Military software hits target

Military suppliers don't usually get to celebrate their wins publicly, but one Melbourne software developer is pretty chuffed to have played a role in this year's Nobel peace prize win.
By · 12 Nov 2013
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12 Nov 2013
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Military suppliers don't usually get to celebrate their wins publicly, but one Melbourne software developer is pretty chuffed to have played a role in this year's Nobel peace prize win.

Hardcat's asset management program of the same name has been deployed by this year's winner, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

Based in The Hague, the watchdog was awarded the top prize "for its extensive efforts to eliminate chemical weapons". It is charged with overseeing the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons arsenal.

Hardcat founder Dan Drum said the firm's software was used to check the agency's battery of bar-coded gear onto aeroplanes in the Netherlands and track its location while in the field in Syria.

It's also used to schedule calibration checks for test equipment during the mission and monitor the use of consumables, including chemical protection suits.

The Hardcat system was simple and robust and "of great assistance to our 500-strong staff in carrying out their work", OPCW director-general Ahmet Uzumcu told IT Pro.

Hardcat cut its teeth in the military arena when the British Department of Defence deployed the system during the Bosnian and Kosovo conflicts in the 1990s.

The firm's client base subsequently expanded to include a who's who of defence, including the US and Australian forces and the United Nations. The software has been deployed in theatres of war including Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Systems that track the whereabouts of weaponry and equipment during operations were vital for agencies looking to keep a handle on costs, Mr Drum said.

Before deploying Hardcat in the Balkans, British defence sources had admitted they were losing a million pounds of assets a day, with no idea where they were going, he said.

Defence clients are loath to use smartphone technology due to security concerns, so Hardcat is deployed on robust Motorola handheld PDAs. The software has been designed to suit use in international theatres, where complex, difficult-to-navigate programs receive short shrift.

"We had to make it flexible, robust because it can't crash in the field, and easy to use," Mr Drum said.

Defence agencies account for about 5 per cent of Hardcat's business. The remainder of its 1000-odd clients hail from the mining, construction, education and government sectors, across regions including China and Africa. Competitors include multinational giants SAP and Oracle and IBM, with its Maximo system.

Hardcat also sells a forensic software system Sabre, which is used by the NSW police force for tracking evidence. The system has been marketed internationally to law enforcement agencies including the South African and Abu Dhabi police forces.

Founded by Drum in 1986 after he was made redundant by the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works (now Melbourne Water), Hardcat employs only 35 people, including four support staff in Britain. Turnover for 2013-14 is expected to reach $10 million.

Mr Drum said Hardcat's longevity and success were largely down to its willingness to compete globally, long before the internet broke down the barriers and gave every start-up international reach.

"It was easier [back then] - if you had the guts to get out there and go for it," he said.
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