Overcoming Obstacles to Data Integration for Defense

Winning in the Digital Battlespace Requires Information Dominance

Fortunately, military leadership at the highest levels understands these challenges. Surmounting them is among the many objectives of the Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2) initiative. Success will mean having the right information in the right place at the right time—so warfighters and decision makers can stay ahead of adversaries. 

“We have tremendous capabilities in terms of kinetic platforms, but the conflicts of the future are going to be decisively won based on who can make decisions the fastest while being more informed with trusted data. We need to eliminate data jails and facilitate data sharing across services and classification levels.”

So, how can this data be taken from silos and truly shared across services? The answer is a federated but integrated data platform built on a reference architecture. Here are some key steps to implement this structure:

Start with a reference architecture based on modular open systems architectures. This reference architecture establishes standards for data discovery, curation, and profiling; metadata management; data security. Across the Department of Defense (DOD) there will never be a single set of tools that make up the data platform, but with a single reference architecture, the government can easily connect disparate systems and have them talk to each other to create an integrated, federated data platform.

By making compliance with a reference architecture a requirement in the acquisition process, the government also has a pathway to reducing vendor lock and incorporating innovative new data manipulation tools into these platforms down the line. 

Compliance with the reference architecture allows the system to be built with security as a primary consideration, allowing for a more complete understanding of the lineage of data within the system and how it can be appropriately used and by whom.

Create a data governance structure with a data product-centered approach. JADC2 requirements and varied classified use cases make it critically important to implement a proactive approach to data governance. This approach must be data product-centric and provide automated visibility into what data is being stored in federated data systems. 

As Graham Evans, a digital transformation leader at Booz Allen, says, “The focus should be on the glue that holds an architecture together rather than on the tools it hosts.” That glue? A strong data governance structure that addresses three key elements: 

  • Implementing guidelines on selecting data 
  • Modeling the data to be available to the enterprise
  • Providing methods for how data is linked, secured, and made available through access control

Insist on government-owned APIs that enable both data ingestion and sharing. These APIs are a critical element of the data fabric and orchestrate data sharing. Coupled with this, a data analytics pipeline is needed to rapidly generate algorithms and mature and deploy them in operational environments.

Build with the edge in mind. Data products and analytics results are meaningless if they cannot reach the warfighter in real-time in contested and disconnected, intermittent, limited environments. While it is equally important for curation and analysis to occur in cloud or on-premises environments, analytics capabilities must be available on platforms and within the individual unit or warfighter.

Incorporate specific data tools with the overarching user experience in mind. The number of tools that can empower the data pipeline are vast, but unless these tools are acquired with an understanding of how they can work together, the value and data freedom they provide is limited. DOD should be cautious of tools that will ingest data and lock it in proprietary data jails, limiting the ability of other users or tools to perform novel operations. By acquiring tools strategically, they can more easily be swapped in and out while the data and analytics remain consistent and owned by the government.

Establish compliance checkpoints. Compliance with a governance structure and common taxonomy for data will be critical to maintaining a mutual understanding of how data is classified and leveraged. To secure these processes, compliance checkpoints can be embedded within the reference architecture. These checkpoints can ensure data continues to follow established taxonomy so it can be discovered and leveraged for insights following secure methods.

Update policies to reduce limitations to data access. At the highest levels, data and intelligence is rarely shared between different services’ networks. While much of the data the warfighter needs exists, there may be laws or policies that do not enable this sharing. 

With the ability to use DevSecOps as well as containerize and securely push code across domains and classifications, policy must also evolve to enable this technology. One such policy could be redefining the role of the Authorizing Officer to own the entire mission thread instead of one service, capability, or domain.

“What we can’t do is field capabilities and then wait until the end, and [not] have … the policy and laws that go with [JADC2] to enable us to support it.”

Focus on cultural change. Being willing to connect and share in mission success is the only way forward. In order to successfully realize a connected battlespace, each service and agency must be willing to collaborate and share across services. There must be a focus on agility in order to fully realize the vision of JADC2.

Rapid Change Is Scalable

“As DOD operational demands increase, the reliance on underlying information and data is not going to go away—it will only increase for the foreseeable future.”

Moving to integrated data platforms is critical to empowering joint force operations. The shift requires new technology approaches and cultural change to eliminate barriers, enable data sharing, and prioritize interoperability. 

The good news is, the convergence of technologies enables rapid change via scalable solutions. For example:

  • Our strategists and technologists are helping DOD deploy software faster through initiatives such as the Air Force’s Platform One
  • We provide guidance on transforming data management and help DOD apply advanced analytics to gain insights from data rapidly. 
  • While the DOD explores a data governance and a shared taxonomy, we serve as the primary developer of Rainmaker, a government-owned, common data fabric that translates data across disparate systems.

We also provide a suite of Digital Battlespace Solutions to empower warfighters and decision makers with actionable intelligence—providing true information superiority and ultimately making our nation safer.

Continue exploring how to transform defense with a government-owned, federated, but integrated, data fabric

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