A new Defense Logistics Agency tool known as the Service Readiness Dashboard merges the military services’ readiness data with DLA business metrics for a near real-time view of the status of key weapon systems and platforms.
The digital Dashboard provides a common framework for DLA and military officials striving for lethality — one of three goals outlined in the National Defense Strategy — and increases the agency’s ability to evaluate and address supply shortfalls, said DLA Director Army Lt. Gen. Darrell Williams.
“Our Service Readiness Dashboard will have a dramatic impact on the way DLA does business, transforming us from an organization that only had the capability to collectively look at ourselves and our performance on a monthly or quarterly basis into one that can now see it every single day,” he said.
Created by information technology experts in DLA Information Operations with input from DLA Logistics Operations officials, the Dashboard consolidates service-owned data with information from DLA programs like the Enterprise Business System, which the agency uses to conduct daily operations.
Sense of ownership
Having a common platform where employees and customers can easily view readiness gaps lends a sense of ownership to DLA’s mission that may have been previously clouded, Williams said.
“The Dashboard gives employees a way of viewing daily the readiness status of weapons systems they’re responsible for supporting and provides direct feedback on whether what they’re doing is making a difference to our customers,” Williams added.
The Dashboard gives users a snapshot of platforms and weapons systems each service designates as vital contributors to mission success. The Army, for example, tracks three air and 10 ground systems. Each platform or system is coded as green, amber or red depending on whether it’s operational or out of service for reasons ranging from maintenance to parts.
“Even if the Army reports green —90-percent fully-mission capable — for Chinook helicopters, DLA would report red — 10-percent non-missions-capable supply — if all helicopters were down for DLA parts, since we’re driving a high percentage of the fleet down,” said Sean Ahrens, chief of DLA Logistics Operations’ Metrics Integration Branch.
From there, users can peel back the layers to determine how DLA performance like materiel availability, backorder statuses and order volume affect the services’ ability to keep equipment repaired and ready. Users can also drill down to individual helicopters listed by tail number to view documentation on what’s delaying the repair.
“You can view open documents by tail or bumper number to determine the parts drivers; owning DLA supply chains; and the priority, age and quantity of the service requisitions,” Ahrens said. “If it’s out of stock, you can look deeper in supporting tools like the Enterprise Data Warehouse and Integrated Data Sheets to see item details and contract information. You can even read buyers’ notes for background details and estimated get-well dates.”
Transparency and trust
The relationship between DLA and its military customers should strengthen as a result of the Dashboard, said DLA Logistics Operations Director Air Force Maj. Gen. Mark Johnson.
“The Dashboard provides transparency that we haven’t had before, and transparency builds trust,” he said. “That trust then tightens our relationship so we become teammates, as opposed to ‘that organization that’s not giving me what I what I want.’”
Ahrens added that DLA is working to include industrial support and stockage metrics that show the agency’s indirect support to service readiness at depot and retail operations. The goal is to paint the broadest picture possible of DLA’s support equities related to improving service readiness rates, he said.
Officials are working to identify gaps in the data presented and expand the Dashboard to include information from major subordinate commands such as DLA Energy and DLA Troop Support, as well as data on strategic contracts.
Potential department-wide solution
Although it was designed to help DLA improve warfighter support, the Dashboard could potentially become the foundation of a Department of Defense-level tool, said Williams, a 35-year Army logistician.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen an automated tool of this scope and magnitude that provides the level of transparency and visibility that this does. We’ve filled a void by fusing the information from all of the services in one place with ours, and that’s pretty powerful,” the director said.
All DLA employees can view the Service Readiness Dashboard, and the agency has made it available to DoD partners ranging from combatant commanders and part providers such as the Army Materiel Command and Naval Supply Systems Command to the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Logistics and Materiel Readiness.
Officials at organizations like U.S. Transportation Command and the Defense Information Systems Agency have also been given access to DLA’s Dashboard. The Defense Health Agency has requested a demonstration of the tool, and program managers of the new F-35 fighter jet are exploring the possibility of replicating it to provide visibility and transparency of F-35 support, said Eric Fegley, customer experience director for DLA Information Operations.
Dashboards, he said, are regarded by commercial industry as a powerful way of connecting customers’ needs with company output.
“Tools like this keep DLA current and relevant. They put actionable information at our fingertips so we can make improvements proactively rather than after they’re brought to our attention by customers.”
Automation was a key factor in the Dashboard’s creation. Employees previously spent days manipulating data and entering it in PowerPoint slides, but the Dashboard’s display of the most updated information at any time has put an end to routine and often outdated executive summaries.
While compiling service and DLA data into a single source shows DLA’s expertise at data management, the next step is data science, Williams said. Harnessing new technology such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, he and Johnson agreed, could lend greater practicality to the Dashboard, especially in demand planning and forecasting of the 6 million items DLA manages.
“If we leverage that kind of technology to better understand the patterns of things getting ordered and the frequency of orders, we can then inform our forecasts and become a more effective and efficient organization,” Johnson said. “Machine learning would allow us to manage a much broader population of items in a way that we could adjust forecast levels on a daily, weekly or even hourly basis – if it makes sense to do so.”
Williams said the agency is already seeing increased collaboration as a result of the Dashboard, and he expects to also see readiness metrics begin to improve this summer.
“The end product is improved support to the warfighter,” he said. “That’s the business we’re in, and it’s what we’re determined to achieve.”