Tanzu pipeline. VMware also works with the Army on its software factory.
The ethos of going above and beyond is endemic to the corps, and being the smallest service, leaders are always looking for ways to get more value out of each Marine, Castro said. With a platform like MCBOSS and opportunities for Marines with tech skills to code, Castro and others say those opportunities will be more frequent.