US Africa Command's info management system is up to the task

Tracker helps the flow of orders and directives, allowing the command to increase its workload

Managing information across large enterprise networks can be tricky business, particularly for Defense Department organizations where getting the right data to the right people at the right time is critical.

An important feature of how U.S. military commands conduct their business is tasking. Tasks are orders, directives and regulations sent down from the major commands to their subordinate organizations. Many DOD commands are now using enterprise applications such as Microsoft’s Dynamics Content Resource Management (CRM) Task Management Tracker (TMT) to track and streamline their command and administrative functions.

According to Microsoft partner Avenade, TMT is currently being used by 25 major DOD commands, including the U.S. Africa Command. Established in 2008, Africom is responsible for overseeing U.S. military, stability and humanitarian operations in Africa.

The application allows the command to increase its workload because it can be more efficiently tasked by the Pentagon, said Kevin Levija, AFRICOM’s deputy secretary to the joint staff. When TMT was introduced, it allowed the command’s workload to increase by 16 percent while allowing related manpower to be reduced by 25 percent, he said.

Africom has been using TMT since March 2009. Levija said that on the first day it was in use, the command broke its record for tasks issued with 27 requests being dispatched. The command is currently handling operations and tasking orders for the NATO mission in Libya. “We didn’t drop the ball with anything going in Libya,” he said.

A self-described power user of TMT, Levija said that he uses it for technical tasks. He said it can manage any tasking orders coming through the command. Tasks arrive via Outlook e-mail and are then loaded into the tasker, which then pushes them out to the command.

Before TMT, Africom used three different platforms to track tasks and store the information in a database: Outlook, a database and the portal. This arrangement proved difficult to manage and there was the constant possibility of human error because information was entered by hand, Levija said. In contrast, TMT is more automated, has backup systems and provides a single tool to manage and track tasking.

Levija admitted that there was a learning curve involved when the command transitioned from the old system to TMT, but he compares the experience of using the new software to driving a Ferrari.

The TMT tasker creates an organization chain identifying the command’s main directorates and then indicates which organization will manage a task. Tasks from directorates move down to divisions which in turn are sent to subject-matter experts, whose answers are then sent back up the chain. “It gives us that visibility so we can see that answers are sent out and archived,” he said.

There are also several ways to look into tracker. For example, if an e-mail is accidentally deleted, it can be tracked and retrieved. Levija added that under the old system, lost e-mails could not be recovered.

Some details were also ironed out to fully integrate TMT into Africom. One issue was that tasks could not be directly injected into the command’s policy chain but had to work within it instead. For example, a private cannot task a general because Africom policy prevents it, although similar actions could be permissible in the civilian version of TMT.

The command began with Version 2.1 of TMT. It is now using Version 2.3 and cloud-friendly Version 2.4 will be arriving in the near future. The command is also currently awaiting hardware upgrades. He noted that the upcoming upgrades are not major, but they are based on user feedback and are intended to make tasking and related processes much easier.




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