ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md.— ‘Predictable’ and ‘complacent’ are two adjectives organizations strive to avoid. Instead, organizations are encouraged to continuously improve, reengineer and innovate, while empowering employees to share new perspectives about what’s working and what needs to change within the organization.
Recognizing a need to engage the passion, creativity and problem-solving skills of the workforce, the Combat Capabilities Development Command, or DEVCOM, Data & Analysis Center, known as DAC, kicked off their Innovation Program in June 2020. The program rounded out its first year with an Interactive Innovation Program Showcase on Aug. 31, 2021 during which DEVCOM Commanding General, Maj. Gen. Miles Brown, and DEVCOM Leadership listened to innovative project presentations in order to learn about new approaches to Army problems.
“Innovation is not new to us, to DAC, to DEVCOM, to the world,” said Andrew Barnett, chair of the Innovation Program panel and chief of DAC’s Warfighter and Futures Integration Division’s Joint Data Branch. “It was so clear we have an incredibly diverse organization with a diverse skill set. This Innovation Program empowers these employees to tackle the Army's unique challenges with unique solutions.”
Designed to reflect a hybrid approach from case studies of corporate innovation programs, Army programs to invest in high-impact efforts and other military innovation programs, DAC’s Innovation Program is a grassroots, unconventional approach to spark innovation and invigorate cross-organization collaboration and communication.
The inaugural year inspired 24 proposals, five of which were selected to receive funding after a thorough review from the Innovation Program panel. Selectees of funded proposals were then paired with one to two senior technical experts spanning different divisions to provide guidance, mentorship and a supportive environment. Project leads and mentors met on a regular basis to brainstorm and discuss roadblocks, as well as deliver updates to the overall program panel.
The selected projects include:
Carlos Natividad’s Augmented Reality Network Visualization Software for Real-time Visualization of Network Traffic:
Natividad, of DAC’s Cyber Experimentation & Analysis Division, saw a need for software that uses 3D-space allocation and geo-tagging for a real-time visualization of network traffic. This gives users an intuitive view of their network structure to not just determine when there are issues with bandwidth, but to visualize the routes the data takes and the type and amount of data being transported through the network.
Natividad compared static data to reading a book, while seeing a 2-D visualization of data connectivity as watching a movie, in which you’re better seeing and understanding context and relationships. But why stop there? “With Augmented Reality, you’re in the movie, watching and interacting with data flows,” Natividad said. “This is exploring a frontier of tech that visualization hasn’t been before.”
Ryan Barker’s Web Application for Developmental Opportunities:
Barker, who described the program as open and supportive, has been interested in entrepreneurship and app-building for years. While his previous web app projects have been tailored to inventory management systems for car dealerships and restaurants, Barker was immediately interested in applying his information systems insight to the Army domain.
Barker proposed a solution to leverage existing DAC interface to implement a new program for publicizing workforce opportunities and managing application processes. The new ‘Employee Opportunities System’ aims to increase visibility and traceability on opportunities, delivering a more efficient communication channel for workforce opportunities.
Michael Taylor’s and Max Morales’s Machine Commands to Generate Signals for Cyber Effects:
Cybersecurity analysts from White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, Taylor and Morales set out with the following goal: perform automated and iterative bench research to evaluate the effects of machine command generated radio frequency on a central processing unit and other motherboard components. This exploration illuminates vulnerability to a novel side channel cyber-attack.
John Fitzgibbons’ Intentionally-Added Dispersion & Non-Traditional Aim-Points on Lethal Effectiveness of Burst Fire Ammunition:
Fitzgibbons knew this: modernized threats require modernized aim-points. His project examines if intentionally adding dispersion and non-traditional aim-points make burst fire ammunition more effective. According to him, we’re only limited by our own imaginations.
Maj. Gen. Brown, inspired by Fitzgibbons’ challenging of traditional aim-point notions, took command of the room’s whiteboard to jot down a diagram and visualize the innovation’s impact. Describing himself as a “walking Soldier Touchpoint,” Brown told Fitzgibbons, “I’m in. When do we start?”
Steve Webb’s Multi-Domain Operations (MDO) Technician’s Backpack:
Through his 15 years of field experience, data collection and knowledge of automotive and truck repairs, Webb found that current maintenance tactics of replacing major vehicle assemblies run counter to the MDO paradigm. Properly diagnosing and making precision repairs, on the other hand, requires minimal cost and manpower. Webb identified a collection of diagnostic tools to achieve readiness and fix issues quickly, including an Interactive Electronic Technical Manual and troubleshooting repair equipment.
“We don’t know what the next great innovation will be from DAC,” Barnett said. “But we’re looking for out of the box thinking to keep DAC pushing the boundaries. These are tremendous projects with potential for huge pay-off for the warfighter.”
DAC Director Patrick O’Neill, DAC Executive Technical Director Suzanne Milchling, DAC Military Deputy and Deputy Director Col. Gregory Smith and DAC Chief Scientist Thomas Stadterman also attended the project presentations.
“We’re committed to a future that is constantly getting better,” Maj. Gen. Brown said during the DAC Town Hall following the Innovation Program Showcase. “DAC, you’re doing things no one can really step in and do. You’re the experts in what you do, and [you’re] honing your ecosystem.”
Brown also spotlighted the importance of strong leadership and innovative modernization: “As a leader, if no one is following you, you are either a pioneer or you are lost. DAC's Innovation Program is a trailblazing program, and as you can see from today, you've got people behind you.”
After Army leaders listened to the presentations, other DAC teammates walked through the showcase. Mentors, mentees and branch chiefs reunited to engage in discussion and celebrate the lessons learned from each project. Project leads also reviewed each other’s presentation posters.
A virtual Microsoft Teams session was then opened to the workforce so remote locations could participate.
“Coming up with your own ideas to solve problems and meet new needs is a fulfilling project. Not only that, but [in the Innovation Program] you have the full license to run the project as you see fit,” said analyst Ryan Barker. “Looking across the projects, we’re producing analysis and demonstrating new creative capabilities that can innovate how the Army does business…The program has empowered us to get our ideas out there.”
The second year of the Innovation Program has already kicked off; project proposals will be evaluated and/or selected for funding by mid-September.
The DEVCOM Data and Analysis Center is an element of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command. DEVCOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Futures Command. Visit the DEVCOM website at https://www.army.mil/devcom.