Army 'to paint a picture' of force readiness for commanders

Thursday - 12/13/2012, 7:32pm EST

Lt. Col. Bobby Saxon, division chief, Army EMDS

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The Army's Enterprise Management Decision Support system gives commanders mounds of data to help them understand the status of a certain brigade or division's training.

But as it pulls together data from 20 different databases, the information isn't always user friendly or clear about the specific issues affecting warfighters.

Soon, that's all about to change. EMDS will present all that data in a dashboard, using red, yellow and green markers to inform leaders about the status of their troops, and thus help them make better decisions about who is to be deployed and when.

"The system continues to evolve and gather more data," said Lt. Col. Bobby Saxon, the division chief for Army EMDS. "We can take a look at a unit or if a brigade is to be deployed six months from now, it can tell you where they are today, the people and their training level, and as the unit moves closer to their deployment date, commanders can track metrics to make sure they are meeting their gate checks to be ready to deploy."

The Army will bring all that data together in a dashboard format in early 2013 as part of its continuous system improvements cycle that includes the use of a business intelligence tool, Saxon said.

"The dashboard will be much more graphically intensive," he said. "We will try to paint a picture that is backed up by data for the brigade commander to go into EMDS and create a dashboard that is focused on their brigade and so they can see an instant picture on one screen and flag problems. They then will be able to dig in and find additional data about what's going on. We plan to display the data using red, yellow and green bar charts or pie charts. We've done some prototyping and are beginning early development of the dashboard. We are taking advantage of Oracle business intelligence tool."

Saxon said the dashboard is one way the Army is getting more benefits from all the data it collects.

The business intelligence software is part of the Oracle Endeca software that lets users process, store, manage, search and analyze structured and unstructured information together.

Saxon said the EMDS is using Endeca to improve how it processes all the data that comes from the assorted, disparate databases.

Part of the move to business intelligence tools within the Endeca platform is improving data standards and business processes. Saxon said the Army has been focusing on these areas for more than a year.

"We have dedicated staff members working with our stakeholders to pull those business rules out," he said. "We've done a lot of prototyping, and are getting feedback so we can develop the tool that looks nice and paints the correct picture. It's easy to take data and misunderstand and paint the data incorrectly. We have a lot of user acceptance testing with the tool."

The dashboard and business intelligence tool would be a third iteration of the program.

The Army first launched EMDS in December 2010 and finished an upgrade last February.

Saxon said the first set of improvements focused on bringing readiness resourcing data into the central system, and presenting in an easy to use way.

The second upgrade focused on the readiness piece, Saxon said.

"Our system doesn't get deep into the weeds because there are a lot of authoritative data systems we pull from," he said. "We can tell commanders if they have enough boxes of meals ready to eat, or if all the big pieces of equipment like howitzers or tanks or people movers are ready, but we can't tell you if an individual solider is qualified with a certain type of weapon."

Saxon said his staff added more user-friendly tools for the non-IT person, such as an improved basic search capability, the ability to add cloud tags to find out what are some possible trends among units, offer comments about the brigade or unit or division and discover problems in a way they couldn't before because of the depth of the data.

He added the next upgrade will incorporate historical data about the warfighters to give commanders a more long-term vision of the unit or division.

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