If you’ve worked in the Department of Defense (or any other federal agency for that matter), you know that no good decision can be made without a rash of requests for information (RFI), followed by more RFIs, and maybe even a call to the E-Ring to explain yourself.
There is just no getting around the seriousness of the decisions that national security leaders make—and the consequences of being wrong. But the whole process generates friction and resentment, changes staff priorities for hours or days, and grinds the decision-making process to a halt. With huge amounts of data at our disposal, does it really have to be like this? And how much better would special assistants and military assistants make use of their time without RFIs?
To address this, we first need to understand the types of decisions the DoD is faced with regularly. Some decisions can wait to be made after the deep and thoughtful analysis of a problem. These issues can take months or weeks to decide. Other decisions can take days or hours. But many problems require quick answers to simple questions, like: how much money does the United States spend on security assistance in Jordan? Or: what is the readiness rate of fighter squadrons and combined arms battalions right now?
The Department of Defense has that data. It should be at every leader’s fingertips and reveal itself with a simple mouse-over of a web page, email, or document.
The current answer to self-service analytics is the dashboard. It seems like a great idea to have senior leaders navigate to a SharePoint link where a dashboard will pop up after they enter their PIN six times. Then they just need to go through the steps to filter data and get the answer they are searching for. Simple, right? (Can you read the sarcasm here?)
We know that adoption rates for data analytics runs at about 30% in the best organizations. That means that some poor staff officer probably “print screens” those lovely visualizations into PowerPoint to present to senior leaders. The real problem, though, is that we are so used to asking questions about our data that we can’t imagine a reality where every email, web page, slack message, and document is imbued with the answers we need before we even know to ask the questions. We need data delivered in a way that allows us to dig deeper when we need it and ignore it when we don’t.
Developing solutions to better decision making is important. It saves time and allows the policy decision making process to move forward instead of being stalled by needless RFIs. The problem is serious, and the solution can have transformational impacts on the agility and precision of our government in an increasingly complex world.
Maybe the solution is a Google search using natural language processing. Or even better: the answers pop up in a card as you scroll over the person, place, or thing you are interested in. This is how insights from your data will be delivered in the future—and it will dramatically change the way you make decisions.