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Warfighters, Decision-Makers at Center of DOD Data Strategy

At its simplest, the Defense Department's new data strategy, released in September, aims to make it easier for users to get access to the data they need to do their job. At the center of that, however, are the warfighters and decision makers who are most reliant on critical, accurate and timely data to carry out the department's mission, said the department's chief data officer.

Airmen monitor computers.
Monitoring Movements
Air Force airmen monitor battlespace movements at a simulated austere base during the Advanced Battle Management System exercise at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Sept. 3, 2020.
Photo By: Air Force Tech. Sgt. Cory D. Payne
VIRIN: 200901-F-WJ663-0302A

"This strategy is for warfighters and decision makers," said David Spirk, who spoke Oct. 28 at the National Defense Industrial Association. "It's 100 percent focused on improving the speed and execution of decisions — to support informed decision making, to improve situational awareness and knowledge at every level, to improve our ability to anticipate events and resource needs before they were known."

To ensure the fastest, smoothest distribution of data to warfighters, decision makers, and even artificial intelligence systems, the DOD data strategy lays out a plan to, among other things, standardize how data is collected, categorized, tagged and distributed.

A person works on a computer.
Operation Blue Roof
The Army Corps of Engineers' Operation Blue Roof data team manages the volumes of data associated with the mission -- starting with the right-of-entry applications, whether hard copy forms from sign-up stations, call centers or online applications, Lafayette, La., Oct. 2, 2020. They are responsible for maintaining the quality of the data through the life of the mission from initial validity, property assessment, contractor assignment, construction assurance and contractor billing.
Photo By: Michael Glasch, Army Corps of Engineers
VIRIN: 201003-A-VX653-9106A

The strategy sets goals for the department to build a data environment that makes it easy for would-be users of data to not only find what data they need, but to also get access to it — wherever that is. That data must also be adequately described in language that is standardized across the department, so that would-be users can easily identify its relevance to their portion of the mission.

Also important within the strategy is that data be trustworthy. The strategy calls for development of standards to ensure that when users get ahold of data, for instance, it's always accompanied by additional, standardized information that makes it clear where that data came from.

A person works on a router.
Router Maintenance
Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Daniel Torotorres, a Puerto Rico native assigned to the guided missile destroyer USS Ralph Johnson, conducts maintenance on a data router in the Persian Gulf, Oct. 1, 2020.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Anthony Collier
VIRIN: 201001-N-FP334-1004A

The strategy demands a lot of changes from those across the department who collect, generate and maintain data, so that users in other areas can always have what they need, when they need it. Spirk said getting those people on board will be critical to the success of the data strategy.

One way to do that, he said, is creation of chief data officer positions, where appropriate, to ensure the data strategy is being implemented and, also, to build relationships and trust between agencies so that data can move to where it needs to be more efficiently than it may be doing now.

A person monitors computer screens.
Monitoring Positions
A soldier monitors air and ground position information on the Windows and android tactical assault kits to get a common operating picture that enhances situational awareness and data sharing at Yuma Proving Ground, Ariz., Sept. 16, 2020.
Photo By: Justine Ruggio, Army
VIRIN: 200916-D-UI268-074C

Spirk said the department will know it has been successful in implementing its data strategy by how the warfighter responds.

"The measure of our success is going to be a recognizably faster warfighting operation tempo," he said. "This will be achieved by treating data as a weapon system, effective partnerships and a collective focus. And when I say weapon system, I mean we need to think of the data ecosystem as the weapon system that fires the data and ensures it's available to our warfighters at the time and place they need it before they realize that they did."