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Photo: N/A, License: N/A, Created: 2016:10:27 08:38:28

Photo courtesy of Tobyhanna Army Depot Tobyhanna employees work inside the facility.

Photo: N/A, License: N/A, Created: 2017:05:30 15:53:14

Photo courtesy of Tobyhanna Army Depot A look inside Tobyhanna Army Depot

by Dave Gardner

Some of the most impressive trends within the NEPA commercial arena involve new applications for data once thought impossible, including advancements with analytics and artificial intelligence.

The golden age of old-fashioned wholesale distributors supplying retailers has largely become a part of history. An NEPA-based firm has, however, picked up this banner by electronically supplying business with a vast array of goods instantly.

Mike Averto is CEO and co-founder of ChannelApe, a cyber middle-man selling inventory and assorted items needed for commerce business-to-business with no plans to enter the consumer arena. His business plan utilizes online product catalogs from a massive number of vendors, where data is pushed back and forth between suppliers and customers to insure quick delivery complete with tracking numbers.

ChannelApe is therefore a cyber data and sales system utilizing an integration platform for vendors across a grand scale.

“Suppliers who can’t quickly ship wind up having very bad public relations, so we try and deal only with established vendors who provide accurate data to the customer,” said Averto. “We are looking to expand our partners and brands, and forecasts indicate that in the future apparel will become very hot.”

Averto emphasized he has no plans to leave NEPA or test the waters with conversion to a traditional wholesale distributor with physical inventories. His biggest challenge involves workforce issues as his company strives to find people who possess the needed IT skills for high-level e-commerce.

“Business within the upcoming decade will increasingly become technologically advanced with a continuing upheaval as data is increasingly pushed between users, creating new sectors and new jobs,” said Averto. “Here in NEPA, one of our biggest challenges is to do a better job of creating our own employees with these skills.”

Averto also demonstrated a sense of humor when he chose a logo image to represent his cyber wholesale storefront. The image, it turns out, was not selected for any deep symbolic reason.

“The ape is just a cheap logo that was available, and it’s very cool,” said Averto.

Artificial intelligence

Advancements in the world of artificial intelligence are represented by a stunning development at the Geisinger Health System, where computers have been trained to “read” CT scans that detect a life-threatening form of head hemorrhage. The condition afflicts approximately 50,000 patients annually in the United States and displays a 47 percent of mortality rate within 30 days.

Early and accurate diagnosis is the best defense against these cranial bleeds. According to Geisinger, the new artificial intelligence system has already reduced the time to diagnosis by 96 percent.

Aalpen Patel, MD, chair of Geisinger system radiology, explained health systems such as Geisinger are dealing with vastly increased numbers of scans to be interpreted. Within Geisinger, if a patient was in immediate need, the scan read time had been extremely fast, but for patients labeled non-acute, the read time was about 10 hours.

When coupled with practical limits of what human radiologists can accomplish, the decision to develop the artificial intelligence was logical. He added plans are underway to expand the use of the artificial intelligence for the interpretation of aortic and mammogram scans.

“In the future artificial intelligence such as this will make us better doctors but will not replace us,” said Dr. Patel. “The big winners are the patients themselves.”

Data analytics is also being used at Geisinger to battle the deadly condition known as sepsis. This involves life-threatening organ dysfunction caused by inappropriate response to infection, with more than 1.6 million people in the U.S. diagnosed annually resulting in more than 250,000 deaths.

As many as 80 percent of sepsis deaths can be prevented with rapid diagnosis and treatment. This scenario is now being utilized within a cyber-program Geisinger has developed that originally scrutinized files of more than 10,000 patients diagnosed with sepsis between 2006 and 2016.

Vida Abedi, Ph.D., staff scientist with the department of biomedical and translational informatics, explained that ultra-fast computers compile data about 119 variables tied to sepsis contraction from patient electronic medical records. That includes patient age at hospital admission, the number of previous hospital stays, prior catheter use, and previous patient access to preventive care.

When the software identifies an admitted patient as statistically at risk from sepsis, the caregiving team will watch extra carefully and move quickly if a sepsis indicator appears.

“Geisinger also has an associated geographic information system that is looking at social-economic factors that could affect sepsis onset,” said Dr. Abedi.

Cyber forecasting

Electronic budget and core forecast systems for business organizations are being marketed by an NEPA-based firm known as PlanGuru. Christian Wielage, CEO, explained that his offerings include more than 20 forecasting methods which can project for up to 10 years, while including an integrated income statement, balance sheet and cash flow statement.

“We target our customers globally, and everything is done electronically as our products constantly evolve,” said Wielage. “We must give the financial modeling the data it needs, and it’s not about assessing likelihood of variables. Instead, we provide tools to build a budget and forecast model so the company’s management can make better decisions.”

Some of the popular offerings available at PlanGuru include Analytics, which is a web-based dashboard and reporting tool. It quickly provides clients and colleagues online access to view both high-level key performance indicators and detailed financial performance.

An Excel-based add-in also builds advanced reports in Excel using PlanGuru analyses as building blocks. This can integrate ratios, calculations, charts and other metrics reports, all of which can be updated with a click of the mouse.

“It’s healthy to set targets and get people thinking while starting conversation,” said Wielage. “But, we never oversell the ‘ah-ha’ moment. This is more like a business going to a gym, working consistently and over a period of time creating improvements in their analysis and decisions.”

Cyber warfare

Cyberattack, as defined by Wikipedia, is “any type of offensive maneuver employed by individuals or whole organizations that targets computer information systems, infrastructures, computer networks, and/or personal computer devices by various means of malicious acts usually originating from an anonymous source that either steals, alters or destroys a specified target by hacking into a susceptible system.”

Tobyhanna Army Depot, with its 3,000-plus personnel, is squarely within the crosshairs of this battle as it serves the military around the world who increasingly rely on a blend of software and hardware. In a modern twist, Tobyhanna is now expanding its capabilities to include mitigating risks associated with cyber-attacks and associated threats to military weapons systems.

Dozens of IT specialists, new hires and depot employees, have accepted positions to support the new mission. The associated tasks are distributed among specialized depot areas such as security analysis, testing, configuration management and quality assurance.

Daniel Soderberg, software sustainment division chief, and Donna Askew, cyber security services branch chief, outlined how they use special combination software packages of commercial and private issue. No end exists to the mounting threats field equipment is being exposed to by “bad actors” who increasingly exploit software vulnerability, creating vital needs to identify the problems and correct the actions to sustain the involved equipment.

“We use significant consulting with the government and private industry for modern cyber security, and regardless of what happens in the field we have to react quickly to specific problems,” said Soderberg. “Some of our days spent fighting these threats can be very busy, and our equipment is used by other branches of the military, and not just the army.”

Askew explained that the effective mitigation of cyber threats is not always cut and dried. The Tobyhanna personnel who possess the special skills needed may wind up in spirited debates to create total software packages that insure the warfighter in the field has the tools he or she needs.

Robust changes within software can also create unintended consequences. This may give rise to scenarios where these alterations must be tested and quality certified before release back into the field.

“We need talent from the IT world with the top skills,” said Askew. “The local colleges and job fairs are all part of the effort we use on an ongoing basis to locate this talent.”