Using Fitness Trackers to Boost Warfighter Readiness

The Challenge: How to Go From Data Overload to Insights, at a Glance

To help keep their personnel in top condition, military organizations are increasingly equipping their warfighters with wearable technology products—Fitbits or Oura rings, for example—outfitted with enhanced sensors that collect specialized data on physiological and cognitive readiness and performance. 

A brigade-size special-operations organization wanted to see whether it could use such data to track and improve its warfighters’ mission-ready fitness through adjustments in training and conditioning programs, diets, and sleep schedules. The organization sought to answer questions like:

  • To what extent are fatigue or poor nutrition impairing performance? 
  • How quickly are warfighters recovering from grueling training regimens? 
  • Are warfighters improving their ability to remain cognitively sharp in the face of intense stress or adversity? 

There was also an interest in learning whether insights wrung from the data could prove useful for reducing warfighter injuries. At any given time across the U.S. Army, about 4% of active component service members cannot deploy because of non-combat musculoskeletal injuries. 

The organization faced significant challenges in harnessing its tracker data for these purposes. The vast amounts of varied data from several commercial products on the market proved too unwieldy to manage effectively. There was also the issue of accessing and aggregating data from the warfighter’s wearable devices, plus a struggle with data overload, and the ultimate challenge of converting the data into actionable intelligence that might inform and support decisions affecting training, readiness, and mission planning.

The Approach: A Cross-Disciplinary Team Merges Technology, Mission, and Fitness

The hope, for the organization, was to be able to streamline the process with a one-stop dashboard that could be used by a multidisciplinary team of subject matter experts, to provide health, fitness, and readiness-relevant information to ground-level warfighters as well as to commanders and leaders.  

The special forces organization tasked Booz Allen with conducting a pilot project to analyze and aggregate the human physical and cognitive performance data being collected on nearly 100 personnel. Booz Allen was also asked to a build baseline program from which to develop new cognitive performance trainings that complemented physical and dietary regimens with the intent to improve individual performance and personal wellness across the unit.

Booz Allen’s team for the project includes human performance specialists, data scientists, dieticians, strength and conditioning trainers, and cognitive coaches—the full range of cross-disciplinary expertise necessary to respond to the client’s complex needs. 

The Solution: A One-Stop Human Performance Dashboard

In a matter of months, we created a solution that gathers, aggregates, and analyzes the organization’s wearables data automatically and displays it via a dashboard that offers an easy-to-understand profile of the unit’s cognitive and physical readiness. Previously, much of that work was done manually and was highly time-consuming. By automating it, we freed more time for cognitive and physical performance coaches to work directly with the unit’s personnel. 

The feature-rich dashboard presents commanders with actionable, red-yellow-green scorecards that assess more than two dozen key performance metrics for individuals and entire units. Taken together, the metrics offer a comprehensive profile of the unit’s cognitive and physical health, assessing factors such as heart-rate variability, nutritional intake, current fitness habits, stress, and pain levels. Other assessments include short- and long-term memory, auditory recall, Army Combat Fitness Test measures, body composition analysis, and sleep profiles.

Human performance experts use the dashboard to develop personalized plans to help warfighters recognize signs of potential problems and develop effective responses to various conditions and stimuli. Consistent monitoring through the dashboard and early intervention have rendered effective programming solutions to mitigate the risk of injury.  

Top Benefits of the Solution Include:

  • The development of a baseline of cognitive and physical performance for the unit, tied to readiness, that can be viewed individually and in aggregate
  • The development of tailored protocols to improve readiness, resiliency, and recovery rates for individual warfighters
  • A practical, data-driven framework for decision-support as it concerns training, conditioning, and other readiness activities 
  • Improved overall unit fitness 
  • Lower percentage body fat
  • Improved cognitive performance skills
  • Establishment of ROI metrics and unit buy-in for readiness-enhancement investments
  • Increased career longevity and lifespan of the operator