Leveraging Cloud Resources to Modernize Data Education at ASU

By Maj. Ryan E. Miller and J. Scott BillieNovember 15, 2023

(Photo Credit: Graphic by Sarah Lancia) VIEW ORIGINAL

The Army is catching up with the digital age to teach a data-centric culture. Cultural change on this scale requires data education modernization efforts to nest appropriately at all levels throughout the force. Army Sustainment University (ASU) serves as the education epicenter for the Army sustainment community and is developing a data education approach. Part of this strategy calls for exceptional sustainers to continue their data education progression and become data specialists.

The Operations Research and Systems Analysis (ORSA) Committee from the College of Applied Logistics and Operational Sciences (CALOS) at ASU is performing a complimentary modernization effort to integrate data science into ORSA development. In 2016, the ORSA Committee was asked by the ORSA proponent at Headquarters, Department of the Army (HQDA) G-8, to modernize the ORSA development curriculums to include data science education. Efforts toward data science modernization focused on incorporating data analysis through programming, emphasizing the R programming language in the ORSA military applications and Functional Area 49 qualification courses.

Local Network Enterprise Center (NEC) restrictions and work order delays have hindered the maintenance and continued modernization of R programming in both courses. Under current NEC agreements, only select functionality from static and older R software versions is permissible for installation on government-furnished equipment (GFE). About one-third of all ORSA Committee work orders involves permissions for R software. Although approved for instructor and student use, network scans do not recognize the R software and often disable or delete it. Delays in resolving these tickets significantly detracted from the data science learning experience. Classroom and technology limitations necessitated a change to this initial modernization approach.

To move from the industrial Army to a digital one, ORSAs and sustainers need modern educational and training resources to maintain their competitive edge and to underpin decision-making with analysis. Furthermore, students should receive instruction on the tools they can access in the operational workforce. In the summer of 2022, CALOS empowered the ORSA Committee to develop a feasible, resilient, and zero-cost-to-ASU approach to data science curriculum modernization that benefits ORSAs and data specialist sustainers. The ORSA Committee looked to the cloud for a solution, which means accessing the shared resources of someone else’s more powerful computer through a web browser. Leveraging cloud resources enables modern data education resource development for data specialists, facilitates ORSA training, and connects ASU to the data professional community across the Army.

In particular, the ORSA Committee leveraged an existing cloud resource managed by HQDA G-8, the Army Resource Cloud (ARC). The ARC is a CAC-enabled impact level (IL) 4 environment hosted on the DOD information network (DoDIN) by Amazon Web Services GovCloud. An IL4 designation allows users to analyze up to controlled unclassified information level data (no personally identifiable or protected health information) per Defense Information Systems Agency security technical implementation guide requirements. Being hosted on the DoDIN means users must be on GFE or able to use a virtual private network to access the Nonclassified\ Internet Protocol Router Network to reach the ARC resources subsequently.

The web administration team from HQDA G-8 partnered with the ORSA Committee to provision developer accounts for all ORSA instructors and students to access RStudio Workbench in the ARC to develop code in R. Additionally, ORSA instructors were licensed with publisher accounts in RStudio Connect in ARC to publish reports, analysis, applications, dashboards, and other instructional resources to share with data consumers. Leveraging these cloud resources enabled the ORSA committee to take full advantage of the most up-to-date R software and to publish living resources for ORSA and data specialists across the Army.

The ORSA Committee realized this modernization effort needed to include collaboration with operational data science professionals to leverage current industry-standard techniques. ASU formalized a collaboration relationship with the Center for Army Analysis to conduct an ASU data science study to enable and achieve data education-related priorities for ORSA and data specialists across the Army. The study priorities include inculcating data culture by leveraging partners and developing tools to support life-long learning; delivering rigorous, outcomes-based education to ensure data education curriculum content is both critical and relevant; and allowing field experts to reassess the curriculum with the educational institute to bridge the gap between education and the industry standard tools and techniques used in the operational workforce. The study partners are executing these priorities to develop a collection of data education resources using ARC and GitLab to enable version control and project code collaboration.

The study currently focuses on developing an R Supplement resource book for the ORSA Military Applications Course (ORSA-MAC). Each ORSA-MAC block of instruction is represented as a chapter using the R Markdown file format. Chapters begin with a military application of the data skill and are subdivided into lessons with associated lesson objectives. The purpose of this resource is to supplement the in-class instruction on mathematical topics such as statistics and probability, with R programming serving as a modern alternative solution method. The first five blocks of ORSA-MAC, consisting of computer programming, statistics, probability, data analysis, and simulations, have been available to students since mid-April 2023. The entire ORSA-MAC R supplement book is anticipated to be completed before January 2024.

Resources published from the study also support the development of data specialists. One of the challenges of implementing a data education strategy is that students have diverse backgrounds and experiences regarding data education. The study’s collection of data science resources allows data specialists to advance their data education skills by developing R and Python programming to solve problems that require advanced data analysis and machine learning tools and techniques. The following phase 0 and phase I data education collection resources are currently available for public consumption on Connect:

  • https://cprobe.army.mil/rsconnect/CAA_Intro_to_R/ for Beginner/Intermediate Introduction to R Programming.
  • https://cprobe.army.mil/rsconnect/CAA_Intro_to_Python/ for an Introduction to Python.
  • https://cprobe.army.mil/rsconnect/Q_Course_DS/ for the ORSA Qualifications Course Data Science Training.
  • https://cprobe.army.mil/rsconnect/an_intro_to_r_for_analysts/ for a self-paced 10-hour Introduction to R Programming.

The ARC modernized the ORSA approach to programming and data science. Changing the teaching medium from local software installation to cloud reduced the R-related trouble tickets for the local Fort Gregg-Adams NEC from 21 (February-August 2022) to 0 (September 2022-March 2023). The time saved on creating and actioning trouble tickets enables NEC technicians to focus on other priorities to improve information automation capabilities across the installation. However, utilizing cloud resources for training can become problematic if network outages occur.

Leveraging cloud resources has generated multiple opportunities for ASU to modernize data education by providing a platform for training, development, and resource consumption. The ongoing data science modernization efforts by the ORSA Committee provide data education opportunities for current ORSA and sustainer data specialist students and further development opportunities for data analysts across the Army. The ORSA Committee’s approach to modernization through cloud resources has already saved the government time and has significantly improved the data science learning experience of the ORSA students. The living resources generated by the study will continue to be updated to ensure students use modern data science and analysis tools to solve modern problems.

Editor Note: This article is a selection from the Army Sustainment University President’s Writing Competition.


Maj. Ryan E. Miller currently serves as an instructor for the Operations Research and Systems Analysis Military Applications Course within the College of Applied Logistics and Operational Sciences at Army Sustainment University (ASU). He serves as the project lead for the ASU data science study. He holds a Master of Science in applied mathematics from the Naval Postgraduate School. He also completed the Master Teacher Program at the United States Military Academy.

J. Scott Billie serves as the chair of the Operational Research and Systems Analysis (ORSA) Committee, as course director for the Functional Area 49 Qualification Course, and as an instructor in the ORSA Military Applications Course and the ORSA Familiarization course. He retired from the Army as a lieutenant colonel. A graduate of the U.S. Military Academy, he has a Master of Science in engineering management from Old Dominion University, Virginia, and a Master of Science in computational operations research from the College of William and Mary, Virginia.


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