Business intelligence for the green machine
What are the similarities between a successful military operation and any major commercial organisation? Both can generate enormous levels of internal data, which can – if harnessed correctly – lead to significant efficiency improvements.
The rise of business analytics and business intelligence has helped to streamline commercial business operations in the civil and commercial sectors. Glancing at a regularly updated dashboard, managers can easily appreciate the stresses and successes of their teams by looking at outputs over time, peaks and troughs in demand, tasking, or the performance of critical supporting assets such as communications networks.
As better, incisive insights can be gained from an organisation’s performance through the use of business intelligence, so it can perform more efficiently and with better outputs. While the military is vastly different to a commercial organisation, the performance of military operations can benefit from the concepts and lessons learned in the commercial world. This can be leveraged by military commanders seeking to gain the most optimal performance from their commands while also understanding and reducing the operational risks in achieving their goals.
Finding ways to deliver business intelligence to military commanders, particularly in deployed locations, can help to increase a commander’s understanding of the operational environment, as well as improve the speed at which they can make informed decisions. Retaining a competitive advantage within the observe, orient, decide, act (OODA) loop is exponentially increased by employing business analytics.
Why business analytics?
According to Harvard Business School, business analytics is “the process of using quantitative methods to derive meaning from data to make informed business decisions.” Breaking the field into four constituent components, descriptive, diagnostic, predictive, and prescriptive, these business analytics methods “can be used individually or in tandem to analyse past efforts and improve future business performance.”
Business analytics can help to leverage complimentary technologies that are then deployed to improve processes, and responses to challenges. As sensors and processes generate data points, this data can be ingested and analysed by artificial intelligence bots to find patterns and help to bring insights on the data. This data is then presented to a commander to help make critical and timely decisions based on relevant information.
The computing power behind a range of business analytics platforms can range from local laptops through to cloud-delivered software services. The ability to push the analytical functions away from the end user’s own machine and into environments with greater computing power means that greater levels of data analysis can be achieved without a performance penalty on a user’s machine.
With selectable refresh rates, users can define how regularly they pull data from a server, thereby defining the parameters for the intelligence they need to make smart decisions. Localised, deployed server systems mean that small, secure cloud environments can be created closer to the business intelligence end user, with these solutions also able to support other C4ISR functions such as shared situational awareness and planning co-ordination.
Understanding across multiple dimensions
As visualisation technology has evolved, the ease that it can be represented has also changed. Thinking beyond time-bound representations of data, having a visual representation of non-time series data can also help to deliver a range of insights. The military has used visualisation concepts for many centuries through the application of map symbology, which allows for a rapid understanding of unit type, size, capabilities, and affiliation in a complex environment. In contemporary warfighting, data analytics dashboards can be used to augment this for commanders in a headquarters environment.
The well-known bar or column charts help to deliver an understanding of changes over time with a regularized two-axis approach. Variants of this, such as the area chart, can help to aggregate data and show an overall value, but can still be tied to a time-based two axis approach. Similarly, a pie or donut chart can help to visualise overall proportions in a dataset.
Employing data visualisations that are not reliant on time as an axis, a greater understanding of the operating environment can be gained. For example, scatter plots can be used to identify correlations between two variables.
The value of scatter plots can be further enhanced when further data is added to make network analysis charts that help to highlight relationships. Bubble charts – similar to a scatter plot but with a third value added in – allow for further appreciation of non-time series data and proportionality. As seen in the analysis by the International Institute of Strategic Studies above, two comparative rates of growth and size can be combined into three values to allow for an assessment of defence budget growth.
Treemaps can be used to identify underperforming or overperforming data groups as they allow for swift understanding of the relative sizes of multiple categories, while starburst diagrams bring greater clarity to hierarchical data within a donut at a single glance.
Other visualisations, such as word clouds, can also help to communicate the emphasis or intent of an opponent by analysing their language and the frequency of the use of key terms.
Automatically refreshing the data feeds at regular intervals ensures that users can stay within the OODA loop, allowing for any major changes in the situation to be easily identified and acted upon.
The SitaWare solution
For military planners understanding the operations tempo and status of units is key to knowing what resources are available to carry out missions. In a high operations tempo environment, ensuring that units are appropriately tasked, deployed to the best locations, and adequately resourced can mean dealing with significant amounts of information in one place.
As part of its role in the intelligence process, SitaWare Insight can help intelligence, planning, and operations staff grasp the availability of resources, as well as a range of other user-defined metrics. These can include completion rates, time taken to complete tasks, ratio of task types, and more.
Achieving insights into the execution of processes such as operational planning can help to streamline operations, as well as help identify avoidable stovepipes and pressure points that can potentially be mitigated. As a result, commanders have an improved insight into their force’s true capabilities and tasking, allowing for a smarter approach to planning and distributing intelligence requirements and tasking orders.