Army implementing new data architecture, launching innovation exchange lab next month

The Army is in the midst of the implementation phase of its unified data reference architecture (UDRA), an effort that will allow the service to build out a data mesh across all of its programs, an Army official said last week.

“It’s going to build out that infrastructure that is the plug and play for data, and allow us to expose all of our data that really is largely locked in systems now. We’ll be able to view and use data as a product, and exchange that data seamlessly across all our programs,” Jennifer Swanson, deputy assistant secretary of the Army for data, engineering and software, said at the AFCEA Army IT Day on Jan. 11.

The service recently completed version 1.0 of the UDRA while also building out an implementation plan of the framework in partnership with the Army Combat Capabilities Development Command (DEVCOM). Swanson said that they are halfway done with the implementation plan and expect to finish all the work by March.

“That [implementation plan] does a few things for us. Number one, it helps us to make sure that the UDRA as it stands today is what we want it to be,” Swanson said.

“Number two, it allows us to begin doing some [program of record] integration. So we want to get after being able to determine, with our current programs of record, which ones we can maybe start migrating. Maybe not to all of this, maybe we’re not going to comply with every single thing in today’s programs of record immediately. But I think we can start taking credit for some of these things this year, and the UDRA is going to help us to get after that,” she added.

The Army expects UDRA to bring together principles and efforts for data mesh and data fabric. While data mesh involves a decentralized approach where data product ownership is distributed across teams and domains, the data platform will facilitate seamless access and integration of data products from different formats and locations.

Swanson said that a 100-day plan is currently underway, which will identify specific programs that will begin implementing the architecture. The plan will also include roadmaps for fiscal 2024.

“The clock will start ticking on those 100 days this month. And that is really going to be focused on program integration,” Swanson said.

UDRA 1.0, Swanson said, has been ‘greatly’ simplified, from 14 top-level services down to six, including data product consumption, orchestration, and production.

As the service is moving forward with the implementation plan, it has also soft-launched an innovation exchange lab with DEVCOM to test out industry capabilities. The innovation exchange is a cloud-based offering where industry partners can bring solutions for UDRA and determine their compliance. The lab will be available to all vendors once it’s fully launched next month.

“We want to make sure before we open it up to everybody, that we have our processes straight, and that it’s going to be efficient and effective,” Swanson said. “When we do that full launch, that’s something that will be available to industry to be able to bring in your solutions and determine, ‘Are you compliant?’ Obviously, it’s a business decision, but do you want and or need to make tweaks to your solutions to be more compliant with the UDRA?”

Swanson also said that the service is focusing on data rights and the things they need to own for the Tactical Intelligence Targeting Access Node (TITAN), the service’s battle management system enabled by artificial intelligence and machine learning.

The Army developed HYDRA API, a government-owned application programming interface, which addresses data exchange across the Program Executive Office for Intelligence, Electronic Warfare, and Sensors portfolio regardless of the commercial off-the-shelf acquisition strategy.

Industry APIs are often tied to proprietary cores of capability, limiting control and flexibility for the department. “When that core goes away, the whole thing falls apart,” Swanson said. The HYDRA API will provide a higher level of flexibility, allowing the department to maintain that core and introduce other components.

“There are pieces that we have to be able to own and control in the government to do plug and play. And so, when we rely on commercial solutions, a lot of those are proprietary, and they are vendor-locked. And that’s what we want – to be able to bring those solutions in. But we need to be able to own the pieces, we need to change out those solutions over time, and TITAN is getting after that in their approach,” Swanson said. “That’s really setting the stage for us moving forward from an open architecture perspective.”

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