Commercial innovations in information technology continue to stimulate the imaginations of the Department of the Navy (DON) warfare and business communities. The way commercial industry collects, processes, and provides innovative services with data is especially intriguing. Being able to collect and make use of vast amounts of data has been the differentiator for recent business and political achievements.
For example, Amazon has achieved phenomenal success as an online retailer. Amazon’s ability to collect data through its devices and services, then process collected data into actionable information has been a game-changer in the retail industry.
Other IT companies, like Apple, Google and Facebook, have also successfully turned our cellphones, emails and social media into sophisticated sensors for data collection. They are able to track what we buy, where we go (at what time), who our friends are, what our interests and hobbies are, and much more. These companies are able to turn collected data into actionable information both for their marketing efforts and product development.
To attain market advantage, they are even able to instantly update personalized advertisements through machine learning of new data, often obtained through data sharing. For example, after you look at new sunglasses on Amazon.com, you will see advertisements for sunglasses populate your Facebook page almost instantaneously.
More and more industries are recognizing the power of data and learning how to leverage it for competitive advantage. The National Basketball Association (NBA) announced it would install motion-tracking cameras in every NBA arena in 2013. The technology can monitor every move a player makes on the court, gauge how tired he is, and even keep an eye on the job referees are doing. The NBA teams can now know how a specific player has fared against another, in what kind of offensive and defensive situation, at what point of time in the game, and more.
Coupling the motion-tracking data with other technologies, such as health and fitness sensors to track athletes, has led to a data boom in the NBA. These data sets have dramatically changed how NBA basketball is played. Teams are now actively managing players’ on court time to minimize fatigue and injuries. The teams are also shooting more 3-point shots, playing at a much faster pace, and not going for offensive rebounds as often — all due to the analytical insights gained from data. Data and analytics capabilities are no longer just nice-to-haves for NBA teams. They are critical assets NBA teams use to have an edge in the fierce competition of professional sports.
Information and intelligence have been a critical part of warfare for a very long time. Knowing just a little bit more, or being able to recognize false signals slightly better, have tipped the scales in battles and wars throughout history. Having just a little more insight to support our financial investment and acquisition decisions has also given us an edge in military strength.
The DON and the wider U.S. military have a rich history in using data in this regard. The defense community has contributed greatly to foundational scientific research and technological advances that are enabling the era of “Big Data” analytics. However, we cannot rest on what’s been done. The reality is that industry and commercial data capabilities have surpassed our own. If we do not act to adapt these commercial capabilities, methods and standards, we risk losing our edge to competitors and adversaries.
Hypothetically, imagine we had a supply chain like Amazon. We would be able to collect supply data in an automated manner instead of manual data entry. We would be sharing our data across the Defense Department to optimize the supply chain and store inventory at the most optimal locations to support logistical needs. We would also be able to accurately forecast military demands and share them with suppliers.
Should we have emergent requirements or changing demands, we could immediately make changes and disseminate the information to suppliers. Suppliers would be able to right-size manufacturing throughput to maximize their profits as they better meet our demands. We would be able to minimize inventory and logistics delays, and lower overall costs. Imagine being able to deliver necessary parts and supplies to naval waterfront workers within hours of finding an unexpected failure.
Envision a work environment where administrative reporting and routine administrative tasks are automated through sensors, sharing and machine learning capabilities. We would be able to disseminate information instantaneously, make decisions faster and better, and learn and adapt faster. We could better utilize our limited resources to perform value-added tasks, such as replacing a water pump — instead of submitting paperwork to replace a water pump. We could focus more on improving mission performance and coming up with innovative solutions to problems, instead of performing routine data gathering, compliance reviews, and reporting.
There are countless opportunities for improvement through data and analytics. We must act quickly to: (1) Foster a culture of data-driven innovation, and (2) Structure our policies and workforce appropriately to deploy and operate innovations with minimal time-to-market.
To accomplish these two actions, the DON takes a platform-building approach, consisting of:
- A Data and Analytics Consortium (DAC) – The DON needs to interact better internally and externally, person-to-person, to make all our data work for all of us, and enable us to integrate our ideas to generate new innovations. There are technical issues we need to tackle together, but there are also cultural barriers that we need to resolve. Social interactions build trust. Trust is perhaps the most important factor in sharing and integrating our data, analytics and ideas. Necessary policies, oversight, and workforce requirements should originate from this community of “trust.”
- Open source technology – It is paramount that we are able to adapt faster to data-driven innovations, create new innovations, and deploy these innovations. Increasingly, industry and academia are accomplishing this through leveraging open source standards, tools and methods. Open source standards might not be the best solution for every situation in the DON. However, we have to at least learn about them and understand them to transition these state-of-the-art capabilities into our portfolio.
- A common data management framework – This is critical for our readiness to deploy innovations. Instead of waiting until a requirement arises to determine what we have and how to implement our new idea, good data management completes the necessary hard work ahead of the time. The DON is adopting the National Information Exchange Model (NIEM) to reuse and share data models, a very important first step to improve data management.
The DON’s vision for data and analytics optimization will rely heavily on community participation to help define the most effective policies, generate innovative solutions with tangible values, and share lessons learned, best practices, data and solutions. The DON Chief Information Officer looks forward to your support and participation in this critical effort.