A few weeks ago, during the Special Operations Forces Industry Conference, the Institute for Defense & Business in conjunction with SAS Institute sponsored a luncheon panel discussion about Analytics and the Future of SOF. They offered me the opportunity to partner with Ambassador (retired) David Litt and Major General (retired) Kevin Leonard, U.S. Army to discuss how analytics can be used as an enabler for SOF operations in austere areas like Africa.
We’ve all heard the hype about “Big Data.” But SO WHAT? It’s generally discussed in the context of marketing, with one of the favored examples being Target identifying which of their customers are pregnant through their buying habits so that they can then send them coupons for diapers. But if you are not trying to sell diapers, you have probably missed out on the conversation, since selling diapers is a far cry from national security.
So instead of discussing “big data,” why don’t we discuss “Predictive Battlespace Awareness” or “Intelligence Preparation of the Operational Space”? These are two topics that are highly relevant to National Security. Funnily enough, both of these discussions lead us right back to big data, analytics, and the subject of last week’s conference, how can analytics be an enabler for SOF in the future.
Predictive Battlespace Awareness is the concept that you can develop a situational awareness picture so rich it enables you to anticipate what will happen so that you can develop course of action to thwart your adversary before they can act. A recent blog on my website discusses agribusiness in Africa as a sample use case. Achieving situational awareness is one element of the decision cycle: Observe, Orient, Decide, Act, also known as the OODA-loop.
For years, in all industries, the defense community not withstanding, we’ve been making huge investments into sensor technology to enable the observation phase of our OODA loop. And now we find ourselves overwhelmed with that very same data. We are no longer looking for a needle in a haystack, we are looking for a specific needle in a needlestack, and, as one might expect, it’s pretty painful.
Analytics technologies allow us to explore that data in a way that empowers us to advance our decision cycle through the orientation and decision phases. This means we can act more quickly when opportunities present themselves, respond more rapidly to thwart our adversaries, and anticipate where problems might develop so we can put remedial measures in place ahead of time.
Further, big data analytics capabilities can act as an enabler to collaboration. In an age of complexity, the next operation may require cooperation across multiple nations, non-governmental organizations, and both civilian and military authorities. Big data can facilitate this, even despite the fact that each organization runs on their own siloed system and processes.
In each of these cases, Special Forces will be able to leverage huge amounts of data to develop an intelligence picture of their operating space, collaborate with a coalition of any size and shape, and build the network they need to manage the complexity that is a part of normal operations.
This essentially recaps the discussion between David, Kevin at the discussion panel. Once again, I’d like to thank SAS and the IDB for the opportunity to share ideas. Big data may have us swimming in the ocean, but analytics capabilities offer a huge return on investment, not just for people looking to sell diapers, but for those of you who work in the national security community—in fact, the return on investment from a national security perspective is infinite!
Lt Col Tammy Schwartz, USAF (Ret.) is an IDB guest blogger and recognized innovator with more than 20 years of national security experience. Schwartz is a former Chief Technology Officer for Air Force Enterprise Networking and is currently a Consultant for SAS and the Owner of Llamrai Enterprises. You can read more from Schwartz on her blog.