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June 09, 2017
Winning with intelligence: Building a data-driven military
By: Antti Kolehmainen

What you can measure, you can manage. That’s as true for military organisations as it is for private sector businesses and public service agencies. Whatever the field of operations, data is power: the more rapidly that relevant, high-quality data can be accessed, the faster and more informed decision-making will be.

In this blog series, I’ll be looking at the pivotal importance of data in a military context and outlining the challenges that currently stand in the way of data-driven defence. I’ll be pinpointing the "knowledge gap" that currently exists between the huge amount of data now available and military organisations’ ability to use it, examining its causes and noting its effects.  And I’ll be suggesting how military organisations can bridge it.

In a digital world, the need for reliable intelligence, in the right hands at the right time, is more important than it’s ever been. Today’s leading military organisations are defined by their data management and data analytics capabilities.

Consider just a few examples. With instant access to demand data, supply lines can be properly calibrated, eliminating the risk of fuel and/or ammunition shortfalls. Integrated planning data, spanning multiple suppliers and taking account of almost infinite eventualities, can help to eradicate overruns to the costs and timescales of mission-critical weapon systems programs. And in complex, fast-moving combat situations, second-by-second coordination between land, sea and air forces is essential to secure rapid outcomes and minimise casualties. 

The digital tools and technologies needed to achieve all these outcomes are readily available. So why is there still so much room for improvement in military organisations’ data management and analytics capabilities? The answer is multi-faceted. Limited resources are, of course, a key factor. Just like their counterparts in the public service sector, most military organisations have to operate within severe budgetary constraints. Availability of key digital talent is another challenge. The skills needed to harness, manage and analyse data are in short supply.

And then there’s the data itself. Vast quantities of information are now available, with volumes growing at a phenomenal rate thanks to increased automation, sensors, mobile platforms and social media. And that’s leaving aside the data oceans contained in transactional applications like ERPs. 

The problem? With data availability growing at an extraordinarily rapid rate, most military organisations don’t know what they don’t know. There’s an enormously complicated mix of structured and unstructured data outside and inside their systems. Which of it is valuable?

Add to that the fact that most of the data at their disposal is not real time. Much of it is obsolete or of poor quality. And because it’s still held in functional silos, rather than integrated systems, almost none of it is integrated or connected.

All this has severe consequences. At a time when military organisations need to be more responsive than they’ve been, delivery capabilities are being slowed down. They’re forced to be reactive rather than proactive. Scenario planning is impaired. And inadequate situational awareness frequently leads to uniformed decisions.

It’s why, right now, most military organisations are data rich, insight poor. The journey towards intelligent defense is not without its challenges. But it’s an absolutely crucial one to embark upon. In my next blog, I’ll be looking at the knowledge gap between data availability, on the one hand, and military organisations’ ability to consume and utilise this data, on the other. It’s a gap that has to be —and can be— closed.

Thanks for reading.

See this post on LinkedIn: Winning with intelligence: Building a data-driven military.

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