“Our Army is transforming, and so is our AG Corps. This is our opportunity as HR experts to evolve our functions and operations to best serve our People as we transform to a technologically modernized Army. HR functions are the forefront of our People First priority and what we do directly impacts the care of our People and Army readiness. We are charged with becoming better innovators, technicians, and HR experts ready to lead and advise our commands to win on and off the battlefield.”
- Chief Warrant Officer 5 Yolondria S. Dixon-Carter, Senior Warrant Officer Advisor to the 40th Chief of Staff of the Army, as quoted in Defend and Serve: The U.S. Army Adjutant General's Corps Strategy, 2022-2035.
The Adjutant General (AG) Corps is a professional military and civilian workforce that provides the Army’s human resource (HR) services across the Total Army People Enterprise. With the arrival of the Integrated Personnel and Pay System—Army (IPPS-A), the HR community has a modernized system to support talent management, military pay, and readiness in an innovative, responsive, and data-centric way. The Army’s technical capabilities in collecting, storing, and disseminating data have increased dramatically over the last two decades. The capabilities of personnel to effectively use 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. A highly skilled, certified, and credentialed HR workforce must match HR systems’ demands, modernization, and innovation.
Identifying Areas of Concern
The Secretary of the Army has identified a requirement for the Army to be more data-centric, and the Adjutant General School (AGS) is prepared to meet that requirement.
In a world where recruiting efforts are down, the civilian population is focused on a better work-life balance, and tools are advancing rapidly. How do HR professionals modernize the force to meet the needs of potential, current, and future veteran servicemembers? AGS is transforming how it conducts data literacy to impact these efforts.
Technology can provide impressive speed and access to data and ease the cognitive workload. Modernizing HR services through IPPS-A requires HR professionals to be competent with technical and analytical skills. As the Army becomes more data-centric, HR professionals must possess the know-how to maximize the HR tools and provide data-driven recommendations to aid decision-making.
However, Soldiers and civilians usually do not have the educational background to work with and utilize the data they have. Army training and educational programs have not kept pace with emerging data requirements, modernization of military systems of record, and data-centric analysis of real-time data to make better-informed decisions.
Concerning data education, the Army’s military and civilian education system must remain responsive and relevant. The AG Corps professional military education (PME) system must evolve to take advantage of the capabilities of IPPS-A and to be more responsive and relevant to the needs of the current and future operational environment. The current appetite for data-driven analysis requires HR professionals to quickly organize and present information to decision-makers to describe the current readiness situation.
Planning the Way Ahead
HR support relies on an HR professional’s ability to utilize the four types of data analytics:
- Descriptive. HR professionals need to gain an understanding and quickly organize and present data to make data-informed decisions.
- Diagnostic. They must be able to diagnose what happened and why, using readiness trends and causal and correlational analysis, drawing on data, and organizing information depending on their purpose.
- Predictive. They must be able to model data to predict and forecast future requirements, enabling an agile response to rapidly shifting environments.
- Prescriptive. They must possess analytical competencies and skills to prescribe optimal recommendations for interrelated effects.
The AGS at the Soldier Support Institute at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, has implemented data education that is sequential and progressive in its approach, embedded in PME courses for its enlisted, noncommissioned, commissioned, and warrant officers. This approach expands existing PMEs to help modernize their efforts into empowering HR professionals, which directly ties in with maximizing the utilization of IPPS-A.
Bumps in the Road
The AG Corps must foster data analytic skills and proficiency across the HR workforce. This approach should be multi-tier, establishing, delivering, and sustaining a data-centric culture at all levels from the top down. Successful integration — not just data, but data analytics — is necessary to ensure momentum generated by IPPS-A, and successful usage of HR systems is necessary to provide commanders with decision dominance rooted in data-centric decision-making.
This practical approach combines academic skills with Army warfighting function (WfF) requirements. The applicability and relevancy of training are keys to getting buy-in from the overall HR workforce and fostering a more data-centric, focused, and skilled community. The training relevance is tied to their current work and enables them to be successful when they leave the Army. The blend of academic and WfF training sets up these HR professionals to be successful in and out of the force because of the Army, as the relevance of data education is not limited to just within the Army. It could be argued the Army is catching up to practices in the civilian sector. Utilization of knowledge, skills, behaviors, and preferences is instrumental in identifying and cultivating exceptional HR professionals, connecting them with the right opportunities to develop HR professional data specialists.
The Road So Far (Data Literacy)
HR professionals are familiar with data. Data has been and continues to be a core concept of the profession. Previously, the reliance was on individuals understanding and applying data analytics. Across the force, this results in different understandings of what data is, what it means, and what to do with it. Focusing instruction creates a standardized approach to learning and applying fundamental data analytic skills, minimizing potential gaps in data literacy, management, analytics, and visualization skills.
New junior enlisted Soldiers enter the military and receive job training at advanced individual training (AIT). AIT Soldier instruction is at the descriptive level, or simply understanding what happens. As these Soldiers advance in their careers and return to Fort Jackson for the Advanced Leader Course (ALC), they prove they are invested, successful, and looking toward the future. Their instruction looks at understanding why things happen, including looking at second- and third-order effects and making recommendations on moving forward based on data rather than intuition. Finally, those attending the Senior Leader Course (SLC) have the tools to understand what happens and why it happens and make predictive data-centric decisions. Within AGS, the goal is to give them tools to look at trends to determine what is about to happen before it escalates into a predicament and make recommendations to mitigate risk or increase success.
Teaching data analytics focuses on identifying basic concepts and then building and expanding in increasing terminology, tools, and presentation levels. The basic building blocks of the current instruction focus on five levels: Excel, data terminology (qualitative versus quantitative), tools (VBA, Macros, SQL, Power BI), visualizations (Tufte, Gestalt, Freytag), and data storytelling (final presentation).
The Road Ahead (AGS Data Education)
AGS is continually defining and revising the data education curriculum. The end state is to teach standardized education from AIT to the Captains Career Course (CCC) and every level in between. While the Army identifies the proponent for common core data literacy, AGS is forging ahead with data education, for those who wait for others are doomed to get left behind.
The data education modernization efforts are broken down here. The backbone of IPPS-A is Microsoft’s Power BI; much of the training is in that environment.
- Day zero includes an introduction to Excel functionality (8 hours E6+; 4 hours AIT).
- ALC (introduction) and SLC (data storytelling) students receive a one-day program (8 hours).
- Warrant Officer Basic Course (visualization) and Basic Officer Leader Course (general overview) students get a one-day program (8 hours).
- CCC students get a four-day program (32 hours).
- CCC students get one day of instruction on intermediate data analytics (8 hours), followed by three days of creating a dashboard in Power BI and IPPS-A.
- Warrant Officer Advanced Course (WOAC) students continue and get a two-day program (16 hours).
- Post-WOAC warrant, once a year.
- Advanced Business Analytics Course (ABAC) at the University of South Carolina (four weeks).
- Training With Industry (TWI) at Deloitte for one year.
- Two-year utilization to teach data literacy at AGS.
Warrant officers, as the technical experts, are proposed to take over and continually refine data education within AGS after the completion of ABAC and TWI. Those two experiences and a vetting process before selection ensure the right people are being hired to maximize efforts to educate HR professionals in data education fully.
Comprehensive data education is not about the position or individual but a holistic effort of the team. Using standardized education, experienced personnel, and shared experiences (within a shop/section and at echelon left, right, up, and down), AGS is prepared to maximize HR professionals’ capability and skill sets.
As the Army advances in the 21st century, the tools are expanding from Excel to IPPS-A and Power BI, so the HR professional workforce must also modernize. Given the dynamic environmental demands and requirements of Army HR professionals to quickly organize and present information, describe current readiness situation, make predictions for future endeavors, and make data-informed decisions, investment in people must match the investment in HR systems.
The AG Corps’ challenge to defend and serve represents an enduring commitment to the Army’s mission and people. This becomes increasingly more challenging when the Army conducts operations in uncertain and contested environments and requires more resources during an era when the Army is being asked to reduce its resource usage. The Army’s investment in materiel modernization must be matched by an investment in its people.
Editor Note: This article is a selection from the Army Sustainment University President's Writing Competition.
Maj. Brian T. Johnson currently serves as an Operations Research Systems Analysis Military Applications Course instructor within the College of Applied Logistics and Operational Sciences at Army Sustainment University, Fort Gregg-Adams, Virginia. He was commissioned as an adjutant general officer from Officer Candidate School. He holds a Master of Science in operations research.
Maj. Jeffrey T. Wilson is currently attending the Air Force Institute of Technology to earn a Master of Science in operations research. He served as an instructor for the Adjutant General School at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. He earned a Master’s Certificate in data analytics from the University of South Carolina Darla Moore School of Business.
This article is published in the Fall 2023 issue of Army Sustainment.