Warfighters should be nerve center for logistics

Infusing logistics processes with intelligence from warfighters would lead to better support

Imagine a system that automatically compiles and catalogs supply items based on a thousand different attributes. This system can assess the need for more troops and the need for more choices at the commissary or less paperwork at the transfer station; it knows the temperature and understands what uniform is appropriate; it can not only process information but also make intelligent recommendations to improve the mission. Now imagine that after investing billions of dollars and millions of man-hours into this system, this information sits unused, its potential untapped.

We already have this system — it’s called the warfighter — and we need to listen.

The Defense Department employs 3 million personnel, both military and civilian, and contracts with more than 20,000 companies employing thousands more — each with the ability to assess what works and what doesn’t and the ability to track efficiency and make recommendations. Unfortunately, there is no single mechanism or outlet to provide this institutional knowledge or offer feedback.

One striking exception where DOD is making strides to tap this resource is with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Tactical Ground Reporting System, which gives soldiers the ability to exchange and evaluate information through a map-based system.

And in the logistics arena, DOD stands to make an equally significant impact.

Defense logistics has one task: ensure military readiness by supplying the warfighter with the right tools in the fastest, most efficient way possible. Because of the nature of the mission, defense logistics is a dynamic activity with constantly changing requirements, suppliers, products and personnel. The next evolution of logistics, call it Logistics 2.0, preserves all of the processes and functionality of the logistics enterprise while overlaying those processes with intelligence gleaned directly from the warfighter.

How long did a certain part take to arrive? How does it operate under harsh conditions? Does it meet the requirements of the mission? Logistics 2.0 would allow warfighters to map their experiences to the logistics system.

By tracking comments to an individual’s location, profession or deployment, the online catalog could enable multiple views based on specific needs. This would enable warfighters to share actual lead times versus advertised lead times, which could then be fed back into planning systems to improve forward operations. Those multiple views also could enable individuals to construct their own catalogs, sharing them within their immediate organization or across the world.

Logistics 2.0 would create a truly collaborative environment in which warfighters can share troubleshooting pointers with others in the field, building a solutions index fully maintained by user contributions and battle tested in the field. This crowdsourcing environment could be further supplemented by a resource library of user- and manufacturer-generated product guides.

Perhaps the greatest benefit would be in improving industry responsiveness to the warfighter. Private dashboards could alert manufacturers to changing requirements, allowing for real-time tracking and response. This would provide valuable feedback, enabling vendors to implement meaningful and intuitive design improvements. It requires greater responsiveness but promises greater returns — offering an answer to every industry’s biggest question: What does the warfighter need?

A Logistics 2.0 system would have challenges. The drawback of any collaborative environment is the loss of content control and the threat of bad actors. Logistics 2.0 could guard against those threats by implementing a robust reputation system, in which users are identified and their comments ranked for helpfulness and veracity.

Of course, the most critical feature of any information technology initiative is not technology, processes or supplies — it’s the warfighter. How are we as an industry enabling their ideas, experiences and insights to inform the enterprise, build a dialogue and deliver the smartest, most engaged fighting force on Earth?

Logistics 2.0 is about using the most powerful information resource we have — our men and women in uniform — and creating a more efficient and reliable mechanism for supporting their mission.

About the Author

Don R. Brown, PhD., is founder and chief executive officer of Partnet Inc., and an expert in online marketplaces for government.

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