A 360-Degree View of Defense Logistics

For most, the idea of logistics doesn’t reach much further than, say, planning for a dinner party. Call some people, get some groceries, and spruce up the apartment. In the world of defense logistics, however, your dinner party has now turned into the task of overseeing the manufacturing, distribution, storage, and upkeep of the products and technologies that agencies depend on. Not so simple anymore.

Defense logistics involves globally distributed production, complex supplier networks, and security concerns, making it one of the federal government’s most challenging operations. For example, the logistics operations of the Department of Defense (DoD) have come under significant scrutiny recently, with the Government Accountability Office (GAO) listing DoD supply chain management on its “High Risk List” in 2013. While improvements have since been made, reports have found further action is still needed as outdated and ineffective systems continue to cause major deficiencies in the management of supply chain data. Logistics difficulties create waste and abuse, but can also threaten the very readiness of U.S. forces at home and abroad.

To get a better grasp of the current state of defense logistics, the Government Business Council (GBC) and Cloudera conducted a survey of over 300 federal managers, including those at the GS/GM 11-15 grade levels and members of the Senior Executive Service. Respondents represent the DoD and members of the military service branches, with 91% reporting at least some familiarity with defense logistics. Some of the major findings from the report are outlined below.

Beyond waste and inefficiency, the Pentagon’s challenges in managing its supply chains are undermining the very security of U.S. forces. According to the survey, 86 percent of respondents said defense logistics challenges have a negative impact on U.S. readiness. A quarter of respondents said the impact is severe.

These challenges are often frustrating and contradictory, with shortages in one component and excess in others. Just over 80 percent of respondents said their service or component has experienced material/equipment shortages in the last year, while 68 percent said their service or component has been forced to dispose of material/equipment due to excess inventory.

Security is another major concern. When asked about supply chain risk, 83 percent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that their supply chain entails greater overall risk than it did five years ago. Respondents said the top three factors contributing to this risk were ineffective systems used to manage supply chain data (50 percent), federal sourcing mandates (49 percent), and technical complexity (33 percent).

Another significant problem is the limited data visibility within supply chains. Respondents said the top three factors hampering data visibility were budgetary constraints limiting investment in analytics/storage tools (51 percent), lack of personnel with training in data analytics (47 percent), and difficulties integrating disparate data sources (35 percent). Only a quarter of respondents said they were confident in their service or component’s ability to draw insights from its supply chain data.

When asked about improving overall effectiveness, respondents largely desired better data capabilities. Slightly over half of respondents (51 percent) said the ability to forecast demand using real-time and historical data streams would have a significant positive impact. Other top responses called for automated data collection at facilities throughout the supply chain (49 percent) and the ability to integrate unstructured and non-standardized data (38 percent).

So, what does this all mean? The report has three final considerations based on the results of the survey.

  1. Investing in supply chain analytics will increase the DoD’s readiness

The Pentagon’s current systems for supply chain management are a source of frustration for federal leaders. As previously mentioned, these systematic flaws are not only wasteful, but potentially dangerous. In the face of sequestration and shrinking budgets, investments in supply chain analytics can help alleviate these current flaws involving data visibility, quality control, and service disruptions in a cost-effective manner.

  1. Prioritize technologies that allow for longitudinal analysis using non-standardized and unstructured data

In supply chain management, making accurate longitudinal assessments is very important. But, taking real-time data, especially if the source is non-standardized and unstructured, and correlating it with historical trends is a significant challenge. Technologies like Apache Hadoop have taken on this challenge and are gaining global traction as a result.

  1. Public-private partnerships are needed to improve supply chain management government-wide

There are many logistics challenges specific to the DoD. But many of the findings can also apply to civilian agencies and private enterprises. With a growing diversity of stakeholders involved in manufacturing, distributing, storing, and maintaining the products federal agencies depend on, stronger partnerships can ensure better supply chain data and process improvements.

With these important insights, the government can better position itself to tackle the significant challenges of defense logistics.


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Cloudera is revolutionizing data management with the first unified platform for big data, an enterprise data hub built on Apache Hadoop™. Agencies now have a central, secure, and cost-efficient place to store and analyze all their data, empowering them to derive new insights and correlation while extending the value of existing investments. Cloudera was the first and still is the leading provider and supporter of Hadoop for the public sector. Learn more here.


Photo credit: Flickr, UK Ministry of Defence.

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