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USTRANSCOM uses big data to assess supply chain performance

Measuring the reliability of the Department of Defense’s distribution network to deliver material to the warfighter has never been easier thanks to U.S. Transportation Command’s Metrics, Analysis and Sustainment Branch (TCJ4-LM) using a new business intelligence tool to harness the massive amount of data it collects from its component commands. (Illustration by Stephanie Pasch, U.S. Transportation Command Change Management)

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SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill., March 16, 2018 – Measuring the reliability of the Department of Defense’s distribution network to deliver material to the warfighter has never been easier thanks to U.S. Transportation Command’s Metrics, Analysis and Sustainment Branch (TCJ4-LM) using a new business intelligence tool to harness the massive amount of data it collects from its component commands.

J4-LM is responsible for tracking the shipment of replenishment supplies from factory to foxhole for overseas customers who can’t procure these items locally. The business intelligence tool helps J4-LM analyze how quickly replenishment supplies were delivered to the warfighter in near real-time.

As a result, the team is better able to spot bottlenecks and other problems in the network and provide recommendations for improvements in the distribution process to decision makers throughout the enterprise.

“We used to have a lot of stovepipes and our reports only looked at one month at a time,” J4-LM Branch Chief Army Maj. Dereck Wilson said. “Now we can aggregate more data. We’re better able to answer questions to allow decision makers to act upon that data. We can provide information more quickly with greater confidence in its accuracy.”

J4-LM worked with USTRANSCOM’s Chief Data Scientist Dan Derick and his team to develop distribution performance analysis tools. These tools are coded to sort through data collected from a variety of sources to produce reports and products analysts can utilize to make better and faster decisions.

Before migrating to the business intelligence tool, the J4-LM team manually collected data from different sources and managed a cumbersome and manually intensive process.

“Now analysts can focus on interpreting meaning from the data and using it to make informed distribution decisions rather than capturing and sifting through the data,” Derick said.

The data J4-LM utilizes can also feed directly into the command’s new Transportation Management System, which is currently in development. It will provide Joint Operations Center planners with insight into historical trends.

Derick said the team has also trained external users such as the Defense Logistics Agency to pull data themselves.

“External users can access the data and enter queries without calling us for support. This allows the customers to head off issues,” said Wilson. “They can look up the issue before reaching out to us.”

Still, the team is available to quickly help customers when needed. According to Wilson, a customer recently spent seven hours aggregating data from multiple combatant commands into a single spreadsheet.

“While analyzing the data, she realized she’d made an error somewhere in her efforts, rendering her data unusable,” Wilson said. “So she called us and, using our tool, we were able to assemble the data and forward it to her within 30 minutes.”

Business intelligence tools are just one example of the many ways USTRANSCOM can harness big data to make more informed decisions. In 2017, the command established the Data Center of Excellence to better manage and leverage the large amount of data the command collects.

So far, the J4-LM team says the implementation of their business intelligence tool has been a big success and has helped make everyone’s jobs easier and faster when it comes to accessing and analyzing data to measure performance and meet customers’ needs.

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