Turning data into decisions, it sounds obvious but for large organizations compiling, formatting and interpreting vast amounts of data can be almost impossible. But Army Lieutenant Colonel Bobby Saxon and his team have created a system that does just that for the Army. It’s called Enterprise Management Decision Support System (EMDS).
For his work Lt. Col. Saxon has been identified as “one to watch” among information technology professionals by CIO magazine.
Lt. Col. Saxon told Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER program that this collaboration system helps the Army and senior leaders do their jobs better.
What is EMDS?
“With EMDS we take raw data and we turn that into information. It is an enterprise system on the Army’s classified network that pulls data from two dozen sources across the Army. The data sources look at training, personnel, readiness and equipment. It brings those sources into a common platform for Army senior leaders to support decision making. It’s not just current data but we can also project information,” said Lt. Col. Saxon.
Picking the Right Data Sets
“If you ask five people right now at the Pentagon a question you will get five different answers because they are going to be pulling information from various data sources. In our system we are constantly going out to those authoritative data sources and updating them in realtime. So when a question is asked it is not an action officer going to 1, 2 or 5 data sources, we’ve done this all in an automated fashion,” said Lt. Col. Saxon.
From 3,400 data sets to 1
“The Army currently has about 3,400 IT systems in their portfolio management software. When we started developing the system a few years back we worked closely with our stakeholders. With the stakeholders we found the most authoritative data sources at their rawest core and partnered with their owners to pull that data into a single system. Then we teamed up with stakeholders and the data owners so we could properly portray the information so that someone new to the information could understand the picture that the data is trying to paint for them,” said Lt. Col. Saxon.
The Path to Collaboration
“It some cases it was like pulling teeth, especially when you have this much data in different places and people have the belief that it is their data for their usage. But the Secretary and the Chief of Staff have both issued different directives and policies that have changed people’s minds. But at the end of the day, it is the Army and the Defense Department’s data. We have simply done some of the hard work to make the data more accessible and understandable,” said Lt. Col. Saxon.
EMDS Gets the Buy-in
“When we first started down this path a few years ago it was a much more painful process. Now that we’ve become more successful more people are buying into this general philosophy of how we access and share information. Now stakeholders are asking us to add more capabilities and views because they’ve seen how well it has worked. We’ve also re-thought how we present data in order to give users more flexibility because at the end of the day we don’t want to be responsible for creating every single view of information,” said Lt. Col. Saxon.
Not a Technology Problem
“The first thing people setting up a similar system shouldn’t do is think of it as a solution to a technology problem. It is an organizational challenge. The organization has to determine where they want to go and how they might get there,” said Lt. Col. Saxon.
The Cost of Failure
“Sometimes people view failures as wasted money, but sometimes a failure is a step towards an ultimate solution. We have senior leaders here who have embraced us and are asking us to push the envelope. We never do anything without weighing all the risks. But we take calculated risks,” said Lt. Col. Saxon.
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