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Data-sharing could be game-changer for DoD

May. 13, 2012 - 11:23AM   |  
By J. MICHAEL BARRETT and MICHAEL CADENAZZI   |   Comments

With $600 billion in planned Defense Department budget cuts over the next decade, and another $500 billion if the congressional sequestration holds, it is worth considering how DoD plans to enact such massive savings.

Cutting planned acquisitions and closing or combining commands will play a role, but war fighters still will need new equipment. Downsizing domestic bases is politically difficult and requires money today to move people and assets in pursuit of uncertain savings tomorrow.

How, then, will DoD find a recipe that maintains critical competencies while embracing unexploited (and apparently as-yet-undiscovered) cost-saving innovations?

The biggest game-changer for DoD this decade could be to better harness the budget and program data it already collects by setting it free, and allowing people to use and analyze it consistently and collectively, rather than sporadically and in isolation. There is no surer way to improve the effectiveness, innovation and performance of any group than to unleash the power of pent-up data.

And yet it seems the government, especially the Pentagon, is possibly the last place to be affected by the wave of data-sharing and analysis tools that define the Internet era.

Innovation of all forms can come from free-flowing data used by many people in many ways. Who knows how much efficiency and improvement DoD could foster if it embraced the same idea? Yet in the Pentagon, as in many bureaucracies, control over data has come to be synonymous with institutional power, and uncontrolled data is seen as a threat to programs, people and budgets.

Consequently, many of the dysfunctional elements of the Pentagon, including mismatched requirements, duplication and miscommunication, are a result of data that is overcontrolled and underutilized.

Ensuring strategic coherence and effective force structure decisions while budgets are being cut demands a strategy that harnesses the wisdom of the crowd by giving the uniform, civilian, contractor and other communities unfettered access to collaborative analytical tools and consistent budgetary and program data.

This can be achieved by using better software tools that define a common baseline and allow more users to access and perform collaborative analysis upon Pentagon budgets. With such an approach, it is possible to turn the tables so that the 99 percent of DoD’s management structure that is controlled by the 1 percent that looks at the numbers can themselves understand the budgets, identify opportunities to cut waste and foster collaboration.

When analysts, program officers and war fighters can collect, assess and share data, amazing things will happen. New data will improve productivity and inspire innovations that save money.

True, change is often disruptive, and it is impossible to fully predict what would result from data being made available to all members of the Pentagon’s management structure. Such change is revolutionary, and it will be exhilarating and terrifying. But it is necessary to enter a more modern phase of DoD management all across the Pentagon’s operations.

DoD must incentivize and demand the improved flow of information about budgets, priorities and ongoing activities. Deriving value from this data requires a focus on embracing change and innovation, and that means cultural changes inspired from the top. It also requires a revolution in how and why we gather, share and analyze disparate data.

But most of all, it requires embracing the reality that the power of management and planning with data drives improvements through the collaborative power of the many, not the few.

J. Michael Barrett and Michael Cadenazzi are former military officers and co-founders of Diligent Innovations, a Washington defense consulting and technology firm.

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