“My second objective is to ensure the Army becomes more data-centric and can conduct operations in contested environments, which will enable our ability to prevail on the future battlefield.” — From a Feb. 8, 2022, message by the Honorable Christine Wormuth, Secretary of the Army.
The multidomain environment demands and requires sustainers to quickly organize and present data from multiple sources to describe the current sustainment situation and make data-informed decisions. Sustainers must rapidly describe what happened, diagnose why it happened, and apply analytical competencies and skills to enable them to prescribe optimal actions. These actions account for interrelated effects across the industrial base, the global distribution system, and the complex, multidomain battlefield. To effectively prescribe optimal actions in these interrelated factors, Army sustainment leaders must adopt a culture of rigorous data-driven recommendations and decision making.
Data-centric operations require sustainers to be competent with analytical and technical skills. Traditionally, academic disciplines such as mathematics and computer science provide the necessary skills used in data analysis. Unfortunately, most sustainers do not have this prerequisite education, either from civilian or military sources. A review of current degrees held by sustainment officers and warrant officers reveals at best 52% of officers have the requisite math or computer skills to exploit data. At worst, perhaps more likely, only 18% have the necessary data competencies via civilian education.
Considering these deficiencies, this article describes the data competency gaps and proposes a program to close them within the sustainment workforce. The Army must ensure personnel training quality matches material solution quality. While the Army has invested in the Global Combat Support System-Army (GCSS-Army) and Logistics Information Warehouse to store incredible amounts of data, this data provides little value to decision makers if sustainers lack the training to effectively exploit it. Exploiting data starts by providing our workforce with the analytic competencies required to develop sound data-driven recommendations through effectively using increasingly available data.
Identifying the Gap
This article is not suggesting sustainers do not currently use data effectively. On the contrary, sustainers have always conducted analysis based on data, including data entry, working with a system of record, forecasting, and communicating results. Yet for many, these skills have not kept pace with the speed and abundance of data provided by the modernization of military systems. All sustainers must have the appropriate technical competencies to effectively manipulate and quickly analyze data at scale. In the fiscal 2022, Army Logistics University (ALU) conducted a qualitative study of sustainment officers and warrant officers to identify the key data competencies to serve as a basis for a data education program. Based on the participants’ experiences with data analysis in an operational environment, the study identified six competency themes: data entry, system of record, export/import data, data manipulation (or wrangling), modeling, and communication.
In addition to these insights, the study identified numerous gaps that currently exist in these competencies. For example, GCSS-Army is the most widely used system of record. Yet, many participants stated they could not retrieve desired data for analysis, nor could they access historical data. Additionally, the study identified Microsoft Excel as the tool of choice for data manipulation due to its widespread availability and capability to handle data imported from various systems. Unfortunately, there exists a wide disparity in skill levels for Excel across all ranks, and participants felt this disparity significantly hampered their ability to manipulate data efficiently and accurately. Finally, sustainers currently leverage their experience to conduct forecasting and trend analysis but desire additional data-driven predictive and prescriptive modeling techniques to better support their commanders and units. These examples highlight some of the data analytic training shortfalls sustainers currently encounter in the force, yet the multidomain environment expects sustainers to be proficient in these data competencies now.
We must evolve the Army’s military and civilian education system to be more responsive and relevant to the needs of the current and future operational environment. The current appetite for data-driven analysis requires sustainers to quickly organize and present information from multiple sources to describe the current sustainment situation to decision makers. Furthermore, sustainers must diagnose what happened and why it happened (using tools such as readiness trends and causal and correlational analysis), drawing on common data sets and organizing information for different purposes depending on their role in the supply chain. For our sustainers to meet these expectations, they need the analytical competencies and skills to enable them to prescribe optimal actions that account for the interaction within the industrial base, the global distribution system, and the multidomain battlefield. With respect to data education, the Army’s military and civilian education system must remain responsive to remain relevant.
Closing the Data Education Gap
To change the culture and develop data analytic skills and proficiency across the Army, ALU educators are using a multitier approach to establishing, delivering, and sustaining data education. ALU will embed sequential and progressive data education into current ALU courses. The proposed education will focus on practical applications rather than theoretical foundations, blending math and computer skills with sustainment warfighting function (WfF) requirements. Talent management will identify exceptional sustainers for advanced data education external to ALU in the form of either graduate school or training with industry.
The proposed approach integrates data education through an iterative and progressive framework. To facilitate this, existing officer, warrant officer, noncommissioned officer, and Department of the Army (DA) civilian professional education will be amended to provide the requisite data knowledge, skills, and behaviors throughout a career. While these courses provide initial exposure to data analysis, they will allow personnel to seek other academic and professional certification opportunities. In addition to developing more of the requisite skills, this approach drives organizational change toward a culture of data-centric decision making.
Level I (Foundational). Foundational level instruction will be provided through a 16-hour synchronous block of instruction to familiarize students with basic data literacy and math concepts, standard data visualization fundamentals, and the tools used to input and pull required data. ALU proposes integrating foundational instruction into the Basic Officer Leadership Course, Warrant Officer Basic Course, and NCO Advanced Leaders Course professional military education (PME) to blend data literacy with foundational sustainment WfF and combined arms concepts. ALU also proposes integrating data literacy concepts in the civilian Intern Logistics Course. As an alternative delivery method, ALU proposes the development of an interactive media instruction (IMI) training support package (TSP) for installation troop schools to use to educate the operational Army and new civilian hires on basic data literacy concepts.
Level II (Intermediate). This 40-hour synchronous instruction builds upon foundational data literacy concepts by providing students with the ability to perform data wrangling and exploratory analysis, descriptive statistics and standard visualizations, and an understanding of data source management and communication. ALU proposes integrating intermediate instruction into the Captains Career Course, Warrant Officer Advance Course, Senior Leaders Course PME, and the civilian Logistics Career Field Intermediate Logistics Course currently under development. As with Level I, ALU proposes developing an IMI TSP for installation troop schools to use to educate the operational Army and DA civilians on higher level data analysis concepts. Soldiers and civilians will complete Level I (Foundational) or equivalency certification and/or statistics courses, along with two-to-three years of documented experience for Level II credit.
Both foundational and intermediate level instruction will evolve over time as feedback from the field refines required data-centric skillsets, but these two levels of instruction should remain in PME. Both initiatives will play a central role in future leader success and enable the effective synchronization of sustainment WfF concepts into large-scale, multidomain operations, whether in peace or combat.
Level III (Advanced). The advanced level will provide students the skills to perform predictive and prescriptive data analytics, forecast requirements, and execute life-cycle management skills for duty in tactical/operational levels and warfighting, enabling assignments requiring a higher-level understanding of data-centric competencies. ALU will develop Level III data education as a 40-hour data prerequisite for several functional courses.
ALU will modernize existing courses to take advantage of Level III proficiency. These courses will include the Support Operations Course, GCSS-Army Materiel Managers Course, the Logistics Modernization Program Enterprise Resource Planning suite of courses, the Joint Logistics Course, and the Master Logistician Course. With the integration of Level I and II competencies into PME and civilian courses, ALU proposes revising the current Data Analysis and Visualization Course to provide functional analysts with a higher level of understanding of data-centric concepts. Additionally, ALU proposes the submission of a Joint Sustainment Planners Course growth initiative to address operational level data analysis and sustainment planning proficiency shortfalls.
The Way Forward
Data Education Center. ALU proposes the establishment of a Data Education Center by fiscal year 2026 to assist in facilitating and maintaining a culture of decision making based on science and art. The center will conduct continual curriculum assessments and modernization based on feedback and collaboration from the sustainment community, academia, and private industry. This will assist the center in updating PME curriculum and provide exportable TSPs for the installation troop schools and other centers of excellence. The Data Education Center will oversee credentialing and identifying civilian equivalency courses across multiple levels. Finally, deliberate personnel selection and utilization through talent management will enable the sustainment community to keep pace with advancements in academia and drive data innovation across the sustainment WfF.
Senior Leader Data Analytics Course Implementation. ALU will develop a Senior Leader Data Analytics Course to familiarize military and civilian senior leaders with current and emerging concepts and the proposed data education implementation strategy. ALU anticipates conducting this course during fiscal years 2025-2028 to gain senior leader championship, bridge the knowledge gap, and enable a data-centric culture.
Identify and Code Data Analyst Positions on Modified Tables of Organization and Equipment/Tables of Distribution and Allowances. ALU research validates the need to identify select positions requiring more comprehensive data analyst knowledge and skills across multiple ranks, cohorts, and levels of expertise. Such positions include support operations officers, sustainment planners, and Army Material Command Logistics Readiness Center and Life Cycle Management Center positions. Military and DA civilian job title changes and description revisions based on position codes and data proficiency requirements may be required to funnel the right personnel into more advanced education. ALU will collaborate with the Logistics Proponency Office and Army Civilian Career Management Activity on requisite updates in DA Pamphlet (PAM) 600-3, Officer Professional Development and Career Management, DA PAM 600-25, U.S. Army Noncommissioned Officer Professional Development Guide, and Army Regulation 690-200, General Personnel Provisions, to reflect data analytics training, education, and professional development opportunities.
The Army’s technical capabilities in collecting, storing, and disseminating data have increased dramatically over the last two decades. Unfortunately, the capabilities of sustainment Soldiers and civilians to effectively use that data have not developed at the same rate, giving rise to a gap between analytic competencies and technical capabilities, which will only widen if not addressed. “We need to hasten the Army’s transition from the Industrial Age to the Digital Age,” said Maj. Gen. Karl Gingrich, Director, Program Analysis and Evaluation, Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff, G-8.
The sustainment community maintains a reputation of always providing the warfighter with the necessary supplies and services for mission success. This will become increasingly challenging as modern warfare requires greater resources during an era when the Army is being asked to reduce its logistic footprint and do more with less. To accomplish this, sustainers must be capable of exploiting and understanding relationships of data from the tactical to strategic levels. The Army’s investment in materiel modernization must be matched by an investment in its people.
Col. Bob Spivey currently serves as an operations research and systems analysis instructor and associate dean in the College of Applied Logistics and Operational Sciences at Army Logistics University.
Lt. Col. Doug Fletcher, Ph.D., is an Army operations research and systems analysis officer with over 25 years of service. He currently teaches operations research and systems analysis at Fort Lee, Virginia.
Maj. Brian Johnson is an operations research and systems analysis instructor at Army Logistics University and a recent graduate from the Air Force Institute of Technology’s Operations Research program.
Dr. William Smith has over 20 years of experience with operations research and logistics. He holds graduate degrees in both mathematics and industrial engineering. He currently teaches future operations research analysts at the Army Logistics University.
This article was published in the Winter 23 issue of Army Sustainment.