Operations and logistics from glaciers to galaxies with Lisa DeVine
What does operations and logistics look like at the extremes? Lisa DeVine, portfolio manager at Leidos, joins MindSET today to discuss this very question.
She defines what operations and logistics means, and how those definitions differ based on customer set or industry. And she offers examples of how Leidos is delivering logistic solutions from glaciers to galaxies and everything in between.
“In a commercial environment, we often think of logistics as procurement, warehousing and distribution. But in a defense construct, operations and logistics often encompasses other activities such as maintenance operations and transportation.”
But what technology is enabling this? How does automation, robotic process automation, autonomy, 3D printing, telemaintenance and wearables fit into the mix?
The market is changing constantly, driven by the “Amazon effect” - where customers want and expect more speed and efficiency. Paired with the drive for the application of intelligent technologies and an interest in more resiliency, the role of a logistician is changing too - it’s not just someone working in a warehouse anymore.
“It's so expanded these days, with software developers and analytics folks and the people who really ask ‘what if’ to make the whole supply chain work more smoothly.”
On today’s podcast:
- What are operations and logistics?
- Why companies are investing in automation in their warehouses
- Emerging technology in logistics
- The Amazon effect
- The impact of the pandemic on supply chains
Lisa DeVine: What we're seeing newly emerging in our field is a significant increase in the number of data scientists, software developers, systems engineers. These are the career fields that will have the most impact on logistics in the future.
Bridget Bell: Welcome to MindSET, a Leidos podcast. I'm your host, Bridget Bell.
Meghan Good: And I'm your host, Meghan Good. Join us as we talk with pioneers in science, engineering, and technology to understand their creative mindset and share their stories of innovation.
Bridget Bell: Welcome to MindSET. Today, we're speaking with Lisa DeVine, Portfolio Manager within Logistics and Mission Support at Leidos. Lisa started by setting some definitions on what operations and logistics means and how those definitions differ based on customer set or industry. She gave some examples of what Leidos is doing, really from glaciers to galaxies, and having operations and logistics in these extreme environments.
Meghan Good: And we talked about what kinds of technologies are involved to make that happen. Everything from automation, Robotic Process Automation and even autonomy, to 3D printing, tele-maintenance and wearables. It was such a mix.
Bridget Bell: And then we talked about how and why the market is changing with ops and logistics. She talked us through the Amazon effect, that many customers are looking for more speed and efficiency. And then that's paired with this drive for the application of intelligent technologies and an interest in more resiliency.
Meghan Good: And with those changes, we also talked about how the role of a logistician is changing, that it's really not what might've been traditionally viewed as someone just working in a warehouse, but it's so expanded these days with software developers and analytics folks and the people who really ask, "What if?" to make the whole supply chain work more smoothly.
Bridget Bell: She encouraged all of us to remain curious. So, let's dive into that curiosity and start the conversation with Lisa.
Bridget Bell: Welcome to MindSET. Today, we're speaking with Lisa DeVine, Portfolio Manager within Logistics and Mission Support at Leidos. Welcome Lisa.
Lisa DeVine: Thanks for having me, Bridget.
Bridget Bell: So let's start with a little bit about your background. Can you tell us about your role at Leidos?
Lisa DeVine: Yes. As you said, I'm a Portfolio Manager within the Defense Group, but previously I have held roles... I was the Master Solution Architect. I've been a principal investigator for research and development projects. I also served as the Chief Technology Officer for the Logistics and Mission Support Operation. In the CTO role, I collaborated with our business development teams to infuse technology into our solutions, making sure newly emerging technologies and capabilities were incorporated into our programs and solutions. I had also another role. I led Leidos' Operations and Logistics Technical Core Competency Practice, where I helped the company develop the logistics strategy with its accompanying technical capabilities. And we've worked to improve performance execution in our logistics operations and workforce development efforts.
Meghan Good: So even in your role in logistics and mission support, keeps coming back to that operations and logistics. And for our audience here for MindSET, can you give us a better definition of what is operations and logistics?
Lisa DeVine: That's an excellent question. We get this all the time, and I can offer it always depends on our customer sets and how they define it. In a commercial environment, we often think of logistics as procurement or warehousing and distribution. But in a defense construct, operations and logistics often encompasses other activities such as maintenance operations and transportation. If you talk to an acquisition person, they would define logistics traditionally using the 12 integrated product support elements as defined by the Defense Acquisition University. And because of this, because of these varied and diverse definitions of what logistics means, we have a broad family of ideas and activities that we call operations and logistics.
Meghan Good: So sometimes it's like the kitchen sink, huh?
Lisa DeVine: It absolutely is the kitchen sink. And logistics really is a core function of many programs within Leidos. Our listeners may know of some of our key offerings that we have today, what might be considered a pure logistics activity, in our Logistics Commodities and Services Transformation contract for the United Kingdom Ministry of Defense (MOD). And in that contract, that is definitely a pure type of logistics contract, where we are procuring commodities for the UK MOD and then distributing them to the field.
Bridget Bell: Can you give us some other examples of Leidos' efforts in this area?
Lisa DeVine: If I had to define the Leidos approach to logistics, I would say we generally support large enterprise projects or incredibly challenging or unique logistics projects. We have a saying, "We do operations and logistics from glaciers to galaxies," which references our Antarctic Support Contract and our NASA Cargo Mission Contract. The Antarctic Support Contract is an effort by the National Science Foundation that encompasses all of the activities necessary to logistically support the three US Antarctic program research stations and dozens of seasonal field camps spread across the continent. That's larger than the United States. In fact, the supply chain to Antarctica is the longest supply chain in the world. Similarly, the NASA Cargo Mission Contract is an effort that resupplies the International Space Station. Under this contract, Leidos integrates and packages thousands of items that the astronauts need to live and work at the International Space Station. In fact, we just completed the integration and shipment of over 3,000 items for a launch last week. That flight was the 11th ISS mission that the CMC team has supported during the past year, with all of the cargo processed, integrated and delivered on time.
Bridget Bell: So we're really doing operations and logistics at the extremes, from on the ice in Antarctica to getting things up into space?
Lisa DeVine: Yes, it's a really, really interesting career field for people who are considering going into logistics.
Meghan Good: So what kind of technologies are involved in current ops and logistics efforts, especially if you're working across so many different environments?
Lisa DeVine: Well, I'll bucket the technologies in this way, by the types of logistics work we do. If you consider procurement, for example, procurement involves significant amounts of invoices, various information systems and back-office functions. And because of that, you have a lot of data from various different information systems. And the technologies such as Robotic Process Automation is really showing proof points about how it can deliver efficiencies to the tedious and often manual processes that are just part of that normal form of doing business. So from just a back-office function, RPA is becoming a very significant technology. And any type of artificial intelligence and machine learning application is also becoming essential to logistics work, because we tend to deal in large disparate data sets. And so we want to be able to aggregate them to gain meaning and understanding, whether it's in warehousing and distribution operations. Or where is risk in my supply chain? Or how efficiently and effectively are we accomplishing our maintenance operations?
Lisa DeVine: And so we see a multitude of new applications and efforts around the area of predictive logistics, predictive maintenance, and predictive readiness. Another area that's becoming where a lot of companies are investing in is automation. And this could be automation within a warehouse, whether it's autonomous forklifts or autonomous distribution systems, autonomous picking and packing systems, which are really prevalent in the commercial industry today. Or autonomy as it applies to autonomous delivery. So we're beginning to hear a lot more about companies investing in delivery via drones or delivery via autonomous vehicles in an operation setting. There's also investment in additive manufacturing or 3D printing, where instead of keeping a large variety of parts on a shelf where you might only need them once or twice a year, companies are now investing in 3D printing where they print them as they need them. And that delivers a cost efficiency and a storage efficiency that companies are beginning to really take advantage of.
Lisa DeVine: Another type of interesting technology that we see in this area are wearables. We hear a lot about telemedicine in the current COVID environment. And there's a similar application for tele-maintenance, where we have technicians out in the field and they come across something that they maybe haven't seen before, and using their wearables, they have a senior engineer looking over their shoulder and helping them troubleshoot or diagnose something. And if you think of tele-maintenance in an Antarctica setting, having a technician in Antarctica being able to communicate to somebody in New Zealand or in the United States to solve something really becomes a key part of our technical solution.
Bridget Bell: That list of technology seems almost endless. In fact, it covers a lot of the topics that we've spoken to on MindSET so far this season. So with such a complicated mix of technologies addressing various missions, what overall challenges do you work with customers to solve?
Lisa DeVine: So I would say the biggest challenge facing our current customers today is, what mix of current emerging technologies do I need to have that is most cost effective for where I am today? So we work hard to design solutions that are broad or open enough on a type of architecture or backbone, where as new technologies are introduced, we can easily incorporate that new technology into the current solution they have. We also work hard not to deliver a highly technical solution to a customer that maybe it's not relevant to where they are or what's affordable for them. And the example I can use in that is in an automated warehouse, that's a significant investment to automate a warehouse. If you don't have that upfront investment, it might be much more cost effective for you just to do warehousing in a traditional way and maybe apply other technologies such as RFID technologies or wearables to increase your efficiencies in how you do your operations without going to a full automated implementation.
Meghan Good: Well, that makes a lot of sense to make it fit the mission and then tailor the different technologies over time to really manage the amount of change that you have.
Lisa DeVine: Absolutely.
Meghan Good: In talking about change, I wonder, what do you think the future of logistics looks like in your mind? What applications do you think we'll see even in the next five years or so?
Lisa DeVine: Well, the market is changing rapidly for three reasons. The number one reason is customer expectations are increasing. We tend to call this the Amazon effect. People are accustomed now to ordering something, and within one or two days, having it show up on their doorstep. And because of this, they have this expectation where that then applies for all types of material and commodities. And so we work really hard to try and make the ordering process and the delivery process as speedy and efficient as possible. And you'll see this both commercially and in the federal customer environment. That is what everybody is driving to. But I would say the greatest area of change we are going to see in the next even two to three years is the application of intelligent technologies, whether that's AIML or Robotic Process Automation, and even some of our 5G technologies. Those are dramatically going to alter how businesses and operations in the security of logistics are performed today.
Lisa DeVine: And then I would say the pandemic has significantly exposed the lack of resiliency of many of our supply chains. So we have suddenly come face to face with some of the fragility of our supply chains in questions such as, "Where are my supplies coming from? Where are they located? How much do I stock?" All these things that we once upon a time felt like we had a good handle on are being reexamined. For example, in hurricane season, if you have critical suppliers or critical warehouses that are in the area that will be impacted by that hurricane, understanding those risks and how they may impact your operations will be important. What's my vulnerability to my supply chain if I have a key activity occurring in that area? The pandemic has significantly exposed the fragility of our supply chains, just from the questions of, "Where are my supplies coming from? Where are they located? And how much do I stock?" If you have a positive COVID case in your warehouse, and that warehouse is closed, understanding how that impacts your supply chain is significant.
Lisa DeVine: And it's not just limited to the pandemic itself. We have other factors which significantly can disrupt supply chains, such as weather events. For example, in hurricane season, if you have critical suppliers or critical warehouses that are in the area that will be impacted by that hurricane, or a wildfire that may be in an area where you have a critical warehouse, each of those are risks to your supply chain that have to be assessed, and then the vulnerabilities mitigated. And so AI/ML helps us to discover the vulnerabilities in our supply chain, the predictive parts of it, the mitigation parts of it. And I believe this is the environment that we will see the greatest amount of investment and change in the fairly new future, 18 months to three years.
Meghan Good: What an interesting philosophical twist to really that just-in-time logistics model. And then in the face of so many different kinds of disruptions all at once and all of these technologies converging together, that you're coming up with a more interesting solution that's much more resilient going forward. That's really fascinating.
Lisa DeVine: I think you're also going to see significant more focus on security of our supply chains. There's the physical. I just talked about the physical nature of the supply chains. But in our logistics operations, we also have to consider the security of them, the security of the data, the security of the pipeline. So, we don't want to be disrupted by a cyber-event. We don't want our banking data, and it's banking data whether it's a company being paid an invoice, or even intellectual property, how much I'm charging for my commodity. And so you will see another investment in that type of area around the security of data, security of the operational posture of both the customer and projects.
Bridget Bell: So with this convergence of the drive for speed and efficiency and application of intelligent technologies, faced with also the security needs and the need for resiliency, I imagine there has to be a lot of people and resources behind this. Can you tell us about the team that really has to come together to make all this happen?
Lisa DeVine: Absolutely. It's important to remember that the people who are delivering the logistics solutions day in and day out, the people in the warehouse, the maintenance technicians, the procurement specialists, they have been at the executing end of logistics for decades. But what we're seeing newly emerging in our field is a significant increase in the number of data scientists, software developers, systems engineers. These are the career fields that will have the most impact on logistics in the future. And who knows? You might be the one who has to figure out how to send supplies to the International Space Station. So, that's a pretty cool logistics solution.
Meghan Good: It definitely is. Lots of challenges in there. So with that, are there similar kinds of challenges around logistics that you're really excited about or a particular kind of solution you're really excited about deploying?
Lisa DeVine: I think the future of logistics behind what we just talked about with security and AIML applications, the area that is really the most compelling right now is 5G. And we're doing several research and development projects about the potential of 5G. Because once the 5G infrastructure is in place, how we use that is really fundamentally going to change how we just do our day-to-day operations. So imagine if you had an aircraft, and this happens a little bit today, but it'll be much more common in the future. If you have an aircraft or a ship or a platform that has all these sensors that's constantly collecting data and performing some sort of health monitoring, imagine if the platform itself could just self-report, "I had this issue over here." And that report then goes to the technician, so the technician understands what the problem is. And the warehouse says, "They might have this problem with this area. Please send the component or sub-component to the maintenance shop." And the minute the platform arrives at its destination, the maintenance technician is on-hand to troubleshoot and diagnose and replace and set that platform back into operations.
Lisa DeVine: The speed with understanding what's happening is going to increase exponentially. Similarly, imagine that there are stocks in a warehouse that are just self-reporting. The stocks are telling the warehouse people where they are in the warehouse and how many items of them are on the shelf. And then if you need something, you have autonomous vehicles that just go and get those items and deploy it, or configure it for how the user needs it. 5G opens up all these opportunities in technologies to be aggregated together into something even more compelling than what we're using today. So when we talk to our customers about it, we try to articulate to them that this is not a 10 or a 15 year effort. This is something that we will see increasingly in the next two to five years. The emerging technology and how quickly it's being adapted for an operational environment has significantly accelerated. And so when I look forward, when I look outward at the potential of logistics and how it applies to our operations, it's exciting. It's fast.
Bridget Bell: That is exciting. And like you say, it's not science fiction. It's not far future. It's going to be happening very soon. And it goes back to that Amazon effect and that drive for speed and efficiency and how we can use technology better. So I'm wondering, as we look into the future, if someone is interested in a career in ops and logistics, what advice would you have for them?
Lisa DeVine: The best advice I could give anybody is to remain curious. We're in an environment today where technology is creating a lot of disruptions. And we need to remain intellectually curious and technically curious in logistics and in many other career fields and say, "Well, what if I took this technology and applied it to this challenge I'm having over here?" And so my best advice is to be curious, be open to new technology and make sure that your group, the people you surround yourself with, reflects a diversity of thought and backgrounds. Because it's the people with different ways of looking at your field or different ways of looking at your operations that probably have some of the most innovative and creative solutions.
Meghan Good: Well, that's really wonderful advice, Lisa. And I think it's something that's absolutely necessary in a technology-driven field. So with all of that said, do you have any final words for our audience?
Lisa DeVine: I'd like to highlight that Leidos is truly committed to identifying, developing and applying technology to make the world safer and healthier, and to solve our customers' most challenging problems. And this isn't just a tagline. The employees of Leidos are really committed to this mission. And when we're engaged and collaborative, we can really deliver solutions to some of today's toughest challenges, whether it's impacts from the pandemic or it's the next generation of technology we're trying to deliver to our customers in the federal government. And there really isn't a single person who can deliver this. It's, as I said, a diverse team with varying backgrounds and competencies that have the best ideas to create those solutions. So, I would challenge everybody to try and find the team that they want to be a part of and be a valued contributor.
Meghan Good: Well, thanks for your time today, Lisa. Thanks for all of your insights on this market.
Lisa DeVine: Thanks for inviting me.
Meghan Good: And thanks to our audience for listening to MindSET. If you enjoyed this episode, please share with your colleagues and visit leidos.com/MindSET.