Agile, Unified, and Modernized: Transforming the Sustainer’s Approach to Data-Centric Decision-Making | An Interview with Brig. Gen. Michael Lalor, Jen Swanson, & Ross Guckert

By Mike CrozierNovember 15, 2023

Top: Brig. Gen. Michael B. Lalor speaks with Amentum team member Phillip Sacher in Red River Army Depot’s secondary items production facility, Sept. 7, 2023. (Photo by Adrienne Brown)...
Top: Brig. Gen. Michael B. Lalor speaks with Amentum team member Phillip Sacher in Red River Army Depot’s secondary items production facility, Sept. 7, 2023. (Photo by Adrienne Brown)

Bottom Left: Ross Guckert attends AFCEA TechNet Augusta, Aug. 16, 2022. (Photo by Susan McGovern)

Bottom Right: Jen Swanson participates in a panel during the Advanced Planning Briefing to Industry at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, April 26, 2022. (Photo by Megan Clark) (Photo Credit: U.S. Army)

The future potential for large-scale conflict against a near-peer adversary across multiple domains has placed a quiet premium on the Army and joint force’s ability to modernize its end-to-end business operations. While the lion’s share of external attention in the realm of modernization is steadily focused on weapon systems, the Army’s advancement of Enterprise Business Systems - Convergence (EBS-C), its business modernization and transformation effort, will play a pivotal role in the service’s success. In its end-state, EBS-C will integrate the Army’s existing finance and logistics systems to deliver exhaustive and timely analytical insight as part of the Secretary of the Army’s drive toward data-centricity in the posture for contested operations in multiple theaters.

To delve into all things EBS-C and its supporting data transformation efforts, Army Sustainment sat down with three of the Army’s foremost leaders in the acquisition, development, and deployment of the Army’s converged and modernized business system.

Brig. Gen. Michael Lalor, commanding general of Tank-automotive and Armaments Command (TACOM) at Detroit Arsenal, Michigan, and previously served as the commandant of the Army’s Ordnance School and the director of the EBS multifunctional capabilities team (MFCT).

Jen Swanson, deputy assistant secretary of the Army for data, engineering, and software of the Pentagon’s Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics, and Technology.

Ross Guckert, the Army’s program executive officer for Enterprise Information Systems at Fort Belvoir, Virginia.

How has the Army’s understanding of data-centric operations evolved? What do successful data-centric operations look like at echelon?

Guckert: In the past, there existed a natural tendency to primarily look at data operations from the standpoint of manual and independent execution across organizations and geographical areas. That may come as a complete shock to some reading this, as their perception of reality is one that absolutely must be defined by automated processes connected through resilient networks that inform nearly all decisions. Over the last two decades, the Army — and the Department of Defense writ large — realized and made clear what a successful approach to data entails at every echelon: the enablement of rapid and accurate decisions by commanders across warfighting functions wherever they may be executing mission command. You see the descriptor stove-piped thrown around a lot to describe that past reality, wherein seemingly every unit created their own ground truth representation of reality based on whatever data they had at their disposal. We know that model can’t and won’t hold true today and into the future, and we’re getting after this by integrating once disparate streams of data up and down the echelon spectrum.

Swanson: Our understanding of what data-centricity means has evolved massively over the last 10 to 15 years, and I believe we as an Army are now really starting to walk the walk, so to speak. Domain owners, beyond just logistics, have a firm grasp of the importance of data to a Soldier’s operational success, wherever they may be serving. Data-centricity means that I, as a sustainer or otherwise, have access to valid, high-quality data when I need it to support analyses, ensuring I can make better decisions faster.

Lalor: The Army’s entire approach to data — both its infrastructure and analytical use — has evolved from our ability to ask the hard questions about what we can and should do with the data we have at our disposal. Data centricity, in its simplest form, should support informed decisions across echelons in any operating environment through, as Ms. Swanson mentions, access to quality data. As an example, during my time as the Chief of Ordnance, we spent a lot of time discussing how to effectively leverage data to optimize system maintenance using service versus purely time-based intervals. The framing of the question is simple, but it all becomes a much more vexing problem if you can’t use data as the underpinning of your policy change or resolution. In any and all contexts, data helps us see the ground truth.

Turning the Army’s massive streams of data into a warfighting asset is front of mind across the enterprise. How will the service’s new Unified Data Reference Architecture (UDRA) advance progress made on that front?

Swanson: Over the past year, we’ve worked to develop the UDRA. This is a data mesh-based architecture that is vastly different than what we were doing before, all in the name of converting data to a commodity that drives readiness in every operational space, including the tactical area. What we want to move away from is having our data centralized in a massive data lake that lacks the proper governance or agility to be useful down the echelon stream. What we gain from a data mesh concept is increased standardization, interoperability, and access to data products within a distributed architecture that neatly organizes those products into relevant domains. This also gives more control to domain owners — whether they’re in logistics or fires or wherever else — to define the data products they need in this distributed architecture that controls for the network challenges we are posturing for in large-scale combat operations. I’ll re-emphasize that this represents a significant departure from a data lake approach that requires a lot of bandwidth-intensive data replication and movement.

Talk about the genesis of EBS-C as a concept progressing toward capability. How far have we come, and what’s left to accomplish?

Guckert: The idea to converge our EBSs was really borne from the desire to drastically improve our logistics and finance business processes to ensure they were both responsive to warfighter needs and fully auditable. In the past, we’ve successfully deployed those EBSs and continue to use them today, but we certainly recognize there are improvements to make as we drive toward a single enterprise solution that integrates those logistics and finance systems with several others. In just a few short years, I think we’ve come really far in this advancement because of how closely we’ve integrated the technical and functional aspects of the broader effort. With constant support from more than 250 functional experts across the Army, all of EBS-C’s business process reengineering efforts led by the EBS-MFCT have kept development fully on track. Moving forward, the agile processes we have in place — in governance, acquisition, and software development — will ensure EBS-C’s continuous improvement and deployment. In the near term, just back in August, we awarded an Other Transaction Authority to three vendors to begin a nine-month prototyping effort, culminating in a follow-on contract in the back half of fiscal year 2024.

Lalor: EBS-C has progressed in leaps and bounds over the last three or so years. Perhaps the greatest change has been recognizing that this isn’t solely about software; rather, EBS-C is an all-encompassing modernization strategy. The focus is less on what software we have and more on how we’re leveraging that software to adjust and improve business processes. Through several rounds of business process reengineering and two capability requirement documents, we’re now at a point of prototype delivery at the end of 2023 and into 2024. Mr. Guckert and Ms. Swanson are both intimately familiar with the agile acquisition and development processes we adhere to, compressing that end-to-end development process. EBS-C’s size and scope are massive, encompassing what is potentially the largest business transformation effort the service has undertaken with positive impacts at all echelons. From a sustainment perspective, we’re looking to EBS-C to add speed to the entire logistics lifecycle even before it’s fully operational as one converged system, from parts requisition to fully modernized maintenance practices.

Building on EBS-C as a capability, how do you see its end-state enabling the tactical sustainer to operate in a contested environment?

Guckert: EBS-C turns data into a foundational enabler of sustainment processes at both the strategic and tactical level, with the onus placed on business process owners to define and concurrently update data models and products in accordance with specific standards. So, how does this help our tactical teammates in a contested environment? As Ms. Swanson mentioned earlier, this integration and standardization will be essential to the implementation of the UDRA and a federated, distributed data mesh construct that will afford users at any echelon access to the data they need in near real-time.

Lalor: As Ms. Swanson delved into, data to support operations at the tactical edge is our North Star in these data-centric endeavors. If it’s coming from the tactical space, then that’s really our primary demand signal from which we form a truly holistic picture of everything from production to posture. EBS-C will enhance end-to-end, cross-echelon visibility of commodities and business functions that we simply haven’t had a clear sight of as an Army. Being able to see in time and space ensures you can actually be predictive and precise in your delivery of sustainment support — both of these we know will be imperative in contested environments.

Brig. Gen. Lalor, you recently took command of TACOM. What lessons from your time at the helm of the Ordnance School and the EBS-MFCT are you bringing with you to Detroit Arsenal?

Lalor: In my short time at TACOM, and in the context of my prior position, I’ve realized what a great opportunity we have to clearly define where the operational and strategic echelons integrate each and every day on behalf of the tactical. Defining and optimizing those interactions will help us tackle production or workload challenges that have the greatest impact on tactical sustainers. Operating in that interstitial space is really exciting because we can connect the dots on what the future operating environment will look like from each purview. Additionally, the ways in which we communicate the benefits of EBS-C are something I’ll carry forward, and any time we can reduce the manual burden when it comes to cumbersome data processing tasks is a huge win for both our analysts and maintainers alike.

Ms. Swanson, you’ve talked about bringing software to the tactical edge while working to ensure the Army’s program executive offices (PEOs) have appropriate control of the software development lifecycle. In a broad sense, how will this impact the Army sustainment enterprise?

Swanson: Software drives our systems and is the mechanism for us to deliver rapid capability increases to maintain overmatch. The Under (Secretary of the Army) and Vice (Chief of Staff of the Army) approved continuous integration/continuous delivery as the Army’s path forward for software development and are supporting many changes to Army processes to enable it. As a result, Army sustainers, and all other Soldiers and users, will benefit tremendously by receiving the best capabilities much more rapidly.

Acquiring and tailoring commercial software capabilities to meet the complex needs of the Army has long been an onerous, slow process. What changes are you working on to flip this script to ensure the service can leverage industry capabilities faster and more effectively?

Guckert: At PEO Enterprise Information Systems (EIS), we meet with our industry partners on an almost daily basis to ensure we’re on the same page about our demand signals and unique operational constraints. We do this to ensure we’re inherently unrestrictive in driving innovation using industry best practices that will enhance our mission set on behalf of the Army. You’ll hear many of us in this space talk about adopting the agile methodology alongside industry to completely streamline activities from requirements development to capability deployment.

Swanson: We are limiting the tailoring or customizing of commercial software products and instead are leveraging microservices and other tools to add custom capabilities. This allows us to deliver much faster and enables us to keep up more as technology changes.

Based on how far the Army has come with the UDRA, what will be the most exciting developments over the course of the next six or more months?

Swanson: What’s most exciting is what we’ve accomplished in a relatively short amount of time regarding the UDRA’s completion. The team has developed a framework within which project managers can build. I wish I had this when I was in different PEOs because it’s one of the most effective ways to enhance system interoperability and eliminate stove pipes. A lot of work comes with that, so between now and the end of this year, we’ll look to increase our information exchange with industry, both in the cloud and on-premises, to shore up UDRA compliance and test its implementation. There’s still a lot to accomplish, but I’m really proud of how far we’ve come in the last six to twelve months on behalf of the Army.

Mr. Guckert, where else is PEO EIS working to be as “commercial as possible, as military as necessary” in the sustainment space?

Guckert: Having those constant touchpoints that drive transparency and openness with commercial vendors really sets up our successful partnerships. We aim to ensure that industry is developing capabilities that will integrate seamlessly with our existing systems while minimizing follow-on customization that simply adds burden to our users. We want to leverage low- or no-code solutions that require minimal maintenance and are built on open architectures, so we’re working to ensure industry knows what they need to do to best integrate with what we have already built so any improvements we make are iterative as opposed to a complete overhaul. At the end of the day, we’re leaning forward and doing everything we can to adopt commercial best practices where they fit sensibly within our current framework of operations. This is a symbiotic relationship that we take very seriously to deliver information advantage and decision dominance to our warfighters at every echelon.


Mike Crozier was recently a strategic analyst in the Army G-4’s Logistic Initiatives Group. He holds a master’s degree from Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.


This article is published in the Fall 2023 issue of Army Sustainment.