GCSS-Army: Providing big data for readiness
Cpl. Eric Adcock, a motor sergeant for the 335th Signal Command (Theater), shows Spc. Andrew Davis, a wheeled vehicle mechanic, how to check the oil in a humvee during preventive maintenance checks and services training at the 335th Signal Command he... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

Commanders answer the question, "What do we want to accomplish?" They describe the desired outcome and define success. The Global Combat Support System-Army (GCSS-Army) can provide the data and information needed to help meet the materiel management outcomes leaders seek, but only if it is used effectively.

Commanders don't need to see daily transactional details; they don't want the forest (readiness) to be blocked by the trees (data). Instead, they need big-picture key performance trends, metrics, and analyses that help to synchronize operations.

Commanders need to be able to visualize the battlefield and see where risks and problems will arise and where decisions are required. Commanders want concise, straightforward, accurate, and current information, and they want that information now.

GCSS-Army can provide this materiel management information and deliver readiness results. Since its inception in 2012, GCSS-Army has been instrumental in flattening and integrating the Army's processes. GCSS-Army improves readiness by providing a single integrated database with near-real-time information for the functions of supply, accountability, maintenance, and finance.

The system has reduced the amount of data blocking the collective view of readiness by being significantly more accurate and timely than multilayered legacy systems. As retired Lt. Gen. Mitchell H. Stevenson states in his November-December 2016 interview in Army Sustainment, "Before GCSS-Army, the systems we were using were stovepipes that did not use a common source of data. So you were constantly having to reconcile [data]."

Now commanders have access to a common source of data, and GCSS-Army allows a much clearer picture of readiness.


Strategic-level logistics organizations such as the Army Materiel Command, the Defense Logistics Agency, and the U.S. Transportation Command exist, in part, to ensure the Army achieves success at the tactical level. GCSS-Army enables sustainment from the supporting organic industrial base all the way down to Soldiers installing a part on a tank before quickly returning it to the fight.

The integration in GCSS-Army affords a clear pathway that creates a "single version of the truth" that the Army has never had before from strategic to tactical levels. Each commander, leader, and operator can see the same status for a piece of equipment or part.

Storing data in different systems at each echelon is a thing of the past. Commanders and leaders now have full visibility of equipment and the data from the systems that support that equipment for maintenance, maintenance records, serviceability, supply, and accountability. Having full visibility helps commanders to plan for future requirements and to shape readiness.


GCSS-Army is fast. The single database rapidly processes and updates part deliveries, work orders, and maintenance scheduling, which previous programs took several days to do.

Motor pool clerks no longer have to reconcile entries with supply support activities (SSAs), which saves countless man-hours. Authorized stockage lists are automatically replenished as items are issued to customers. Supply sergeants order a part or equipment and receive a screen alert when it reaches the SSA warehouse.

Maintenance control officers can better plan the effective use of their resources by using the GCSS-Army equipment status report (ESR), which provides real-time views of equipment statuses and parts availability. Motor sergeants receive automated notifications of upcoming services and inspection requirements.

Operator and mechanic equipment qualification and permit records are maintained in GCSS-Army. This eliminates the legacy requirement to regenerate this information each time a Soldier arrives at a new duty station. These are just a few of the many materiel management improvements provided through GCSS-Army.


GCSS-Army enterprise resource planning (ERP) is like a high-performance aircraft--let it fly! The move to an ERP solution has provided many benefits, including systems integration, more timely and accurate information, and the "big data" analytics used by many industry leaders. But has the move truly enabled better readiness and improved the common operational picture to help commanders understand the battlefield?

Much more can and should be achieved. The Army is using only a small portion of what GCSS-Army is capable of providing. Completing increment 1 fielding and improving GCSS-Army will enhance leaders' ability to build readiness, but there are ongoing actions, best practices, and ideas underway that can be used right now to put additional wind under the wings of GCSS-Army.

ACCEPT CHANGE. Some are slow to fully embrace the Army's leap from the Standard Army Maintenance System and the Standard Army Retail Supply System to GCSS-Army. Many wanted to re-engineer the Systems, Applications, and Products (SAP) software of GCSS-Army to align more closely with old legacy systems and processes. However, full acceptance of the new system and openness to its capabilities are needed in order to allow GCSS-Army to expand and take off.

It is true that GCSS-Army's industry-based SAP approach will not meet all battlefield requirements. Some customization will be required, but it must be a balanced effort. As the Army enhances the SAP program, changes must be directed by a routine governance process that is the single source of requirements.

Enhancements must be linked to strategic goals that are prioritized and funded, otherwise the Army will find itself re-creating the status quo. The challenge now is putting the mechanisms and funding in place to maximize the full potential of our investment and getting beyond core capabilities. A deliberate quarterly or semiannual release plan for software development and upgrades will move us from the fielded core functionality to enhanced functionality.

The GCSS-Army SAP software has strengths that are not yet fully realized. A synchronized approach of analyzing organizations, processes, and policies that surround GCSS-Army and changing them in concert with a deliberate software enhancement plan can provide a leap ahead in capability.

TASK ORGANIZE FOR MATERIEL MANAGEMENT. Commanders need to arrange resources to take maximum advantage of systems and existing personnel. For example, III Corps led an effort to task organize existing resources to reinvigorate materiel management by directing the establishment of a corps materiel readiness center and division materiel readiness centers (DMRCs) with positive results.

The readiness center concept rearranged functions, roles, responsibilities, and authorities to improve commodity management, sustainment synchronization, and materiel readiness across the corps. It also co-located external assets with the division sustainment brigade staffs to further align and flatten organizations and processes.

The DMRC task-organized five distinct sections:

• The Strategic Cell, made up of strategic enablers, included personnel from the Army field support battalion, the logistics readiness center, and the Defense Logistics Agency who were either physically or virtually present.

• The Materiel Management Branch, consisting of personnel from the Materiel Readiness Division of the sustainment brigade support operations (SPO) section and liaisons officers from each brigade combat team to create fleet management teams.

• The General Support Branch, consisting of an SSA management team and an authorized stockage list management team.

• The Class VII [major end items] Branch, which included a consolidated staff from the division and sustainment brigade property book offices.

• The Research and Analysis/Sustainment Automation Support Management Office (SASMO) Branch, which included the SASMO staff plus a few personnel to execute logistics information systems support and research and trend analysis.

In total, the DMRC has approximately 49 personnel, mostly from the sustainment brigade SPO section. Its small table of distribution and allowances structure includes some dual-hatted personnel who have both DMRC and sustainment brigade SPO duties.

The 4th Infantry Division Sustainment Brigade DMRC quickly increased the oversight of commodity management and sustainment synchronization across the division. The brigade instituted a battle rhythm of boards, cells, and working groups within the DMRC and a protocol for reports to track supply and materiel readiness metrics.

These processes and procedures heavily relied on GCSS-Army reports for materiel management tracking. Using the analysis from the ZPARK and release strategy review, over aged repairable report, inbound delivery monitor, and fill-rate analysis, the sustainment brigade commander led a review and analysis meeting with the goals of reducing downtime, increasing readiness driver fill rates, and improving reporting accuracy.

GCSS-Army enabled the improvement of all of these goals. Over time, the shop stock fill rate increased from 5 percent to 42 percent, over-30-day jobs [not-mission-capable work orders that have been open for over 30 days] were reduced from 165 to 82, the class IX (repair parts) fill rate increased 7 percent, overdue deliveries were reduced by over 1,100, and standard pricing turn-ins accelerated, increasing the division's purchasing power by $2 million.

EMPOWER THROUGH DECENTRALIZATION. When you have the power of a system like GCSS-Army, you have to be careful to use its information as intended. GCSS-Army allows leaders at the highest levels to see and review transactions and, in effect, micromanage the decisions made at the lowest levels. This can be good when readiness fundamentals need to be reestablished; however, it can also negatively affect readiness.

Negative effects may occur in the GCSS-Army ZPARK and release strategy policies and in the businesses processes used to review and filter requisitions before they are passed in the supply system. Requisition review processes often are designed to rely on staff decisions at the corps and division levels with very little decentralization.

A recent RAND study estimates that these rules and the centralized review of requisitions have slowed our ability to place critical parts on order by an estimated 5 to 12 percent. Possible solutions range from turning ZPARK off completely to reengineering processes so that high-priority parts below a certain dollar threshold pass through without review.

Decentralizing requisition reviews down to brigade commanders and their support officers and S-8 staffs will empower their materiel management capabilities and their ability to make more decisions and execute mission command as designed.


Most important to realizing the full potential of GCSS-Army is improving training. The Combined Arms Support Command has worked to develop an overarching training strategy that includes education and certifications from the tactical to managerial levels.

The most recent focus has been to improve advanced individual training by developing a live training environment similar to the actual GCSS-Army that allows hands-on, realistic practical exercises, vignettes, and troubleshooting. This capability will eventually extend to professional military education, other centers of excellence, and installation troop schools.

Another highlight on the training front is the refurbishment of the SSA training warehouse at Fort Lee, Virginia. This initiative establishes an "objective SSA" warehouse that is a fully functioning SSA where new Soldiers, warrant officers, NCOs, and officers train with the newest equipment and GCSS-Army software.

The objective SSA will offer a program of instruction and use the full capability of GCSS-Army with all SSA operational functions, including stock control (materiel requirements planning and procurements), inventory and warehousing, hand-held terminals, and the Combat Service Support Automated Information System Interface on a very small aperture terminal.


Business intelligence capabilities are resident in GCSS-Army SAP software and are now starting to be realized. Working groups from the Army Materiel Command's Logistics Support Activity and the Combined Arms Support Command are collaborating and capitalizing on the best practices of the Materiel Common Operating Picture to build business intelligence capability into GCSS-Army.

This capability will include commander and user dashboards that will be used as decision support tools for brigades and below. The GCSS-Army common operational picture will include combat capability by weapon system, information on how long work orders have been open, long lead-time parts views, readiness data, customer wait times, and other important trends and metrics to assist leaders in understanding readiness risks and goals. Limited user evaluations are in the works.

Future planned additions to GCSS-Army include the ability to track ammunition, fuel, and transportation, which will result in a more holistic logistics common operational picture for the battlefield.


The next step will be to find a way to get GCSS-Army data into the Joint Capabilities Release Logistics and Joint Battle Command-Platform mission command systems for use within maneuver and sustainment command tactical operations centers and vehicles.

As the Army considers fighting near-peer competitors with well-equipped electronic warfare and anti-access/area-denial capabilities, it must think about reducing its logistics requirements on the battlefield. One of the most rapid ways to reduce the logistics footprint on the battlefield is to close the communication capabilities gap between logistics and maneuver units.

A more accurate and timely understanding of logistics requirements would reduce redundancy and the oversupply of commodities that stems from over estimation caused by a lack of information and planning. The future Army must make this communication link to materiel management a priority.

We need to emphasize resourcing current technologies such as Condition-based Maintenance Plus [CBM+], retail fuel tracking, and the 6,000 existing Stryker sensors and their associated communications and sensor collection capabilities. These technologies could more quickly provide a significant reduction of logistics assets on the battlefield by providing accuracy and understanding.


While significant progress was made by replacing aging materiel management systems with GCSS-Army, a need for a cultural change remains in order for a total transition to take place. A culture change will help provide the momentum and resources to fully power GCSS-Army's ERP software and big data analytics.

The speed, accuracy, and end-to-end capabilities of GCSS-Army can be stalled by a lack of training, enhancement funding, or outdated policies. We need to strive to improve ways of doing business and embrace ways that are less centralized, less bureaucratic, and less risk averse. Doing so will allow GCSS-Army and its inherently flat systems to be fully instituted and work as designed.

In the near term, units should see reduced costs associated with reductions in reorders and delayed shipments and cost avoidance from right-sizing of inventories. In the long-term, GCSS-Army will be fully integrated into mission command systems and used to clearly understand the battlefield and support the fight.

Envision a GCSS-Army-enabled logistics status report tab in Joint Battle Command-Platform that can be used effectively and seamlessly by both combat arms and sustainment leaders. When the Army has this capability, then we have achieved success!


Brig. Gen. Rodney D. Fogg is the quartermaster general and commandant for the Quartermaster School. He holds master's degrees in logistics management and strategic studies, and he is a graduate of the Quartermaster Officer Basic and Advanced Courses, Command and General Staff College, and the Army War College.


This article was published in the November-December 2017 issue of Army Sustainment magazine.

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