Insight by MarkLogic

How the Marine Corps is achieving the DoD’s Data Strategy

This content is sponsored by MarkLogic.

Federal agencies are coming around to the importance of data in their missions. While previously it was considered a secondary concern, agencies are beginning to view it as central to their operations. The Defense Department is leading the way with its data strategy, seeking to put its data to work in order to make faster, better informed decisions.

That was front and center in a recent Technical Data Modernization project at the U.S. Marine Corps. Its legacy applications for tracking and administrating materiel were distributed across multiple, different enterprise systems, all of which were significantly out of date, slow and uncoordinated. Workflow processes were manual and duplicative, taking several months to complete and riddled with errors.

The DoD Data Strategy recognizes the need to ensure that data is accessible and organized to anyone who needs it. Otherwise, that information may not be available to leadership to inform decision making.

And that perspective isn’t limited to the DoD. A recent survey of federal and state agencies conducted by MarkLogic and GovLoop showed that 77% of respondents felt making data accessible to the users that need it is an important priority.

But it has to be done correctly, with an eye towards privacy, security and governance. The DoD Data Strategy emphasizes the need for security to be a primary consideration in any data modernization project. It also stresses that access should be strictly controlled to only those users who need it, and that users should have access to only the data they need to complete their tasks. This is a main tenet in the zero trust philosophy of security, which President Joe Biden’s administration’s recent cyber executive order encouraged all federal agencies to pursue.

“Data access is based on a complex, multi-tiered, and role-based set of controls and governance of privileges and permissions. The right technology, along with good policies, can go a long way toward ensuring that the right users get the right data at the right time,” said Kim Kok, vice president of sales for the public sector at MarkLogic.

The first step toward that end state is to create a data hub that can compile and connect data from various sources into a centralized platform.

So a USMC command set out to build a new data platform that could ingest data more efficiently, coordinate it appropriately and make it more accessible to users who needed to access it. The MarkLogic Data Hub platform allowed them to do all of this and more. It became the first Marine Corps program to achieve full accreditation and Authority to Operate (ATO) on AWS. Other DoD components can use this ATO.

Through agile development processes, and alongside low code development implementations, including the new data platform, the new system went into production in March 2021. Four of the logistics command’s legacy systems were able to be decommissioned, saving significant money and manpower costs, while simultaneously improving accuracy and reducing risk.

Compiling and indexing data is also a major focus of the DoD Data Strategy. The goal is for data collection to be electronic and avoid manual processes as much as possible in order to reduce inaccuracies and risk. According to the MarkLogic and GovLoop survey, 85% of respondents agreed with that strategy.

“What we’ve got now is an interface to present all of our product configuration data, other logistics product data and catalog information to any Marine Corps user that needs access to it,” said the technical lead for the project. “And that includes Marines in the Operational Forces, Headquarters Marine Corps, Systems Command, Logistics Command and other stakeholders — really anywhere, as that single authoritative and extensible product information backbone for the Marine Corps.”

The new system is designed to adapt and change to the varied needs of the different Marine Corps users. The agile development processes used to put it into production also allow for rapid modifications to the data without disrupting its availability for the end user. And any changes that are made get tracked in order to ensure the pedigree of the data.

But modernization projects aren’t just about technology. They’re also about people and processes. That’s something the DoD Data Strategy also addresses. But resistance to change takes time to overcome. Modernization projects often face initial pushback from employees who were used to the legacy systems and hesitant to abandon processes they understood, and the workarounds they had established. But that tends to quickly fade as the efficiency and accuracy of the new system becomes apparent. Workflow processes that had taken six to eight months to complete now take between 24 and 48 hours, freeing up employees to do other, less tedious and repetitive work.

To achieve the vision of the DoD Data Strategy, and any other federal data strategies that follow its lead, agencies need to invest in a flexible data platform that can provide the access, accuracy and availability they need to enhance their missions while complying with privacy, security and governance requirements.