According to David Spirk, the Defense Department chief data officer, joint warfighting is at the heart of the DOD’s Data Strategy, which focuses on joint all-domain operations using data for an advantage on the battlefield, senior leaders using data to improve department management and the application of business analytics to drive informed decisions at all levels.
Defense and military leaders view data as a strategic asset for improving decision-making from the command level to the warfighter at the tactical edge. The DOD vision is of a highly effective, data-centric entity built on essential capabilities—architecture, standards, governance, talent and culture—that together ensure the lasting and increasing value of the department’s data.
To achieve the scalability and real-time use of data for decision-making, defense leaders must align the vast trove of disparate data that is generated, ingested and analyzed with tasks and missions. As a result, the DOD Data Strategy, released last year, is inextricably linked to the Pentagon’s cloud computing and cybersecurity initiatives. All three strategies are reshaping how defense and military services conduct missions and protect the nation.
To say that the DOD Data Strategy presents a challenge is a dramatic understatement. However, appropriate application of augmentation techniques can help DOD components and the military services successfully implement the first three essential capabilities (architecture, standards, and governance) and achieve the seven VAULTIS—visible, accessible, understandable, linked, trustworthy, interoperable and secure—goals of the Data Strategy. Those goals include making data visible, accessible, understandable, linked, trustworthy, interoperable and secure.
Enhance, Enrich and Energize
The essential definition of augmentation is to supplement or make more intense. Augmentation techniques can be grouped into three categories: enhancement, enrichment and energizing. Enhancement techniques focus primarily on intrinsic data quality and utility. Enrichment techniques add extrinsic value by facilitating application of data. Energizing techniques are applied to maximize functionality, synergy and real-time (human and machine) consumption.
Depending on the data, these augmentation techniques can be uniquely aligned with each of the VAULTIS goals. Achieving all seven goals requires addressing the full lifecycle of data—how it is collected, structured, stored, served, transmitted and presented—and improving and measuring intrinsic characteristics such as completeness, consistency and accuracy. This has been an essential function within DOD since its inception. The challenge now is to perform these tasks holistically, consistently throughout the organization, more thoroughly, more strategically, in concert with other agencies and as quickly as possible. Then maintain that pace for the foreseeable future.
Although beyond the scope of this article, it is important to mention the role of automation in this endeavor. Time is of the essence, and human error must be minimized. As a primarily manual effort, the result will fall far short of the target and take much too long to reach. Making the DOD Data Strategy a reality will require an iterative, continuous and constantly improving and adapting process that is only achievable with a significant amount of automation. This will require automated enhancement and enrichment, automated governance, automated security, and automated delivery using automated “intelligence.” If there was ever a case for a continuous delivery, DevSecOps approach, this is it.
The Path Forward
There is tremendous opportunity for the DOD to leverage new technology to harness the power of data for innovation and informed decision-making and to better serve the needs of a global workforce. But there is also the potential to create chaos.
The good news is that none of the point solutions are new. However, integrating, harmonizing, formalizing and governing them in one very large—potentially multi-agency—program will be. Innovation will come in the areas of automation, continuous delivery and real-time performance. With security as an overarching requirement, addressing fundamental structure, storage and zero-trust protect surface designation is the place to start for “standards”—this will naturally inform subsequent enhancement and enrichment. Focusing then on maximizing value in consumption and application will guide development of energizing techniques.
The greatest difficulty going forward is complexity. The path forward is one that takes smart planning and coordination across many resources and stakeholders. It is critically important to draw a clear line between agency mission, operational outcomes and prioritized actions. Making rapid changes on this scale where there are so many overlapping initiatives increases the risk of failures. The DOD decision makers need rapid, incremental and well-planned progress. This foundational approach to augmentation can facilitate that progress.
Craig Heartwell is chief technology officer for Presidio Federal.