How DOD can use data to take readiness to the next level

Data-literate personnel can better support defense operations that power warfighter missions by leveraging data-based insights for improved decision-making and agility.

Let’s face it, in today’s digital battlespace, military readiness now hinges on data literacy in the office and on the battlefield. With it, personnel are better enabled to support defense operations that power warfighter missions by leveraging data-based insights for improved decision-making and agility.

The 2018 National Defense Strategy highlights cultivating military and civilian workforce expertise -- information experts, data scientists, computer programmers and basic science researchers – by enabling them to exploit information, not just manage it.

Data literacy is the ability to read, work with, analyze and rationalize data, and there are many paths to developing it. But the defense workforce needs more than data scientists; it requires people who can think strategically about data and be comfortable using analytics platforms across missions and departments.

Consider supply chain decision-makers who must understand analytics for predictive maintenance, or identifying mechanical issues before they impact warfighter safety and spotting future trends and potential opportunities for cost savings.

In an era where recruiting the next generation of warfighters has proved especially challenging, harnessing analytics and machine learning algorithms will be critical in helping recruiters spot trends and insights, such as total impressions from website traffic and engagement on social media. With data, recruiters can determine interest based on interactions with potential recruits, and target messaging and outreach efforts accordingly.

Building a data-literate culture

The ultimate goal of a data literacy program is to empower everyone with the ability to understand, analyze and use data with confidence, while fostering an organizational culture.

Data literacy can be paired with any dataset, analytical or statistical concept, and business intelligence tool regardless of the job role.

To get started, leaders should identify and assess their employees’ current levels of data literacy:

  • Data aristocrats are the most data proficient employees. They have advanced skillsets and experience in data analytics and some may even be data scientists. They can serve as evangelists or mentors for others, helping harness data-driven insights throughout the organization.
  • Data knights are eager to further their skills in data science, algorithms and statistical analysis. They’re looking to further their leadership, mentoring and storytelling skills to demonstrate the power of data literacy.
  • Data dreamers are in the beginning stages of data literacy, but have recognized the benefits of working with data in their current roles. They first need foundational training in data and analysis.
  • Data doubters are the most skeptical and need to see the value of using data to validate the intuition and tribal knowledge upon which they typically rely. Awareness training that conveys how individuals can use their strengths -- and data – to enhance their current role will help as they begin foundational work in data literacy.

Once leaders assess each employee, they can identify their agencies’ level of analytics -- reporting, diagnostic, predictive or prescriptive -- and then strategize how to move to the next level accordingly.

Most agencies across the federal government are stuck at the reporting level, which is observational and designed to reveal historical trends. But the goal is to get agencies comfortable with diagnostic analytics so they can monitor trends and patterns and spot and resolve issues quickly through data.

With the Defense Department leading government in emerging technologies, like artificial intelligence, it’s important the entire defense workforce be able to comfortably use predictive analytics (anticipating future patterns and trends) as well as prescriptive analytics (where data can inform users of how to move forward with insights derived from predictive analytics).

For example, the Air Force has begun working in analytics for predictive maintenance, which allows for early identification of mechanical issues before they impact warfighter safety and helps spot future trends and cost-saving opportunities.

This is why readiness encompasses more than just lethality and preparedness of the warfighter: it’s equipping civilian personnel with data knowledge through education, training and tools required to support the defense enterprise.

DOD must also take care of its workforce and align resources accordingly. And with data literacy, the people “behind the scenes” can get us there.

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