Untangling the chain of information

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla.'Trying to find authoritative data for troops in harm's way is like trying to find a needle in a haystack, according to Marine Corps Gen. James Cartwright, commander of the Strategic Command.

In a frank, no-nonsense address to attendees at the Army's LandWarNet Conference, Cartwright said the process to get accurate data into warfighter's hands gets muddled when commanders confuse the chain of command bureaucracy with the chain of information.

In the fast-paced, battlefield environment where information systems are used to find terrorists, order supplies and everything in between, decisions can't be made without speedy access to information.

'The military has a wonderful axiom called the chain of command," Cartwright said. "But the chain of information is not the chain of command. The customer is not the commander; it's everyone who uses [information]."

The Defense Department will begin registering data so anyone who wants to use it, and is authorized to use it, can gain access to it, Cartwright said. Users also will be able to label the information so DOD has a common data vocabulary, Cartwright added. But he reiterated that it is just as important to get the information out to the warfighters as expeditiously as possible.

"The intent is to get this data into a discoverable format. We can't wait until 2020 to solve this problem," he said.

Cartwright cautioned that many senior-level commanders and organizations are still against the idea. They think they own the data and have exclusive rights to it, he said. Changing the culture is the toughest part.

"You can imagine the groups in the vertical cylinders of excellence [stovepipes] who don't want this to happen," Cartwright said. "I can tell you, they haven't lost any children [on the battlefield]. They have the wrong set of priorities. We just can't afford to do business that way anymore."

And, if business isn't changed, the U.S. military could also lose its assymetrical advantage, Cartwright warned.

"In the end, he who can maneuver and make changes faster will win," Cartwright said. "The speed of decision is absolutely critical."

"When al-Qaida can outmaneuver you using MyYahoo, we've got something wrong here," he added.

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