Building a Platform for Better and Faster Decision-making
This large military branch achieves the impossible every day. However, the service knew that it could make the impossible a little easier by providing decision-makers with better, actionable data.
For example, military personnel orders vehicle tires from a longtime vendor without knowing that tires ordered from another vendor last twice as long. Meanwhile, a financial analyst sees wildly divergent tire prices and order frequencies but has no insight into field usage data to make sense of the differences.
A group studying the rising trends in domestic violence, illegal drug use, and suicide among service members manually collects data from various sources and then attempts to consolidate and analyze data via spreadsheets to provide leadership with reports. Can they identify vulnerable airmen before another service member takes his life?
Like most US military services, this branch is a sprawling organization with thousands of teams independently collecting, analyzing, and acting on data. Siloed data and decisions, manual collection and data wrangling, and the lack of real-time reporting lead to missed opportunities for smarter decisions affecting everything from safety to cost savings.
The customer realized that it needed to reign in its sprawling IT fiefdoms and create a modern, unified analytics platform to empower teams across the service to make better and faster decisions.
Tapping Into Domain Expertise to Build New Data Capabilities
This customer turned to Applied Information Sciences (AIS) for help. AIS has deep domain expertise in both Azure and the enterprise-wide cloud program within this military branch. In fact, AIS conceived, architected, built, and maintains the Azure Common Services used to migrate applications to Azure.
With existing FedRamp compliance for critical Azure services and deep experience in Authority to Operate (ATO) acceleration, AIS was able to speed ATO approval for needed Azure services, which was critical to quickly developing the data analytics solution.
AIS recommended building the data analytics platform around the needs of an initial group—that manages a budget of more than US$160 billion in support of 700,000 personnel—to get a system up and running quickly.
Analysts in this group used an older database to analyze spending data; however, the database was in dire need of being reimagined: data was scattered in many areas, managed by different people, and nearly impossible to pull into one location for analysis and presentation.
A long search for the right solution was unsuccessful until AIS developed a data platform. This platform enabled our client’s group to build a solution capable of consuming data feeds and displaying mission-critical information utilizing a number of Azure analytics services across the following workstreams:
- Data ingestion. AIS developed a US Department of Defense (DoD) Common Access Card credentials (CAC)-enabled web application (called Data Shuttle) that allows users to upload data files into the data integration platform. AIS used Azure Blob Storage for massively scalable object storage of unstructured data ingested into the system.
- Data processing. This workstream processes data while satisfying data security, access control, and organizational requirements for each data source. Azure Data Lake and Azure Data Factory provide data processing services that make it easy for developers, data scientists, and analysts to store data of any size and shape. HDInsight offers fully managed Cloud Hadoop services for optimized open-source analytic clusters. AIS used Azure SQL Server to cost-effectively handle smaller data workloads. As data volumes grow, the platform scales to include Azure Synapse Analytics for data warehouse operations.
- Visualization. AIS used Microsoft PowerBI Desktop to access data, perform analysis and visualization, and author reports that can be shared with others. PowerBI Report Server provides authorized users with access to reports generated by PowerBI Desktop.
- Infrastructure and identity. To comply with DoD security requirements, AIS created a single-sign-on system that connects to existing virtual network infrastructure and provides remote users with CAC multi-factor authentication.
- DevOps. This workstream combines the Azure DevTest Labs development service with the Azure Government Test and Production environments via a CI/CD DevSecOps pipeline.
AIS used its own Data Intelligence Framework to guide the work. It’s a process that allows federal agencies to discover and analyze new factors that impact their lines of business through data visualization. This framework takes advantage of advanced security experience to meet security and governance requirements in even the most highly regulated environments.
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Uncover Insights Faster
Using the data platform, financial analysts have dramatically reduced the work involved in ingesting, processing, and analyzing data and generating reports. Previously, this required pulling together insights from disparate source systems, trading files, and information over email, and performing crude analyses using spreadsheets. Then there was the challenge of getting on a decision-makers calendar to communicate the insight, which at the Pentagon can take weeks.
“Today, using the data platform, analysts can arrive at insights in minutes or seconds versus weeks or months and transfer those insights to decision-makers instantaneously in the form of an emailed URL,” says Mr. Vincent Papia, HNI Data Integration Office Lead, Military Branch.
Faster insights will have positive repercussions across the organization. For example, the financial analyst who previously saw divergent tire prices and order frequencies from different bases can use the data platform to quickly discern the need to switch tire suppliers on some bases.
Predictive analytics can help the forecast when airplanes will require new tires and other parts—and which vendors to buy them from—leading to smarter purchasing decisions, saving our customers time and money, and keeping their men safe.
Or often, one program is not going to spend all its allotted budget in a given fiscal year while others run through their budgets early. With the data platform, decision-makers can see those insights instantly and take action to transfer funds between commands before the opportunities disappear.
Reduce the High Cost of IT Sprawl
Serving as a single data repository for the entire service, this branch can get rid of stovepipe data repository infrastructure and personnel and take advantage of cloud computing cost efficiencies.
“With the data platform, we can offer a standard set of analytics tools so that personnel can focus on analytics rather than setting up and managing services and tools,” Papia says. “We expect to reduce IT costs by at least 16 percent.”
Create New Opportunities
AIS is leading the charge to onboard other military commands. Not only will additional commands be able to take advantage of improved analytics within their organizations, but they’ll be able to share data across commands to drive cross-functional insights.
The solution also positions both AIS and Microsoft for opportunities beyond the military. Within the US federal government, there is broad adoption of Microsoft technologies such as Microsoft 365 and Azure, which creates a compelling case to use the same familiar tools for data analytics and visualization.
“Connecting Power BI or Office 365 to a data source to provide powerful visualizations is in high demand,” Papia says. “The Microsoft platform is also highly regarded based on its investment in making solutions available across all classification levels. The data platform is leading the way to data analytics improvements across the federal government.”
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