Unravelling defence data complexity
Logistics is the all-encompassing process of moving, feeding, fuelling and equipping our armed forces.
01 December 2021 | 4 min read
It cuts across every aspect of Defence work and life. Data is what drives it, and countless individual systems have been introduced over time to feed the logistics machine.
Each of these systems has a role and purpose, but as Defence agencies expand their operations and integrate more digital systems into their workflow, there’s a growing recognition of the need to manage logistics platforms as a unified whole.
But what does this mean in practice? Well, often it means rationalising and bringing data from different branches and streams together in new enterprise-level systems. And that’s where things can get complicated…
Deciphering user intent
For most businesses, data issues are a relatively minor inconvenience. Duplicate customer records, manual inputs that are inconsistently entered, that kind of thing. When it comes to the military, the ramifications of incorrect or misaligned information can be massive.
When we are preparing to bring information from multiple data sources together within a new environment, it’s vital to understand the purpose and intent of the original systems, and the mindsets of the users who access them.
For example, engineering branch stakeholders tend to talk in whole ‘product’ terms, and the data from their systems will reflect this:
‘We have seven tanks, four aircraft carriers, ten jets…’
By contrast, supply chain personnel are thinking about the thousands of parts that make up the whole – all of the ‘items of supply’:
‘To keep our seven tanks running we have 10 GPS systems (seven in the tanks and three spare for the fleet in case of malfunction), each tank is operated by four people who require four helmets, four sets of personal body armour…’
The data we can pull from this kind of system is far more granular. Both systems operate with a specific logic and intent, and they speak a language that their users understand. The challenge is to create a common language that all users can adopt, understand and share.
Bridging the gap between requirement and behaviour
Systems projects are as much about people as they are about technology and binary code.
As a Systems Project Manager, your goal is to create an environment in which the Defence Engineer and their colleague the Supply Chain Manager can both ask questions of the system and retrieve information that’s meaningful to them without compromising the other user’s ability to do the same.
When implementing enterprise-level systems, you need to take an enterprise-level approach to data cleansing and remediation too. Different teams have different ways of achieving desired outcomes, so you need to listen and understand what they require from data.
How do they use existing systems? What data formats do they use when importing and exporting information?
Once you know this, you can create a framework for remediation that allows information from multiple sources to come into the new system cleanly and avoid conflicts that can cause big operational problems.
For example, multiple legacy systems may reference the same item in different ways, so you need to create a system architecture and corresponding data remediation plans that allow the new system to recognise these items as a single unit, not several.
At the same time, you need to make sure all users are equipped to adopt a new way of thinking and working.
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A systematic approach to system change
All of this takes time and a lot of stakeholder consultation. Users must accept the new system and adapt their workflow to suit it. It takes collaboration and compromise among many parties to get right. But that’s the exact definition of a system:
'A set of things working together as parts of a mechanism or interconnecting network; a complex whole'
Logistics is the vast machine behind the machine that is our military. It’s what gives defence personnel confidence that they have the resources, information, and support needed to get the job done and come home safe.
As project managers, we know there’s little room for error. That’s why it’s so rewarding to support defence agencies to develop and deploy next-generation, enterprise-level systems that make logistics that little bit easier.