JUST IN: Defense Department Needs Data-Savvy Logisticians

By Laura Heckmann
Logistics soldiers train in an exercise.

Army photo

OKLAHOMA CITY — From analytics to predictive planning, the use of data has permeated the military logistics environment, but the Defense Department needs to do a better job of equipping the logisticians handling the data, industry experts said.


When considering the role data plays in logistics across the Defense Department, Kevin Gaudette, retired Air Force colonel and senior vice president of integrated analytics and support at LinQuest, said one of its “big [challenges]” is “the way we build our logisticians today.”


Speaking at the National Defense Association’s National Logistics Forum Feb. 7, Gaudette said the department does a “great job” of building logisticians that can perform what he called the “blocking and tackling,” such as moving things, warehousing things and making plans. 


“But unfortunately, they're sort of illiterate when it comes to IT and data and analytics,” he said — things a logistician could get away with not knowing 20 years ago. “Now, not so much.”


Data is integrated into “everything we do, but logistics, more and more,” he said. “It’s not going in the other direction.” Gaudette suggested the newest generation of logisticians has been raised to ignore the data and information technology piece, “or we’re ignoring that piece of the training.”


This leads to two things, he said: logisticians who are not thinking about what he called the “geeky” part of logistics, and a scarcity of individuals with the background and knowledge to make “good decisions on where we need to go to fix these problems.”


Preparing logisticians needs to begin before entering the service, he said, noting that the military has largely retreated from offering ROTC scholarships geared toward science, technology engineering and mathematics.


"We kind of got away from that, and I think to our detriment,” he said. “You have a computer science degree, you have an engineering degree, you have an ops research degree. … You need that to start. That’s four-year prep,” he said.


And the service needs to do a better job of placing logisticians with that appropriate background “where not only are they bringing their logistics expertise and experience to bear, but are also able to use their technical expertise to help advance the ball and develop that skill set,” he added.


From an industry perspective, Justin Woulfe, chief technology officer at Systecon, said industry and government can learn from each other. He referenced programs that place government representatives inside companies, visiting and working with them for weeks at a time.


“I think we could expand those kinds of government-to-industry sharing of people and training of what is industry doing and applying some of those industry best practices back inside of government,” he said. “The folks that we've had are the geeks that come in and see what industry is doing and then can take [that] back into their organizations and commands and do great things.”


Jim Sutton, senior director of strategy at Shipcom Wireless, suggested one major hindrance to any meaningful collaboration between industry and government is government’s “onerous and time-consuming” authority to operate process.


Sutton said many industry representatives would “gladly put their technology in the hands of the government” to be used for open education and mentoring, but the authority to operate process is “so expensive, that the only people who play in that world are very, very large companies that have already won big projects that involve a lot of money.”


Much of the technological expertise within industry could be used in operating environments that could mentor and train the Defense Department workforce, but first, “the [authority to operate] has got to change,” he said.


While impediments exist, “the right primitives and a lot of the technical foundations” are already in place within the department, Aaron Jaffee, head of supply chain at Palantir Technologies, said.


“I think there's a sort of dissipation learning that's happening across the services. We've seen huge strides in the last few years, but hope we continue to see progress there,” he said. “And I think that stretches to the training domain, where we have multiple programs where we want to bring in different services, different groups, to train them, just have them get hands on with our technology as well as other technology.”


Jaffee said industry would “love nothing more” than to pass over capability to government to enable broader groups to be “able to train, be able to learn and build an informed point of view on how to use other use cases.”


Topics: Defense Department

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