All posts by Daniel Krentz

WDS Upgrades Its Election Supply Chain & Security Solutions

Nearly 140 million Americans voted in the 2016 election. While much of the attention regarding elections focus on candidates and their platforms, the reality is that the election system itself is a robust and impressive methodology. In both function and form, the election process starts and ends with election equipment and software.

Wireless Data Systems, Inc. (WDS) provides the unmatched, high-quality inventory management and software tracking system to some of the largest elections departments in the state of Florida. Trusting WDS with election supply chain and security means placing massive value in their ability to handle the election assets flawlessly in each stage of the process.

From election preparation to organizing field operations and securing pickup to securing media returns, relying on WDS systems and technology underlines how critical accuracy and security are in the election process. Knowing where election assets and ballots are at all times is imperative.

With this in mind, WDS has made some groundbreaking improvements and additions to our election supply chain and security, most notably:

  • Allocation Module upgrades
  • Quality Assurance Module
  • GPS Assisted Proof of Delivery

Over the last 15 years, the modules within our system are continually updated and upgraded to meet the needs and demands of the changing elections cycles. Let’s take an in-depth look at some of our latest developments.

Allocation Module Upgrades

Built-in 2018, the WDS Allocation Module was developed to allow users to determine how many assets to allocate based upon the number of registered voters at each polling site. The original system put in place utilized mathematical formulas (managed by the user) to calculate how many of each item is needed per polling location based on the registered voter count.

Dynamic Technology Improvements

Beginning last December, the Allocation Module was given a critical upgrade to make the system dynamic – letting users add and remove assets freely. In doing so, it allows the system usability for any elections department, including addressing the early voting needs which happen separately from Election Day. Early voting is a much simpler process but still incorporates dynamic changes.

In addition, modifications to the Allocation Module include inventory validation based on the allocation and enhanced label printing process to accommodate the ever-changing list of items.

As requirements change, new and more secure equipment becomes necessary. The objective for WDS is to provide users with the tools to grow and change without being reliant on us. Our feature-rich system allows for a seamless process before, during, and after Election Day.

Quality Assurance Module

Quality assurance is vital in virtually every industry, but when it comes to elections, this feature is indispensable. With this in mind, WDS has launched the Quality Assurance Module. Providing a list of items in need of quality assurance (QA) prior to being sent to the polling locations, these lists are created based upon the allocation needs mentioned above.

Within the process of QA, many validations occur to ensure that the right items are being scanned, packed, and prepared for the polling site. The checklist portion of the module is a dynamic feature that allows the client to add and remove checklist items as their equipment and requirements change. This feature gives our clients the necessary independence that keeps running efficiently and smoothly on their end.

In addition, the QA Module has a damaged item section, so if an item does not make it through QA, it is rejected and isolated to be addressed before being released. It is important to remember that the Quality Assurance Module works downstream from Allocation Module, meaning the Allocation Module is feeding the QA data to keep systems accurate and secure.

The main goal here is to take numbers from Allocation Module and put them in real-world format (the checklist), which allows users to scan and assign assets in the real world against the allocation. All of the WDS checklist features are customizable. With a dynamic checklist, all QA measures can be modified as the user sees fit.

The Quality Assurance Module has added a deeper and essential level of accuracy, safeguarding critical assets and ensuring a well-organized overall process.

GPS Assisted Proof of Delivery

WDS prides itself on placing a major emphasis on security, accountability, and efficiency. With this mind, we have launched the landmark GPS Assisted Proof of Delivery. A mobile application that can be easily installed on a smartphone, the GPS Assisted Proof of Delivery serves to create unmatched tracking capabilities for all of your assets. The system comes equipped with two essential features:

  1. Geofence Technology
  2. Breadcrumb Tracking

GPS Assisted Proof of Delivery works to verify that the assets being scanned are assigned to the correct precinct.

Geofence Technology

The geofence technology is a Google Maps API where the user types the desired address into the system, saves it, and then that address is bounced against Google Maps to determine the longitude and latitude for the specific location. From there, the user can customize the specific location to an impressive degree of precision, i.e. the back of the building or a particular parking lot. Using the mobile app upon delivery, when the asset serial number scanned is outside of the geofence, an alert is sent out as an extra security measure.

Breadcrumb Tracking

The breadcrumb tracking functionality is essential to the accuracy and security of all assets. Opening the app and hitting start when a user leaves the warehouse with an asset, breadcrumb tracking is enabled. At this moment, it begins taking the GPS location of the phone every few seconds as the user drives through the city. With the intention of ensuring that the user is taking the assets to the polling site, breadcrumb tracking allows for an unmatched chain of custody where it would otherwise be unavailable.

Being able to confirm that the asset is being moved along the right route, without lengthy stops along the way, greatly reduces security concerns.

The Value of GPS Assisted Proof of Delivery

GPS Assisted Proof of Delivery sets geofences that determine the acceptable drop off location. Once in route, breadcrumb tracking is enabled to pinpoint the exact location of critical assets (such as media, ballots, etc.) at all times. Once at the drop off location, the application will validate that the user is within the geofence when scanning items. If outside of the geofence, a photo may be taken to compensate for GPS accuracy. In addition, there is always validation that the item was assigned to the location regardless of GPS location.

As such, geofence technology and breadcrumb tracking work in conjunction to create a uniform, fail-safe operation before, during, and after Election Day.

The Future of Election Supply Chain Solutions and Beyond

It is important to note that our systems do not directly interact with a voter, but they ensure that the polling sites have the right equipment. No voter data or ballot data is stored within our system, yet we are constantly aware of the physical asset security our systems are responsible for.

At WDS, we not only build adaptable applications for our clients, but we also maintain a high standard for adaptability within our company. The various systems mentioned above can easily be tweaked and modified for other industries. For example, the GPS Assisted Proof of Delivery can be utilized for any company that delivers items to their clients. They can ensure that the right item gets dropped off at the right location and we can send a notification when it is dropped off.

In addition, the Allocation Module could potentially be utilized in construction where various sized/types of jobs need varying amounts of inventory allocated to them. The Quality Assurance Module could be utilized in any manufacturing and packing operation. From technology to innovation, we continue to improve upon and develop our dynamic solutions.

Applying technology and innovation to system management means building application solutions that meet evolving needs. At WDS, we have mastered the ability to create solutions for one industry and then fine-tune those solutions to work across another industry. In doing so, we have proven time and time again that our clients benefit greatly from having our hands in developing and perfecting their hardware and software solutions.

2020 Election System Roadmap

Polling Site Reconciliation Module

Expected Completion Date: September 2020

This module is meant to further close the physical security gap within the Election Cycle. All steps occur at the polling site on Election Day, and they are done by the polling site staff. The module will allow additional validation of assets and ballots before polls open and once polls close. Both of these points in the cycle are critical security points to ensure ballots and equipment are all accounted for and have not been tampered with since being delivered.

GPS Assisted Critical Asset Retrieval on Election Night

Expected Completion Date: December 2020

Voted ballots and ballot media (thumb drives from ballot tabulators) are the most critical assets to an election operation. WDS can help ensure their security is by tracking their location while they are being driven back from the polling site. This new mobile application will have loading validation to ensure all expected ballots are loaded, and breadcrumb tracking functionality (like our GPS Assisted POD App) in order to track the user’s cell phone en route back to the collection center. Finally, it will work in conjunction with our Election Night Dashboard to provide a graphical look into where the critical assets are on Election Night.

Making a Smart Investment with R&D Credit

The federal government established a program to help support innovation as well as research and development for all companies based in the U.S. that undertake an at-risk venture, specifically involving R&D (research and development). Enacted in 1981, the R&D credit (officially called the Credit for Increasing Research Activities) was consistently extended (16 times) prior to becoming a permanent fixture known as the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act of 2015.

Since a portion of development at Wireless Data Systems, Inc. are self-initiated new modules, we have been utilizing the tax credit for the last 3 years. A lack of customer initiation is what puts us in the category of research and experimentation. In many cases, we develop systems with trends in mind, not customer needs, and then we sell the system later.

The last several months of the pandemic have transformed the business operations across nearly every industry. Companies are having to pivot their entire offerings and the way they do business post-COVID. For example, companies are having to invest in web meeting solutions to adapt to a work-from-home mentality. They are having to increase their e-commerce offerings and have to research and invest in new technologies to facilitate that. The changes have opened the door to new opportunities and new risks.

Leaning on Technology for Your Business Post-COVID

At WDS, we are proud to have over 25 years of experience in successfully designing and implementing complete software and hardware solutions. As such, many of the companies impacted by COVID could benefit greatly from two of our solutions. Specifically, we have a Proof of Delivery (POD) and Direct to Home solution that solves many of the new issues companies are now facing.

Proof of Delivery (POD) offers:

  • Complete chain of custody tracking (reported in real-time)
  • Asset to location validation
  • Validation that asset scanned within a geofence
  • Verified accountability of all users
  • Audit trails of all user transactions

Direct to Home/Self Install Kit (SIK) offers:

  • Customer order entry portal
  • Fulfillment of the order’s equipment
  • Shipping with tracking
  • Confirmation of doorstep delivery

These solutions can completely transform a company’s ability to do business. For example, retail locations close and citizens are hesitant to allow technicians and service personnel into their homes. As a result, we have seen the recent explosion of goods being delivered via FedEx, UPS, and USPS.

Our POD product is designed to address the ever-growing issue with porch theft. In addition, the SIK product allows companies to ship customer-installable equipment to their customers since they are not able to roll trucks with technicians.

The point is, with these tax credits, companies may file for an R&D credit against the investment they made to implement and integrate our solution with their existing systems. Being innovative in spending with the R&D credit can position companies to outlast their competition and thrive during even the most uncertain of times.

Leveraging R&D Credit for Business Impact

The R&D credit enables companies to make investments in a critical capacity. With an innovative approach, organizations have the opportunity to withstand unforeseen situations and remain profitable. At WDS, we take pride in our ability to create software solutions that make an impact.

Are you interested in learning more about our cutting-edge POD or SIK products? Please contact us today.

Does pay per transaction make sense?

Custom and semi-custom software can solve problems off-the-shelf solutions just can’t do. The reason is obvious: off-the-shelf software is meant to appeal to broad audience while custom solutions are tailored for a specific set of solutions.

The downside of custom solutions is cost. While off-the-shelf software effectively spreads the cost over a large user base, custom code has a targeted scope. Companies must balance the cost savings of going with a pre-packaged program plus consider the additional cost of swivel chair and manual processes required to make up for its lack of features. This incremental cost of making up for the lack of functionality of a canned software package may far outweigh any savings in the software itself. It could end up costing your company more in the long run.

To help overcome the initial development costs of a custom or semi-custom software solution, companies should consider a transaction-based or pay-per-use model. These pricing models are becoming widely embraced, particularly by those with low volume needs or those whose usage fluctuates in and out of peak periods.

While every pricing model has different impacts, a pay per transaction model has compelling advantages:

  • Cost of initial development
  • The amount you pay is tied to the number of transactions placed, and ideally, the revenue being made
  • The system provider is equally invested in the success of the system
  • No need to manage user licenses

Obviously, there are things to consider when pursuing a transaction-based model, such as:

  • The amount paid over time could end up costing a lot more than a traditional licensing model
  • The incremental cost can become a financial burden if other operational costs are not in line with revenues

If your company’s transactions are tied positively to revenues, then the transaction model likely makes sense. It also reduces the exposure should transaction levels not achieve anticipated results.

If revenue and transactional volume are not positively related, you may have larger problems than a transactional model can solve.

Obviously not all software providers offer a pay per transaction pricing model. At WDS, we pride ourselves on providing the exact solution our clients require. This includes pricing our solutions in a way that helps our customers achieve their operational and financial goals. That could be transaction-based pricing, perpetual licensing, or a hybrid of both that enables manageable startup costs and balance flexibility with predictability. The important thing is that we partner with our clients to achieve mutually beneficial goals.

If your company is facing challenging software and support costs, a transactional model may be the way to go.

Leveraging GPS in Tracking Critical Assets

Most of use GPS in some form or another every day. Whether it be navigating to your destination or tracking your ride share, the Global Positioning System has enhanced our lives. However, many organizations are not utilizing GPS to their maximum benefit.

GPS powers vehicle location and in-vehicle navigation systems that are widely used throughout the world today. By combining GPS position technology with systems that can display geographic information or with systems that can automatically transmit data to display screens or computers, a new dimension in transportation and asset tracking is realized.

In addition to longitude, latitude, and altitude that we are familiar with. (GPS provides a critical fourth dimension – time. Each GPS satellite contains multiple atomic clocks that provide very precise time data to GPS signals. GPS receivers decode these signals, effectively synchronizing each receiver to the atomic clocks. This enables users to determine the time to within 100 billionths of a second, without the cost of owning and operating atomic clocks.

Precise time is crucial to a variety of economic activities around the world. Communication systems, electrical power grids, and financial networks all rely on precision timing for synchronization and operational efficiency. The free availability of GPS time has enabled cost savings for companies that depend on precise time and has led to significant advances in capability.

Precise Location + Precise Time = Cost & Security Advantages

WDS is leveraging GPS technologies into our TSX™ systems and mobile applications. With an accuracy down to 10 centimeters and precise atomic time, you will be able to track where and when critical assets have been transported, delivered, and transacted. For additional security, integrate geofencing and be alerted when an asset is moved beyond an authorized location.

WDS recently launched a Proof of Delivery (POD) mobile application for Elections. With this app, elections departments can track critical polling assets, ballots, and election-night dependencies in real time. The app supports full integration into TSX™ Elections or can be used as a standalone app for smaller elections operations.

With the continuous modernization of GPS, we can expect even more beneficial features to come. WDS is committed to GPS technologies and will continue to provide the best-in-class solutions that benefit our customers.

Advanced Shipping Notice (ASN) Technology with Your Partners

A critical aspect of managing your election infrastructure properly is an efficient and accurate process for receiving and recording new inventory and equipment. As such, a pre-shipment alert often referred to as an Advance Shipping Notice (ASN), is essential to helping with speed and accuracy during the inbound process of election items.

A pre-shipment alert like ASN is imperative, making certain that your IT team is prepared to receive the assets. The following are some of the highlights of working with Wireless Data Systems, Inc. (WDS):

  • Critical data regarding identification fields for the equipment, i.e. serial numbers, software firmware versions, model numbers, MAC addresses, and warranty dates/period
  • Fast and accurate scanning and validation of manufacture-provided unique identifier (i.e. serial numbers) as the county asset tags are being applied. Thereby creating the permanent systematic bond/relationship between manufacture ID and county or state IDs.
  • Accurate method for meeting financial responsibilities from budget departments (i.e. proof that systems are in place to provide accurate intake and accountability of purchased hardware/assets – sometimes required by the state or provider of the funds/budget).
  • Sets groundwork for accurate and fast tracking, chain of custody, and accountability of equipment from the beginning of its entire lifecycle.

At Wireless Data Systems, Inc. (WDS), our systems are able to support a multitude of ASN methods depending on our customers current and planned data infrastructures, including:

  • Text Files with Pipe Character Delimiters: This is by far the simplest of formats that involves simple files transfers. While not the most-efficient, this process can achieve the benefits of ASN technology in small to medium-size operations.
  • XML Files/Web Services: The XML format is a more efficient format that allows large amounts of data to be imported via API or Web Services. (An alternative is to send/copy an XML formatted file, which is preferred over the Text file format, to an SFTP location to be retrieved by our system.)
  • EDI ASN 856 templates (preferred method): The IEEE x12 EDI ASN standard is robust and efficient. Our systems can receive the EDI 856 ASN. This process can be implemented in small to the most-complex elections operations.

With WDS, we’ll provide you with complete chain of custody of your assets and real-time visibility throughout the election cycle of your election-critical items. Our team works with your IT team to coordinate scheduling and make sure that every aspect of the election infrastructure is handled with speed, accuracy, and efficiency.

Data Integrity & Security

Company’s data is now considered one of its most valuable assets, so it should make sense to do everything possible to protect it. Data loss also includes losses in productivity and data restoration costs. Operating systems, software, and even hardware can be replaced, but data is not so easily recoverable or replaceable.

Just as a business owner will purchase insurance to protect their physical business assets, a backup acts as “insurance” against data loss incidents. Backing up ensures that data is easily recoverable and operations aren’t affected as much.

Backup best-practices:

  • Maintain at least 3 copies in different formats such as physical media and cloud
  • Backups should be encrypted to ensure only authorized users can access it
  • At least one backup should be kept offsite and off-network
  • If time for full-backup becomes an issue, consider prioritizing the most important data and data that has changed

Maintain security patches. Staying updated on your security hardware and software is crucial to ensuring that its working at its highest performance capability. Automatic updating keeps your system working with the most current anti-malware and antivirus signatures

Secure all aspects of your business including:

  • Using spam filter on email
  • Ensure firewalls and anti-virus software is maintained and up-to-date
  • SSL security on company website
  • Reviewing access control and roles for all employees and who can access what
  • Remove outdated and unused software from servers and users machines.

Other tips:

  • Be sure to securely wipe old devices of data. If a device or hard drive is damage, make sure the data on it can never be accessed.
  • Test your back up and security processes to make sure they are doing their intended purpose. Test the recovery data process to make sure data can be restored properly in a timely manner.

Just as with your personal health, prevention today will save you and your company a lot of time and money should there be a security breach. Consult a professional if necessary.

All of WDS products are built with security and data loss prevention at the heart of the system. Whether our systems are deployed onsite or on the cloud, we can provide guidance and direction to protect the integrity of your data. Contact us today to see how we can help your company.