On an early September morning, situated in a high-rise building overlooking the Washington, D.C. landscape, a group of about two dozen students eagerly answer questions posed by their professor during a digital transformation lecture.
“Okay, who thinks that Google shouldn’t break into the autonomous vehicle market?” asks the instructor, sourcing counterpoints to his previous question.
As the students deliberate over their responses, a brief study of the student name tags suggests that this isn’t a typical college classroom. Maj. Gen. Paul Chamberlain, director of Army Budget. Mr. Greg Garcia, acting chief information officer for the Army. Ms. Diana Connolly, director of cost & performance management, ASA (FM&C).
The three-day training event, held at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business campus in Arlington, VA from Sept. 1-3, included 25 senior executives across the Headquarters, Department of the Army staff. The Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Financial Management and Comptroller [ASA (FM&C)] hosted the pilot program for Civilian and military executive-level leaders within Finance, and select other business mission areas, to better understand data science, business analytics, strategy and innovation.
“Our workforce has a unique opportunity to lead the charge for the Army's business transformation by acquiring skills that are in-line with private industry,” said Jonathan Moak, principal deputy of ASA (FM&C).
“The purpose of this training was to help strengthen skills at an organizational, team, and individual level. Though it was specifically tailored to our executive-level leaders, everyone in our workforce stands to benefit from the operational knowledge they will gain and put into action.”
Cheryl Partee, director of proponency for ASA (FM&C), organized the training to help bridge knowledge gaps within the workforce.
“One of the major objectives of the program was to allow the civilian and military leaders to understand the need for data science and analytics,” Partee said. “At the beginning of the program, the challenge was understanding how it applied to their respective areas of responsibility. By the end of the program, I think that challenge was overcome.”
Partee explained that the program could become a standard for Headquarters-level Army elements, rather than an isolated training event. “Many of the disciplines within ASA (FM&C) are intertwined, so this is an excellent tool to incorporate into our daily operations,” she added.
Kristof Ladny, who recently joined ASA (FM&C) as a highly qualified expert and the Senior Advisor for Financial Data Modernization, was encouraged by the initiative to expose Army leaders to explore data as it relates to problem solving. “Most of the executives attending the course will probably not be coding solutions themselves,” he said. “Now that they have a better understanding of data science capabilities, they are far better equipped to identify the correct problems to solve with these techniques.”
Ladny believes that the training will spark Army leaders’ imagination to identify future cases for exploring data-driven solutions, rather than relying on technology to support these efforts.
“If the Army continues to use programs like these to demystify machine learning techniques, Army leaders will become much more efficient at directing their data scientists toward projects that have a high probability of success,” he said.
For Kirsten Taylor, director of investment for ASA (FM&C), she learned that data scientists including Ladny can assist with solving data problems. “We have all this data at our finger tips, however sometimes I’m not sure we completely understand what it’s trying to tell us,” she said. “I learned that we have data scientists within [ASA] FM&C who are ready and willing to help others with projects and questions. This will be great as we move forward tackling new and exciting problems brought to us.”
Taylor said that she wants others in the workforce to learn and understand the processes available to them through programs like this one.
For some participants, the most helpful part of the training was a practical exercise. Instructors broke down the class into teams, providing them with real data to analyze for a competitive use case.
“I was impressed by the case-study methodology, where I was permitted to see actual examples of problems, and how data assisted the decision making process,” said Wesley Miller, deputy assistant secretary for Financial Operations and Information. “Another key observation was the need for accurate data. I am hopeful that we will begin enforcing controls that ensure we collect, and maintain, verifiable data.”
With the pilot program for data science and analytics launched, leaders within ASA (FM&C) are working toward implementing more training events to develop the workforce, a priority for the organization.
“This opportunity is just one of many we plan to create to equip change agents within the Army Financial Management profession,” added Moak.