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Tuesday, January 31, 2023

PERSPECTIVE: Shifting IT to Strategic Enabler Key to Improving Visibility Essential for Full Asset Readiness

The naval support landscape is changing. Assets and equipment are getting more complex, and delivery and support increasingly globalized. The Navy now has to deal with a complex portfolio of stakeholders involving military organizations, OEMs, contractors and third-party providers maintaining equipment via service-based agreements, working together to deliver a single, operationally-focused outcome. For the Navy to deliver the required degree of asset readiness, IT systems must move from simply a transactional tool into a real strategic enabler.

The Report to Congress on the Annual Long-Range Plan for Construction of Naval Vessels FY19 details how the U.S. Navy plans to grow from a current 280 ships to a goal of 355 over the next 30 years. It also wants to add more aircraft. Added to the challenge of supporting next-generation assets there are demands for varied support models including contracting for capability, contracting for availability, as well as the simpler ‘acquire, buy spares and maintain’ approach. Procurement and maintenance of key assets has changed, but have IT support systems kept pace?

Tasks are more varied, assets more complex, threats less predictable
Kinetic and non-kinetic warfare, diplomacy and humanitarian missions: The Navy’s job description is as varied as it gets, and asset readiness is key to operational effectiveness. From blue water and littoral vessels, to autonomous mine reconnaissance submersibles and fully functional drone warships, asset complexity continues to evolve to meet new threats.

The support chains associated with different asset types require different maintenance schedules and supply chains with different support providers. When we consider the changes occurring in the naval support chain it is easy to see why data and real-time information flows are going to be key to effective maintenance, asset readiness and ultimately operational success. However, this does introduce a new challenge of being able to better acquire, transfer, represent and then use data from multiple sources to significantly impact decision-making processes.

Mastering complexity to deliver asset readiness for any duty
Earlier this year when discussing US HASC FY 2019 Defense Bill, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) said “restoring readiness while also increasing the capability and capacity of our Armed Forces is a key focus of this year’s defense policy bill.” To ensure asset readiness, logistics support systems for major modern military assets need to span a vast network of players involved in the total lifecycle of the asset, from OEMs and suppliers to maintenance activities and customer support.

The increasing dependence of modern defense organizations on suppliers to generate military capability requires acquisitions and through-life support contracts to be carefully structured with data shared across buyer, supplier and maintainer partnerships. Most legacy IT systems cannot handle this new dynamic. Because 70 percent of total lifecycle costs of complex equipment come from support and maintenance, this is an area of focus for those responsible of these public/private support networks, who need a better way to manage through-life support programs and costs.

Traditional approach has limited scope
The specialist nature of defense equipment makes for a vast support chain. Thousands of parts are required to maintain specialized assets, with strict industry safety regulations. A primary goal is to track, monitor and deliver parts or equipment status as quickly as possible – whether on base or at sea.

But often planners struggle to get an accurate picture of inventory or asset status, and maintenance engineers don’t know where the needed parts are, meaning delays and mistakes can occur. This is the limitation of the traditional systems structure, where different systems were designed to act as stand-alone applications. Transactional, technical and performance data can get locked into these ‘functional domains,’ making it difficult to provide visibility across the entire support chain.

For the Navy this can have serious implications. Disparate systems make it difficult or impossible to get true picture of the status of all assets and their related financials. Not only will this have a direct impact on operational readiness, but also creates difficulties with audit compliance, and this disconnect between systems can result in financial write-offs for inventory items.

The other challenge in maintaining all these stove-piped systems is the difficulty in establishing adequate information assurance and cybersecurity controls across so many – often custom-built –applications. It is often a struggle to defend against sophisticated cyber attacks and protect valuable data when different standards and access controls are imposed across organizations.

One-size approach fits no one?
A modern naval force needs solutions that have been built to overcome the shortcomings of traditional solutions. Modern component-based IT support systems can enable the integration of MRO, performance-based logistics, project management, fleet management, or supply chain management solutions to eliminate the limitation of stove-piped legacy systems.

But “one size fits all” systems won’t work either. History has proven that the generic processes of monolithic systems inevitably fail to address the varying needs across many levels and organizations within a defense ecosystem. We can’t assume that the same processes required to manage spare parts for air conditioners are able to effectively manage the ship-board maintenance requirements of a fourth- or fifth-generation fighter aircraft. Or have the capability to comply with the Navy’s requirement for vessels to spend months at sea operating in autonomous mode – processing work as usual and replicating the data to the master database when deployed in-theatre as well as when returning from duty for full maintenance and restock.

Mandating a single system to try to achieve the multi-organization, multi-purpose objectives is as unrealistic as expecting to achieve global force readiness with stovepipe systems.

Striking the right balance through an open, best-of-breed approach
Instead, the Navy needs to strike a balance between openness and functionality by carefully choosing the right software partners and deploying a small set of software tools that, when combined, provide that full enterprise capability. To ensure best-of-breed functionality – and performance – for each area of operations, naval organizations need to deploy open and interoperable asset and support chain software designed to work within the large Navy ecosystem with its complex needs around engineering configuration and maintenance.

But this is only achievable with supporting systems that have a well-developed suite of capabilities tailored for naval support – not a generic enterprise solution designed to support a much simpler enterprise environment. This will allow naval support and maintenance organizations to build the capabilities they need to support specific end-to-end processes that link up the overlapping elements of the support chain.

It will also mean compliance with specific regulatory frameworks, such as ensuring export control functionality to ensure licenses are in place prior to exporting controlled goods or information.

Valuable insights from related industries for full asset visibility
Bringing together asset and inventory information across suppliers, manufacturers, transportation, warehousing and customers puts the information needed in the hands of those making mission-critical decisions. This visibility is essential for enabling full asset readiness.

Here there are valuable insights to be gained from deployments of modern software solutions, which have overcome the shortfalls of legacy systems. Though some of the challenges of 21st century naval forces diverge from commercial applications, these purpose-built enterprise systems are already in the field and being used by leading defense contractors, shipyards, and oil and gas businesses that share similar organizational challenges.

Partnering with these providers that have decades of experience supporting both naval suppliers, defence contractors and industry is one of the most effective ways to bring in the right capabilities that are ready-to-go, from incorporating cybersecurity best practice and secure disconnected operations, to compliance, financial standards for reporting and full asset lifecycle support in a defense environment.

Managing a next-generation ecosystem
Once you have a new architecture in place with a high degree of interoperability between selected best-of-breed systems, you need to put in place an intelligence tool to provide a full 360-degree view.

The current stovepipe approach and scope of most Business Intelligence (BI) tools means the Operations Commander doesn’t have the full information required to accurately plan across an entire operation. In contrast to most BI tools, by deploying Enterprise Operational Intelligence (EOI) commanders gain the capability to model operations or readiness by drawing data together from the carefully selected suite of source systems.

The goal when deployed correctly is to support the readiness posture for deployed operations by accurately identifying assets, resources and required maintenance through in-theater visibility of operational, intermediate and depot maintenance and real-time total asset visibility (TAV) of globally deployed assets.

The 360-degree view enables Operations Commanders to answer if they are ready to perform an at-sea mission from an HR, material, and training perspective in a given timeframe. If the answer is no, a supporting EOI solution should analyze what issues need addressing to ensure the mission deadline is met. The result is better asset visibility, sustainment and availability: the three key objectives in managing and maintaining operational readiness.

Mastering complexity
To meet 21st century challenges at sea, the U.S. Navy fleet is growing. But this also means growing the support chain and dealing with greater complexity in terms of assets and support models—without inflating costs. U.S. Naval organizations need the ability to maintain asset availability levels no matter how complex and be able to link policy changes to maintenance outcomes and achieve significant reductions in sustainment costs in a bid for affordable asset readiness.

This means a change in design for IT support systems and a move away from stove-piped legacy systems to more open, best of breed, modular system architecture – where naval organizations can build the IT environment that matches the unique needs of defense ecosystems without the limitations of information silos or inflexible monolithic systems.

With the right reporting and intelligence tool, this will create more streamlined information flows, reduce operating costs and provide better asset visibility – shifting IT from merely a transactional tool to a serious strategic enabler.


The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by Homeland Security Today, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints in support of securing our homeland. To submit a piece for consideration, email HSTodayMag@gtscoalition.com. Our editorial guidelines can be found here.

Evan Butler-Jones
Evan Butler-Jones is director of the Defense Product Line, Aerospace & Defense Business Unit, at IFS.

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