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More visible data helps drive DOD decision-making

Chief data officers (CDOs) in the Defense Department are opening up their data to take advantage of artificial intelligence and machine learning tools that help surface insights and improve decision-making.

"Some of the legacy concepts around 'this is my data' just naturally change when we start using data to drive some of our senior leader-most decision-making forums," DOD CDO David Spirk said. "I think at the department level, we're blasting through some of those legacy cultural tendencies."

Speaking at the ThoughtSpot Beyond 2020 Digital conference in December, Spirk said DOD’s growing data community is helping to “break down barriers that have in the past prevented the sharing of data.”

More accessible data allows DOD to tap into greater solutions, he said. “We can … begin to really unleash the power of an AI across our decision making -- whether that's for joint alternate operations and warfighting, or whether that's for back office analytics. "Making our data visible allows us to more quickly get predictive analytics," he added.

Thanks to data and analytics, the Special Operations Command’s 160th Night Stalkers are able to conduct predictive maintenance on helicopter engines, ensuring they have the staff and hardware in place to repair aircraft before there’s a problem. They’ve been able to keep the helicopters in operation for 120% of projected flight hours for 92% of the budget cost and save around $50 million a year, Spirk said. 

One driver of the change is the newly created Deputies Management and Action Group, which regularly meets with the deputy secretary of Defense, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the service chiefs and the service secretaries, Spirk said. The group has been able to use data to drive conversations with senior leadership around personnel, readiness and acquisition logistics, he said.

"The fact is we sit with Deputy Secretary of Defense [David] Norquist a couple times a week, as a small team, and talk him through where we're at, what data are we unlocking, what data-driven decision-making forum can we put this in front of next," he said. "This senior leader attention is [now] foot-stomping and smashing through that frozen middle because the tactical elements are now asking for the same."

As the data community members develop their own data maturity models, DOD will then take them to the Federal CDO Council.  “We hope that the department can show if we can do it, everybody can do it,” Spirk said.

About the Author

Susan Miller is executive editor at GCN.

Over a career spent in tech media, Miller has worked in editorial, print production and online, starting on the copy desk at IDG’s ComputerWorld, moving to print production for Federal Computer Week and later helping launch websites and email newsletter delivery for FCW. After a turn at Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology, where she worked to promote technology-based economic development, she rejoined what was to become 1105 Media in 2004, eventually managing content and production for all the company's government-focused websites. Miller shifted back to editorial in 2012, when she began working with GCN.

Miller has a BA and MA from West Chester University and did Ph.D. work in English at the University of Delaware.

Connect with Susan at [email protected] or @sjaymiller.

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