The Marine Corps’ plan to further breakdown data siloes

Dr. Colin Crosby, the service data officer for the Marine Corps, said the first test of the API connection tool will use “dummy” logistics data.

The Marine Corps is close to testing out a key piece to its upcoming Fighting Smart concept.

As part of its goal to create an integrated mission and data fabric, the Marines will pilot an application programming interface (API) standard to better connect and share data no matter where it resides.

“Really over the next 12 months, we hope to have the autonomous piece of this API connection implemented in our environment in what we call the common management plane that allows us to execute enterprise data governance where we can then use the capabilities rather than the native capabilities within our environment to develop those data catalogs, to tag data, to track the data from its lineage from creation all the way to sharing and destruction within our environment and outside of our environment,” said Dr. Colin Crosby, the service data officer for the Marine Corps, on Ask the CIO. “We’re working with what we call the functional area managers and their leads on the data that they own because this is all new in how we’re operating. I need them to help me execute this agenda so that we can then create that API connection.”

Like many organizations, mission areas own and manage the data, but sharing because of culture, technology and/or policy can be difficult.

Crosby said the API connection can help overcome many of these challenges.

“Our first marker is to have a working API connection on test data. Once that happens, then we’re going to start accelerating the work that we’re doing,” he said. “We’re using logistics data so what we’re doing is using a dummy data, and we’re going to pull that data into our common management plane, and then from that CMP, we want to push that data to what we call the  online database gateway. Then, by pulling that into the OTG, we can then push it into the Azure Office 365 environment, where we can then use that data using our PowerBI capabilities within our environment.”

Testing the API before production

Once the API connection proves out, Crosby said the goal is to push data into the Marine Corps’ Bolt platform, which runs on the Advana Jupiter platform.

He said there is a lot of excitement from logistics and other mission areas around the Marine Corps to prove this API connection technology.

“As we get more comfortable moving forward, then we will bring on the next, what we call, coalition of the willing. As of now, we have a line because we have other organizations now that are like, ‘we want to be a part of this,’” Crosby said. “The training and education command is ready to go. So we’re excited about it because now I don’t have to work that hard to get people on board and now I have people knocking on my doors saying they are ready to go.”

Crosby added that before the API connection goes live with each new organization, his team will run similar tests using dummy data. He said building that repeatable process and bringing in some automation capabilities will help decrease the time it takes to turn on the API tools for live data.

Without these new capabilities, Crosby said it takes weeks to pull CSV files, thus delaying the ability of leaders to make decisions.

“With the API, we’re going to near-real time type of pull and push, which is speeding up the decision cycle,” he said. “Then there are opportunities to expand on that by building applications that will aggregate data and then being able to look at data to check the maintenance on equipment, and then it’d be a little bit easier to understand what we need and when. The goal is to shrink that decision cycle a little bit.”

The API connection tool is one piece to the bigger Marine Corps effort to create an integrated mission and data fabric. Crosby said that initiative also relies on the unification of the Marine Corps enterprise network to bring the business side and the tactical side together into one environment.

“The fabric is a framework and approach of our environment today and how we want to connect our environment in an autonomous fashion using APIs, so that we can pull data and we can share data, regardless of the cloud environment that it’s in, regardless of whatever database structure the data resides in,” Crosby said. “It allows us to be flexible. It allows us to scale and to really push data and pull data at a speed that we’ve never done before. What I love about the fabric is it really gets to that decision making. It allows our commanders to make sense and act within real or near real time.”

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