DOD intensifies effort to improve logistics systems
Key initiatives target significant problems in data quality
The Defense Department is trying to squeeze greater efficiency out of its logistics systems as its warfighting and other operations are working increasingly on a joint basis.
To do so, DOD logisticians are taking a hard look at their logistics processes and coming to grips with the reality that there are significant problems in data quality.
DOD logistics organizations are attempting to reorganize their efforts using a combination of business process improvement methodologies, such as Lean Six Sigma, which seeks to reduce process steps and errors often associated with them. They are also using modeling and analytics to review existing logistics process data. Their efforts are aimed not only at becoming more efficient but also toward delivering new capabilities to warfighters, both at the joint level and individual service level.
At the joint level, for example, the Transportation Command is tuning its business processes through a business process management project called Agile Transportation for the 21st Century (AT21). The command is also developing a Web portal called iDistribute to provide Transcom customers with a streamlined way to gain access to the command’s Joint Deployment and Distribution Enterprise services.
“Transcom is using some business process modeling analysis — specifically using Lean Six Sigma principles, concentrating on problem-solving steps, and using their define, measure, analyze, improve [and] control process,” said Kimberlea Thompson, program manager of Transcom's Enterprise Data Office Support. “Once you understand and better document those processes, you'll start to slice out areas of improvement and areas of automation improvement.”
Dynamics Research and Science Applications International are part of the team working with Transcom to build AT21, creating automated business processes that tie together the various logistics systems to ensure that transportation request data is processed efficiently and is error-free.
Much of that work centers around Transcom’s fusion center, the command center for joint deployment and distribution operations.
"The primary function of the fusion center is to synchronize Transcom’s global strategic mobility operations by focusing the components and staff efforts to ensure effective and timely support to all geographic combatant commands," said Col. Kenneth Lundgren, fusion center director of the the command's Operations and Plans Directorate.
A Transcom spokesperson said the fusion center will enhance collaboration and communication among Transcom’s components — Air Mobility Command, Surface Deployment and Distribution Command, and the Military Sealift Command — and command functional representatives for transportation planning, command and control.
“The fusion center needs the capability to present accurate, errorless request data, and that data needs to be validated by the fusion center,” Thompson said. Using business process management tool suites, including Software AG’s Webmethods BPMS, Transcom’s AT21 team is building a set of automated processes that can pull data from a variety of logistics systems and use rules to validate the data.
“We're using Webmethods, with [Transcom’s] documentation of the business rules, and doing validity checks and showing the information the way the customer wants it to validate airlift requests,” Thompson said. “Then the system will send that validated request off to the next logistics system, and then it goes off to Air Mobility Command to actually take the valid request and create a mission from it.”
Transcom is also developing a portal, called iDistribute, which will give users unified access to the logistics systems linked through AT21 with a single log-on. “It’s a homegrown ‘portlet’ that's going to sit on top of those logistics information systems, so the user doesn't have to worry about logging on to four different systems,” Thompson said.
Transcom plans to deploy some of the initial functionality of AT21 later this summer. A Transcom spokesperson said that because the system is still in development, it was too early to comment on the effort.
But for joint deployment and distribution systems to work, they need to have accurate data on which to base decisions.
That’s part of the effort that Alion Science and Technology is undertaking through a contract that the Naval Operational Logistics Support Center (NOLSC) awarded. The Modeling and Simulation Information Center contract, a $15 million delivery order awarded to Alion earlier this year, focuses on creating up-to-date data on the materiel associated with Navy and Coast Guard units.
“For years and years, the Navy has been a self-deployer,” said Paul Thayer, logistics division manger at Alion. “They have not typically played in the joint world, so they haven't paid a lot of attention to joint systems. But over the last 10 years, the Navy has been asked more and more to participate in joint operations and work with different co-commanders to satisfy missions around the world. And to do that, they need to have authoritative data that is accurate and in place and up-to-date. Through the years, the data that they have on the logistics side has become quite aged — in many cases up to 10 or 20 years old — and no longer of any use.”
That means that systems such as the global transportation network, the Joint Operational Planning and Execution System and load-modeling programs, such as the Airframe Load Planning System and Integrated Computerized Deployment System, don’t have accurate data. “If you don't have good data on all your equipment, those systems cannot optimize your ability to load ships and planes and optimize your transportation pipeline," Thayer said. "So we're spending a lot of time with NOLSC and Navy commands to get that data up-to-date.”
In addition to the deployment data, Thayer said the data on what is required to sustain deployed units was also out-of-date.
“There's the piece of making sure you have everything ready to deploy, and then there's the sustainment piece once you get into theater,” he said. “That's another area where the Navy was 20 to 30 years out-of-date. There are things called logistics factor files that needed to be updated — once you get the right information levels in there, you can get the right sustainment levels you need to take on deployment with you. ”
Those efforts have already had some major payoffs, particularly for the Coast Guard, which had no existing joint deployment and distribution data for its units, Thayer said. But because of data created through the Modeling and Simulation Information Center contract, the Coast Guard was able to use the data to deploy people and equipment to Haiti to aid in the earthquake relief effort earlier this year.
The “Coast Guard was actually able to deploy one of their port security units through the joint system, using joint transportation pipelines, and they had never done that before in the past," Thayer said. "I think that was a great success, and I think the Coast Guard recognizes that, too.”
Another project that Alion is working on with the Navy is transportation planning software, called the Transportation Evaluation Tool. Thayer said the tool "pulls all the data from different transportation systems and presents different scenarios for getting materiel on different distribution pipelines — train, truck or plane."
"It will be a visual tool for load planners and shipment planners to [help them] decide what's the best and most economical way to move materiel," Thayer said. "It will graph your options, and eventually, it will have other information like the cost and all that." Thayer added that the tool is still in its infancy.
Sean Gallagher is senior contributing editor for Defense Systems.