Getting it all to the Table

Most decision makers I’ve met in the Department of Defense appreciate having someone hand them good insight or solid context that pertains to a decision that they need to make – provided the insight or context comes in a timely manner. Getting information to a decision maker after the decision has been made can actually be quite disruptive. Undoing and redoing a decision can be painful, and few decision makers enjoy this.

The Department of Defense has a lot of information systems, information models like Enterprise Architecture, and analysts. But having been in many senior level decision meetings, I can attest to the fact that not much of the “product” produced by these systems, models and analysts actually makes it into the room when decisions get made. If it does make it into the room, it’s usually too complicated to dissect or too watered down to be useful. Consequently, we often make the “best” decisions we can and then look back and say to ourselves – if we only knew…

The problem is that the decision making cycle time is not in sync with the time it takes to pull together relevant, accurate and complete information. Models take time to make and even longer to use. Information systems are not talking to one another, and the data in one system may have a different meaning from the data in another system. Analysts question everything, build models, interpret data, and in general, try to help mitigate this problem, but it takes too long! By the time the analysis is done, the decision was already made and the decision makers have moved on to something else.

This poses a real challenge for the transformation community. Do we have to get information faster? How do we verify accuracy and completeness? How to we get exactly what we need, at the time we need it, to the people who need it, and follow up afterward to make sure that whatever decision was made at the decision making table is re-absorbed back into our models and used to inform future decisions.

The answer involves a good blend of technology enhancements, decision processing modifications, and expectations management. Technology enhancements need to focus on getting usable information out of multiple distributed systems faster and easier. Decision processing modifications need to help us sort out tactical decisions (ones that need to be made right away and are less likely to have long range consequences) from strategic decisions (those that don’t have to be made right away and are more likely to have long range consequences). And expectation management needs to simultaneously reduce the stress of waiting and increase the speed of production.

Fortunately, the Business Transformation Agency has made some progress on the technology enhancement front. Driven by a Department-wide need for a streamlined acquisition approach, the agency developed a model and a technology support system within what’s currently referred to as the Business Capability Lifecycle (BCL).

The BCL is powered by a technology core that pulls information from distributed data sources throughout the DoD. People can withdraw from and deposit into this core at every step throughout a capability lifecycle. This core holds relevant financial, systems, context, and historical information about new investments that are being presented to decision makers for approval. Until recently, the notion that we could pull mass amounts of information together in a timely manner was mostly theory. Today, it’s a reality through the use of mashups.

The Business Transformation Agency has put recent advances in technology to work. Using a system that runs off of a Defense Knowledge Online (DKO) back bone, the BTA has devised a way to push and pull data from many legacy data sources, then run some logic to organize this data into relevant information gives new context to decision makers. As of this writing, decision makers in the DoD are quite literally only a few mouse clicks from dashboards of relevant financial, systems, context and systems information.

The days of bringing just what’s in your head or in a limited briefer’s deck to the decision table are rapidly coming to an end. With maturity of these push/pull technologies, decision makers can now bring up an Internet connection and ask to see “live” information about whatever they are deciding upon.

The promise of these new technology enhancements is the promise of better quality decisions. It will help to produce decisions that are more likely to result in long term positive changes in the Department.

For similar posts, see my personal Blog.

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