All posts by Daniel Krentz

Beware of Bloated Software and Its Inherent Problems

Many software companies have come and gone trying to provide custom software, semi-custom software. A successful software provider that delivers custom software is typically staring with 80% of the solution in a base system, and then have the team of design engineers, system architects, project managers, and developers to tweak that base system into a “client-specific” solution that fits the operation like a glove. This “semi-custom” solution approach requires a complete a complete and absolute “Problem-Solving Mindset and Culture.” A canned solution provider hires marketing teams, sales teams, and packaging teams….and a build their business primarily working to deliver the same solution in as many instances as possible. “Development” is rare, if ever, and usually is only provided as market-wide system upgrade. The interval for these updates is usually every one or two years. Customer requests for changes are typically added to a wish-list of sorts from all current clients, and the requests that the software provider deems “justified” will then be scheduled and added to the queue for the next released upgrade.

Conversely, a semi-custom solution provider (like WDS), responds immediately to customer requests. Within days a team is assigned to the request to deliver a Level of Effort (LOE) estimate, create the specification, and spin up the solution in QA for testing, sign off, and the move to production. This results in the quick elimination of the pain point or bottleneck for the client, the immediate realization of the additional efficiencies expected from the change, and an immediate realization of the ROI that justified the requested modification.

The benefits of a semi-custom solution provider are significant for the client. The software is designed to “specifically” address their unique needs and requirements, and as the system and its benefits become an integral part of the operation, the ROI is dropping dollars to the companies bottom-line, and in most cases, those saving are reinvested in additional custom modules or functions, that then exponentially increase the savings delivered by the system.

Bloatware, Months of Configuring and Training:

One other observation about canned solutions is that most canned software companies try to build in as many hooks and switches into their software to try to solve all possible scenarios or client requirements. Unfortunately, this creates bloatware, with screens, logic, and data that individual customer’s will never use or need. The negative impact is at many levels. First, the shear complexity of the configuration screens can take months to get right (if ever), training user on the complex interrelationships between modules in use and modules turned off create confusion on user interface screens, the client pays at least a percentage for modules they will never use, and in the end, most clients will only using 25% of the complete solution for which they paid.

Trusted Advisor/Consultant:

The semi-custom solution is a far better approach, because the overall cost for the system is gauged on only the modules the client needs, and can be implemented quickly. A software company that commits to this problem-solving model is agile and responsive, their entire team is typically always in the solve problems mode and becomes a trusted advisor/consultant team as much as a software provider. Responsible companies will be willing to say no to customer requests if there are forces or prerequisites that might decrease the probability of a successful implementation and use. For example, a responsible problem-solving company will understand the innerworkings between departments I an organization, and how the different departments and team may or may not help with the success of the solution. And that is not to imply a negative approach by some of the internal team (although this does happen), but staff size, company policies (or habits), and departmental turnover rates can make it difficult for the solution to deliver 100% potential. As such, a “responsible” organization will ask the proper questions, will “learn” everything possible about the client’s operation and teams, and will see early on, any challenges that will jeopardize the solution. At WDS we take a brutally honest approach to these conversations, and challenge both sides to explain and acknowledge these issues and whether they can be overcome.

Real-Time Visibility for Remote Field Asset Movement

The ability to effectively manage your election infrastructure throughout the election cycle is absolutely critical. Over the last several years, the industry has seen a tremendous transformation in supply chain and logistics technology. Essential components like easy asset tracking and seamless system integration lay the foundation for an effective election infrastructure. With Wireless Data Systems (WDS), we have proudly become the nation’s leader in software and hardware solutions with TSX™ Election Supply Chain.

The reality is that it is easy to feel uncomfortable about accountability when critical items from an election cycle are at remote locations, in transit to and from remote location, and the chain of custody is passing between multiple personnel. Luckily, TSX™ Election Solutions is able to fill all of those invisible gaps with complete real-time visibility. TSX™ Election Solutions

From the moment the critical items leave the four walls of your facility, TSX™ Election Solutions is reporting back individual sightings and transactions as your staff members move through their tasks. When the assets and/or items are delivered to the polling sites, the TSX™ Election Solutions module validates the correct location and updates in location of the items real-time.

The TSX™ Election Solutions dashboard provides the following information:

  • Immediate visibility with the user that executed the delivery
  • The items involved in the delivery
  • The exact date/time of the transaction

In addition to TSX™ Election Solutions tracking “everything” leaving the main facilities and their current field locations, specific items may be flagged in the system as “Critical”. The ability to flag items in the system plays an enormous role in security and efficiency. On Election Night, when the polling sites close, these critical items are high priority for the system and management dashboards are on alert for critical item sightings and validation.

The ENR (Election Night Receiving) module and the Election Night Dashboard work together to update the system in real-time when they are moved from the polling site to the election night collection centers. In many scenarios, the election night collection centers are strategically located facilities manned with the department’s staff. The department staff may be charged with the accounting for successful delivery of the “Critical” items. These “Critical” times often include:

  • Voted ballots
  • Thumb or media drives
  • Tabulators
  • Signature documents or forms

As the highest priority assets and items are accounted for, the TSX™ Election Night Dashboard displays real-time updates for each polling site/precinct combination. This technology is unmatched, making for revolutionary strides in election infrastructure solutions.

Finally, post-election night, or concurrently on election night, the non-critical assets, items, and materials expected back to your main facility are retrieved via the TSX™ POP (Proof of Pickup). As with all aspects of the TSX™ Election Solutions, the POP transactions are recorded in real-time and automatically update dashboards. To complete the accountability and full chain-of-custody cycle, the WAR (Warehouse Asset Recovery) module is used by the warehouse staff to receive the items from the POP teams back into the main facility.

From start to finish, WDS provides superior election infrastructure management. The complete chain of custody of your assets paired with real-time visibility throughout the election cycle keeps your election-critical items completely secure

Build Systematic Efficiencies to Eliminate Hidden Costs

Building efficiency into every aspect of an organization’s system is critical to maximizing both productivity and profits. From supply chain to customer operations and from finance to marketing, each aspect must be coordinated with accuracy. In doing so, companies are able to look at each element in their operations in order to identify weaknesses and capitalize on strengths.

Data visibility lays the foundation for not only detecting hidden costs, but developing ways to save money in the process. Integrating features like real-time visibility and on-demand cycle counts creates a new avenue for cost-efficiency that will trickle into every department in the organization. A well-design system has the capacity to recognize hidden costs and generate strategic solutions.

Some of the most commonly seen hidden costs stem from the following situations:
1. Shipping the wrong items to a customer
2. Issues with space in the warehouse of a rapidly growing company
3. Dead money in old inventory that is sitting and not selling

The actual hidden costs typically come in the following forms:
1. Losing customer goodwill and the cost of shipping the items back or giving steep discounts to the customer in order to keep them and avoid the shipping back costs
2. The cost of moving to a new warehouse to sustain the rapid growth of the company
3. The dead inventory likely never sells

Clearly, all of the above scenarios and resulting hidden costs are killers for companies, from both a monetary and operational standpoint. The solution, however, is as simple as a well-designed, cutting-edge warehouse management system.

Fighting Hidden Costs with the TSX™ solution

From the simplest to the most complex supply chain systems, a structured management system must be flexible, scalable, and profitable. The above situations are extremely common and must be considered when choosing an inventory solution.

For instance, a rapidly growing company will eventually have to consider moving to a new warehouse. However, an efficient system would cut down inventory safety stock and dead stock. As a result, those areas would be exposed and it would to allow them to delay or completely eliminate the need to move to a larger warehouse, which is a very costly endeavor.

In addition, having exposure to dead money gives companies the ability to move it. Thus, freeing up cash and making the bank much happier. With an efficient system in place, assets are stored for a shorter amount of time, this creates more space through turnover and reduces carrying costs. These changes satisfy both CFOs and banks.

The TSX™ Solution Driven By Data

A well-designed system will incorporate many paths to cycle counting the inventory in order to facilitate maximum real-time visibility to the current on-hand inventory, its movement, and accuracy. For example, the TSX™ solution incorporates on-demand cycle counts during picking. Bins that are low will auto-trigger replenishment tasks that restock the locations quickly and efficiently. Even more powerful are the TSX™ cycles counts, which are driven by “fresh data” allowing focus on the money-maker items, while exposing the slow or dead stock to allow creative thinking on how to move it out and free up valuable warehouse space.

In addition, with the TSX™ AI logic, users are empowered with on-the-fly real-time information to move more efficiently through the counting and validation process. The combination of these TSX™ algorithms and designs reduce the overall cycle counting and recounting times drastically. Most clients experience a 70%+ reduction in user time spent on inventory counting tasks. When inventory visibility is at the max, you are empowered to “proactively” manage your overall inventory position, and eliminate the day-to-day reactionary situations that we have highlighted above.

Data Management with WDS

Since the architecture in TSX™ revolves around your data, not the system, your company is better qualified to make strategic, cost-effective decisions. At WDS, we are driven by the revolutionary complexity of data management.

Are you ready to increase efficiencies while lowering costs? Contact us today to learn more!

Ballot and Asset Chain of Custody: The Foundation for Election Security, Recounts, and Audits

Much of the discussion around elections security has been focused – and justly so – on cybersecurity. From electronic voting machines to jump drives and even communications, cybercrime is a real threat to democracy. Efforts to address cybercrime hacking is only part of a complete election security program. The program should also include systems and protocols for handling election assets, particularly ballots.

In addition to cybersecurity, the key to election security, timely election conclusion, and smooth audits and recounts is leveraging technology through systematic ballot and asset tracking, backed by chain of custody visibility, and process management enforcement.

ELECTION SECURITY THROUGH PHYSICAL SECURITY

Physical assets are potential access points to cybersecurity; therefore, security and protection of these physical elements (voting systems, ballots, memory devices, etc.) remains critical to maintaining a secure, but open election process.

According to The U.S. Elections Assistance Commission (EAC), physical election security refers “to standards, procedures, and actions taken to protect voting systems and related facilities and equipment from natural and environmental hazards, tampering, vandalism, and theft.” (Election Management Guidelines Chapter 3: Physical Security. EAC.)

A physical security approach should begin with a collective review of each county’s current elections procedures and processes. This includes chain-of-custody procedures and inventory control/asset management. Every touch-point should be reviewed to ensure ballots and assets are secured and tracked throughout the entire election cycle.

The review will likely identify potential gaps where chain of custody, oversight, and human error can lead to a security breach. These gaps should be addressed with a combination of physical security tactics (access, cameras, tamper-proof seals, etc.), documented policies and procedures, and an elections-specific system to help manage, control, and provide visibility to every election-critical asset and process.

TIMELY ELECTION CONCLUSION

At the conclusion of an election, ballots should be validated and properly secured. Election equipment must be accounted for, sealed, and returned. If using thumb drives, it is critical these are properly processed to ensure a timely and accurate tabulation. Every county should have a systematic way to know when these assets are returned from voting precincts in real time. A dashboard is an ideal way for elections administrators – and even secretaries of states offices – to track and identify any precincts with issues or delayed results.

Closely managing the supply chain and logistics of voted ballots and tabulation data, will not only encourage public trust, but also ensure an efficient uneventful post-election. This includes initial results tabulation reporting and post-election audits and recounts.

As the US population is expected to grow by 15-20 million by the year 2025, there will be roughly 250,000,000 people of voting age. A constantly growing population increases strain on current elections now in resources and technology to help manage election conclusion.

AUDITS AND RECOUNTS

Close elections may require tabulated ballots to be efficiently and accurately recounted. The requirements for accurate election results demand that ballots are in the correct location at the proper time, without questions to their authenticity. If questions arise, it is important to have complete chain of custody history for ballots, tabulators, and all critical assets.

In the 2018 General, Florida was faced with a statewide recount. Miami-Dade, the state’s largest county, was able to quickly conduct a timely and successful recount due largely to accurate and accessible data stored by a system that accounted for every ballot, its location, and full chain of custody history.

BALLOT AND ASSET TRACKING

According to the EAC, election officials should maintain an accurate inventory including the following:

• Voting devices (including thumb drives)
• Administrator and ballot activation devices
• Seal envelopes
• Voter registration (poll) lists
• Election result tapes and printouts
• Field supervisor and rover reports
• Poll worker daily logs
• Reconciliation reports
• Audit data
• Voting Equipment Delivery Sheets

This is an extensive list that necessitates the use of technology to manage and store data. For example, consider the average ballot can be handled by over 20 different people through the lifespan from ballot printing through the election and ultimately stored and retrieved for audits.

Every movement should be tracked and logged. The log data must be accessible to help address any issues in a timely fashion.

PROCESS MANAGEMENT ENFORCEMENT

Even if every county in your state has implemented the EAC’s best-practices, physical elections security will still fail without process management enforcement. Consider the following inherent challenges constantly faced by election departments:

• Ensuring bipartisan, 2-deep teams at every ballot touch-point
• Managing turnover in warehouse, transportation, and other logistical staff
• Recruiting and training poll workers where poll worker population remains skewed toward older Americans

Enforcement of physical security processes requires diligent effort on behalf of the entire election department. The most-effective way to keep everyone on task is to implement a system that will make it easy – even for the newly hired or physically challenged personnel – to follow correct procedures. An elections-specific system will ensure the appropriate and correct number of individuals complete every process task while maintaining a log of every transaction. If a process is not completed per policy, the system sends notifications so that parties can remedy or mitigate the situation in a timely manner. A properly implemented system can prevent a process failure from becoming a security breach.

Lastly, an elections-specific system will assist with contingency policies as a result of elections disruptions such as voter turnout variances, equipment failures, and even natural disasters. A real-world example is having a voting machine go down at one precinct. This can quickly have a domino effect throughout other precincts if there is no systematic way to repair or replace it on the fly. Every county should have a system in place that would notify, locate, and reroute the appropriate personnel and equipment to mitigate the impact of the unforeseen.

Visibility into every aspect of the election cycle is critical to security. Having a comprehensive set of procedures is only the first step of protection. In order to maintain public trust, every procedure must be validated. Every ballot and physical asset movement must be tracked and logged. That data must be available in real-time and readily accessible to address issues and any resulting media or citizen inquiries.

Challenges in knowing the location and integrity of ballots and critical assets at any point in time can be avoided through planning and use of systems designed specifically for election logistics and security. A statewide implementation of such a system can help standardize and enforce processes, save in administrative costs, and most importantly, improve overall elections security.

New Assets Upgrade for Security

The role of managing election infrastructure is complex and often logistically challenging. As such, security and protection are of the utmost importance in relation to both hardware and software solutions. At Wireless Data Systems (WDS), we are consistently on the cutting-edge of technology advancements, ensuring that our clients are equipped to handle data in the most efficient, secure, and effective manner. With this in mind, we are thrilled to announce the new assets upgrade for security!

When a department is charged with upgrading their equipment for enhanced security and protection, there is a significant effort in receiving the new assets into the department’s accounting systems and operations environment (i.e. warehouse, spoke warehouses, staging facility, etc.). That’s where we come in…

Superior Advancement in Elections Security with TSX™

Our TSX™ Election Solutions products provide a fast and secure method for receiving assets from the manufacture, tagging them with permanent Asset Tags, and recording the new Tag Number and Equipment Serial Number(s) quickly and accurately. In addition, the solution supports multiple Serial Numbers associated to a single asset where parent child assemblies for a primary asset and accessories or cases.

For example, let’s say that we are talking about a tabulator machine with a stand and protective cover/case or outer carrying cases for EVIDs, one case and multiple EVIDs. TSX™ provides a workforce with the tools and processes to ingest new assets with speed, security, and accuracy. These features are crucial in the process of protecting and securing assets during pre-election activities, Early Voting, and Election Day activities.

TSX™ Elections offers a complete real-time tracking system for election departments of all sizes. Some of the most prominent elements of the system include:

  • Automation of ballot ordering
  • Tracking of receiving activity
  • Storage of all inventory and assets during pre-election activities
  • Direction of picking and transferring for Absentee, Early Voting, and Election Day Ballots
  • Management of Precinct Assignment for assets and supplies

With the ability to validate the loading of ballots, supplies, and equipment into delivery vehicles heading to polling sites in real-time, there is truly no superior elections supply chain solution.

The Power of Data Visibility

Wireless Data Systems (WDS) is driven by the revolutionary complexity of data management. At our core, we make sure that our clients are able to make the most out of their data, keeping flexibility, scalability, and profitability at the forefront of all that we do for them. Whether we are working with a standalone system or a complex supply chain, we handle each and every client with the same dedication to speed, accuracy, and security.

Are you ready to increase efficiencies while lowering costs? Contact our Boca Raton office today to learn more!