Marine Corps runs on data

The success of almost any enterprise, especially a logistics enterprise, hinges on its ability to ingest, process, disseminate and act on timely data, Presidential Innovation Fellow Adam Drake says.

Adam Drake, a 2019 Presidential Innovation Fellow, is working to modernize U.S. Marine Corps logistics through artificial intelligence, organizational change management and technology updates. A 20-year veteran of the private sector, this is his first foray into government as part of the General Services Administration-based program that pairs tech experts from industry, academia and nonprofits with agencies in need of a refresh.

Specifically, Drake is working with the Marine Corps deputy commandant for installations and logistics, which handles logistics plans, policies and concepts and supervises staff involved in all matters related to logistics. The service has “struggled to date to create the proper conditions for the Logistics IT Portfolio to be rapidly modernized through adoption of industry-standard best practices and contemporary technologies,” according to the project’s website. “Much of this failure is due to a lack of appropriate technical aptitude paired with the right senior leader oversight for rapid decision making.”

We spoke via email with Drake to find out more about the effort. The interview below has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

GCN: What’s at the root of the problem(s) you’re trying to solve?

Drake: The efforts of the Marine Corps are heavily influenced by the National Military Strategy and the new Defense Planning Guidance. In the future, the technological adaptability and ease of operating in distributed environments will be a cornerstone of the role the Marine Corps plays in the Defense Department. This means building and improving systems in order to make data available across the Corps in a way that has never been done before and especially changing processes to facilitate faster software development and fielding. Building on top of those changes, we can improve forecasting for logistics and other applications. There is a plethora of amazing technology opportunities in the organization, and the main effort is the evaluation of organizational structure, existing technology systems and processes for technology development that can be improved in order to speed the progress of technology adoption.

GCN: What technologies do you plan to integrate?

Drake: We are examining a variety of technology solutions. Personally, my background in high-performance machine learning and AI topics allow me to help out a lot with AI efforts within the Marine Corps and DOD. In addition to work we're doing in the logistics community on things like AI, autonomous vehicles, internet of things, sensor networks and mesh networking, I also collaborate with the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center to ensure we’re integrated with the broader AI community in DOD.

GCN: Security is of vital importance here. How does that factor into modernization?

Drake: Security is certainly an area of significant focus, and any new technology we build will consider security implications from the beginning. When modernizing the technology portfolio, we factor in security risks as part of the prioritization of software and systems. Further, as we move toward increasing presence on cloud infrastructure, DOD is working to ensure security is addressed and maintained through the lifecycle of any technology project.

GCN: You’ve probably heard the famous quote, “Amateurs talk about tactics, but professionals study logistics.” Is it still relevant?

Drake: Yes, it is very relevant. Military operations will always involve logistics and often require us to move large numbers of people and large amounts of materiel around the operating environment. Up and down the chain of command, data is the deciding factor in acting faster. The success of almost any enterprise, especially a logistics enterprise, hinges on its ability to ingest, process, disseminate and act on timely data. The rifleman and mechanic, the small unit leader and the general officer all must be supported by more accurate, accessible and secure information.

GCN: What’s your timeline for this project?

This is not really a single project, but rather a series of projects the Marine Corps and DOD more generally are engaging in so that we can concurrently modernize existing systems and more rapidly adopt new technologies in the future. Some of these projects are on the scale of weeks, and some are on the scale of many years. Through the diligent effort of the whole community, we’ll continue to make progress on these issues and ensure that America retains its global leadership position.

Editor's note: This article was changed May 20 to include mention that the Presidential Innovation Fellows program is based in the General Services Administration. 

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