IT at heart of defense logistics

Whether it's a matter of making sure there's enough fuel to service an aircraft fleet or ample rations for warfighters, information technology systems play a key role in ensuring that Defense Department agencies are prepared for their missions, according to two DOD logistics officials.

Vice Adm. Gordon Holder, director for logistics (J-4), Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that of the approximately 47,000 Americans mobilized as part of Operation Enduring Freedom, about half are doing logistics work. Holder assumed his post Sept. 4, just one week before the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Holder, speaking Dec. 5 at the Defense Logistics 2001 conference in Pentagon City, Va., said the fusion of logistics information among the U.S. armed services and more than 60 international allies is "absolutely the key enabler [in getting] data and information translated to knowledge for the warfighter."

Holder said taking all the pieces and systems involved, "pulling them together and Web-basing them" is what is needed to be successful. However, he said, "The concern for security is overriding.

"We don't want to give away our strengths or our weaknesses," Holder said, but the allied warfighters are "clamoring for information. The problem is getting to them with clarity and preciseness."

Contributing to that problem is bringing together the more than 1,000 different systems containing information and eliminating those that are no longer useful. "We have never thrown away a system once we establish it, and we've got to be able to do that," Holder said.

Rear Adm. Raymond Archer III, vice director of the Defense Logistics Agency, echoed those sentiments and said in order to develop dependable cross-service logistics structures, a major cultural change is needed.

Archer said the focus must shift from the function to the customer. The key driver must be expectation management, he said, and measurements of success should be based on time, not availability. He advocates common supply chain services, with one manager for the process in times of peace and war.

"It's going to be a major culture change for us," Archer said. "It's a high-risk transformation, but the customer wins in the end."

Archer said DOD's current information systems are inadequate for reaching those goals and said integrating agencies' architectures in order to share knowledge is necessary: "An integrated data environment with common interface tools, common access rights and common exchange processes.

"Business processes have got to be in the information systems, or buy it and move them in," Archer said, adding that companies like SAP America Inc., Oracle Corp. and Manugistics Group Inc., all have tools to meet those goals. "It's a new practice set with commercial tools so [the technology] is absolutely critical."

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