Insight by Decision Lens

For the Army and Air Force, unified, integrated data leads to better budget planning and execution

The Defense Department’s venerable planning, programming, budgeting and execution process, the PPBE, is designed to create stability and predictability. But the real world imposes unpredictability and disruption. That’s the essential challenge for the PPBE, which has a five-year cycle starting with the POM, or program objective memorandum required of each program.

PPBE “has a lot of benefits to it. But one of the challenges is, it makes it difficult to be agile and adaptive enough,...

READ MORE

The Defense Department’s venerable planning, programming, budgeting and execution process, the PPBE, is designed to create stability and predictability. But the real world imposes unpredictability and disruption. That’s the essential challenge for the PPBE, which has a five-year cycle starting with the POM, or program objective memorandum required of each program.

PPBE “has a lot of benefits to it. But one of the challenges is, it makes it difficult to be agile and adaptive enough, when you have emergent requirements that come in,” said Jonathan Allen, executive vice president of strategic markets at Decision Lens.

The second major challenge in the PPBE, Allen said, relates to the data required for planning and budget execution. The problem is not that DoD components lack the necessary data. In fact, data gets generated continuously.

“But there are several things that happen with the data,” Allen said. One is that the data used to develop a POM is often different than that used in budget execution years later. Another data problem is delay. People may gather data, and by the time they present it to decision makers, it may be out of date. The third is what Allen calls disparate data.

By that he means data takes differing forms for different planning functions, which “creates disconnects across those different areas. And that’s where I think we see a lot of challenges.” The disparateness can occur as a result of varying sources and formats of data used throughout the PPBE. Disparateness can also creep in over the long PPBE timelines.

“Organizations often struggle in this day and age, to be able to tie the POM activities to the budgeting and the execution activities, when their actual appropriations are coming in,” Allen said.

The Decision Lens application, Allan said, lets users “bring together data in a meaningful way onto a centralized systemized platform that allows for multiple people to come together, and see that transparently.” That in turn lets people make decisions faster, “as opposed to over a delayed period of time.”

Allen said that’s the case for an Air Force major command, which has streamlined its POM planning by combining and normalizing date from spreadsheets, presentation slides and other disparate sources into a unified set. The Decision Lens product automates this process.

Ultimately, the automated, unified data approach makes for more accurate and justifiable budget plans and requests. And, Allen said, “it gives you the ability not only to have a defensible, justifiable strategy, but [also] a living, breathing process that can adapt to emergent requirements, as those are coming in. That’s the key, a more and more agile approach.”

Decision Lens also brings machine learning to the planning and budget process.

“There’s a lot of power in being able to not only plan and forecast and project on certain targets, like readiness or lethality of the force,” he said. But also using algorithms “to make recommendations about the projects that will drive readiness, or drive lethality or other performance targets.” Beyond that, Allen said, it’s possible to “create a continuous planning cycle, so that it can inform future projects based on the historical data that we have.”

In short, he said, the portfolio of projects under the POM and PPBE cycle becomes ever smarter “based on the historical data that we’re collecting and gathering over time.”

He cited the Army Training and Doctrine Commend, which was using 17 spreadsheets for various lines of business and trying to tie then together. Allen said Decision Lens was able to organize and integrate the disparate data sources, and then get let TRADOC planners get a better handle on how to prioritize their money and projects.

“And something really powerful started to happen,” Allen said. The planning and resource requirement elements of TRADOC were able to see a comprehensive picture. They “started to see more visibly and clearly what was on those requirements, what the priorities were, how those were changing over time,” he added. “It gave them a single sheet of music.”