Army's premier data-mining program gets rave reviews
November 26, 2013
By David Vergun
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Nov. 26, 2013) -- The Army's Enterprise Management Decision Support, or EMDS, was selected as the best information technology program of 2013 by FedScoop 50, which honors 50 of the most innovative people and technologies within the federal government.
The award also weighs cost savings, efficiencies and federal and industry partnerships in its selection criteria.
Yet, for all of Enterprise Management Decision Support's, or EMDS's, merits, Soldiers on the ground and senior leaders will likely never see or use it, said Lt. Col. Bobby Saxon, chief of the EMDS division, which falls under the Army's deputy chief of staff, G-3/5/7. But they'll reap its benefits, he added.
That's because EMDS is used mostly by action officers, he said, explaining how it works. A senior leader from the brigade level on up who wants to determine the readiness level of his unit and its subordinate units will task his action officer to find out the training, personnel and equipment readiness of those units.
Typically, the action officer had to sift through some 20 databases in the Defense Department's classified and unclassified network, each of which required different passwords and protocols.
The process was time consuming and expended a lot of man-hours, he said. When EMDS went online in 2010, however, that all began to change because EMDS did all the data mining in a "near-real-time" fashion.
Over time, EMDS became more powerful as more databases were mined and the data itself became more valuable as the EMDS team learned which data was the most critical and useful to users and senior leaders, Saxon said, adding that by gleaning key pieces of information prevents information overload.
And, the data shows past as well as current readiness levels, so trends and anomalies can be seen and all of this data can be visually presented in graphs and charts that are generated.
Now, senior leaders can get the big picture when making decisions about unit training, risk management and deployment that the Army uses in its Forces Generation Model, known as ARFORGEN, at the strategic level, he said.
And action officers across the Army are especially happy, Saxon said.
"They say 'wow, this information was hard to get before discovering EMDS.' So it's common to get that kind of anecdotal feedback," he explained.
The next step for EMDS, according to Saxon, is extracting and extrapolating information from the data that will predict trends. These trends can help senior leaders anticipate future readiness and resources.
Saxon believes EMDS will be "ready to deliver initial predictive analytics capability by next summer." Predictive analytics is a term that refers to a model for predicting the future.
Business and agencies are already using predictive analytics for such things as insurance underwriting, marketing and economic forecasting so there are literally hundreds of models already out there to choose from, he said.
But predictive analytics also, to a certain degree depends on assumptions of what will be, and at this moment that's a challenge, he said. For instance, no one knows yet what level the Army will be in Afghanistan next year, if at all, and there are budget uncertainties as well.
"It really depends on us being able to get the right data in here, right quantity and types of data, as well as to find and utilize the right models to help us see the future," he said, adding that "it's doable."
Even with the best data and models "you won't be able to predict the future," he said, rather, it will be like "taking a fuzzy picture and making it clearer."
EMDS already can provide some near-term projections, he said. For instance, the personnel community has a pretty good idea of what the Army will look like three to nine months down the road, he said, because they know who's up for re-enlistment, what percentage would typically re-enlist, they know how many individuals signed contracts and will go to basic next summer.
And the forecast for EMDS looks good as well, if the past is any indicator.
This is the second program award EMDS has earned this year. In April, EMDS was recognized with the 2013 Computerworld Honors Laureate Award in the Innovation category.
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