In the May 5, 2021, Creating Data Advantage memo, then Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks states, “Data is essential to preserving military advantage, supporting our people, and serving the public. ... Leaders at all levels have a responsibility to manage, understand, and responsibly share and protect data in support of our shared mission.”
Successfully planning, mounting, and conducting sustainment activities require multiple decisions at all levels. Data-driven decisions enable leaders to make critical decisions based on facts, not opinions, biases, or gut instincts, to maximize impact while executing sustainment operations.
With that in mind, what does data-driven mean? How is data leveraged to maximize logistics and financial management advantage and personnel and health services support during unified land operations? Effective data-driven sustainment operations across the Army and its joint partners/forces provide support for large-scale combat operations.
Leaders are already familiar with the military decision-making process (MDMP) for planning as it is deeply ingrained in Army culture. Data-driven decision-making uses facts, metrics, and data to guide the decisions to achieve end goals. It should be easy to use data when deciding, right? However, ensuring the correct data is available to leaders at the right time and place can be challenging.
While conducting mission analysis, have you ever felt frustrated that you couldn’t find the data you needed to make a decision? Or you found the data, but it didn’t make sense and was incomplete. Or you didn’t have the necessary supporting data to move from analysis to an informed decision. Have you had to search across multiple systems, each with access restrictions and confusing parameters, ultimately prolonging or ending your research?
Data is Receiving Support from the Top Down
The DOD and the specific military services have recognized these issues and the impact on the ability to use data in the MDMP and the effect of data on day-to-day sustainment operations. As a result, the DOD has created specific data-related goals and plans, ensuring the services improve their ability to make data more available at all echelons. When organizations understand and maximize the value of their data, then everyone is empowered to make the best decisions using data.
Per the DOD Data Strategy of 2020, data must be visible, accessible, understandable, linked, trustworthy, interoperable, and secure. In response to the DOD Data Strategy, the Army developed an Army Data Plan, which addresses how it will achieve the DOD data goals through strategic objectives and efforts.
Additionally, understanding the Army often operates in a fiscally constrained environment, to reach the data-related goals and objectives, it must transform and modernize the way it does business and how it uses data to drive that business. The Army Digital Transformation Strategy of Oct. 12, 2021, recognizes that the Army must share data and information seamlessly, providing timely insights to the warfighter, commands, and the enterprise to influence Army readiness and modernization positively.
The Army also recognizes it has, over time, created siloes of data and information across different business mission area domains. For example, the logistics and finance domains have several enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, such as the Logistics Modernization Program, Global Combat Support System–Army, Global Fund Enterprise Business System (GFEBS), GFEBS-Sensitive Activities, and the Army Enterprise Systems Integration Program Hub, plus hundreds of other non-ERP systems.
Through automated business processes, these Army sustainment systems provide the necessary data and information to conduct the activities required to perform sustainment operations. Sustainment leaders use this data and information to make informed decisions.
The Future of Army Data-Driven Sustainment
While logistics and finance are not the only business domains considered when making decisions for sustainment operations, they are the largest and most impactful domains. One critical line of effort within the Army Digital Transformation Strategy is to converge and modernize Enterprise Business Systems, the aim being “a sustainment warfighting function that is a competitive advantage, fostering dominance in MDO (multi-domain operations) with enabling technology and business processes.” As a result, the Army’s Enterprise Business Systems-Convergence (EBS-C) project is one of the Army’s largest modernization efforts. The goal is to provide the warfighter with the most modern capabilities to execute sustainment and financial management operations.
Why should understanding where the Army is going related to data goals and objectives matter to you? Data, on its own, is just facts. When combined, data creates information, which helps make informed decisions.
As units plan for sustainment operations, decisions are required. What are the questions you need answered? What is the best available data to answer those questions? Does your organization have the skills necessary to understand and analyze the data? Do you know how to integrate and apply the data without adding personal bias?
The Army Data Plan, Strategic Objective 1, Operationalized Data-Driven Decisions that Support Multi-Domain Operations at Echelon, states the goal is “to avoid having our Soldiers either waste time finding the right data for decision or make decisions without the appropriate information. The desired outcome is that at all echelons, the Army leverages authoritative data and improves its ability to identify, access, process, analyze, comprehend, and use information to improve decision-making while decreasing the workload.”
Examining this goal and focusing on the desired improvements — the ability to identify, process, analyze, comprehend, and use information to improve decision-making while decreasing the workload — it is critical to be data literate at all echelons of the Army.
Data literate means reading, writing, creating, understanding, and communicating with data in context. Every decision, whether it be during sustainment operations or when making a personal purchase online, is impacted by data. Making data-driven decisions is one aspect; trusting those decisions is another.
What Does This Mean for You and Me?
Soldiers and civilians create data in their day-to-day jobs. That data is collected and, together with other data, creates the information they and their leaders use to make decisions. Understanding that data matters from the moment it is created until it is used for decisions helps to appreciate better and influence the importance of data quality as business is conducted in automated sustainment systems.
For example, each day, all over the Army, Soldiers conduct maintenance on Army equipment. As they complete each maintenance activity, the associated data should be entered into the automated systems to provide the overall picture of the maintenance status for that piece of equipment. If data is inaccurate or missing, its widespread effects appear when aggregated across the entire Army footprint.
As data flows through the systems to different echelons, it is captured, aggregated, and integrated with other data and starts telling a story. But the story is incomplete. Those missing or inaccurate pieces of data will eventually influence the decisions being made.
For example, a battalion’s leadership feels they do not have enough maintainers to handle their workload in the motor pool. However, in this scenario, the reported data incorrectly shows maintenance activities are easily and quickly completed with the personnel on hand. This gap in accurate data has ripple effects up the chain. If the data were accurate, showing Soldiers over-burdened at current manning levels, the decision makers would see that more time is required to complete these jobs than expected. If more time is required, perhaps more mechanics are needed, ultimately making accurate data entry into needed support.
Not all decisions made from this data may be immediately seen or felt. It may take time. If the data indicates fewer mechanics, the following approved authorization document may reflect that lower number. The maintainer entering the data may have moved on and not even see the long-term impact on the organization.
Regardless of their level in the sustainment process, everyone is responsible for providing the best possible data and information about business processes and activities. In addition to personal responsibility for the data entered into Army systems, leaders have an inherent responsibility to ensure Soldiers and civilians understand the importance and value of data and its positive and negative impacts on Army sustainment.
Becoming data literate as an individual and proactively creating opportunities that allow Soldiers and civilians to read, write, create, understand, and communicate with data will be the force multiplier that amplifies data-driven sustainment.
Joyce L. Myers retired from federal service as Chief Data and Analytics Officer for the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command (AMCOM). She also served as the AMCOM Secretary of the General Staff. She served in the Army on active duty in the logistics field with various military assignments. She became a Department of the Army Civilian, where she led numerous Army logistics and data-related teams. She is currently the Chapter Lead for the Huntsville Women in Data Chapter.
This article is published in the Fall 2023 issue of Army Sustainment.