Charneta Samms, Chief, Plans and Programs, Combat Capabilities Development Command (DEVCOM),
Army Research Laboratory (ARL); and Gregory Little,Deputy Comptroller for Enterprise Data and Business,
Office of the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) discussed how automating their formerly manual, cumbersome budgeting processes has changed how their respective organizations operate at "Speaking of Money: Automating DoD's Budget Formulations," a webinar hosted by Decision Lens and Breaking Defense.
The two speakers shared three key benefits that they have achieved from automating their processes, as well as how they foresee DoD continuing to automate and streamline its many processes while continuously achieving better, mission-driven outcomes.
1. Data-Driven Decision-Making Explains Why a Decision was made
Samms, who heads scientific research at the Army Research Laboratory said traditionally much of the focus at her organization was on data collection, but over the past few years that focus has centered more on the results of analyzing that data and the story that the data tells so that they can make better decisions and share why these important decisions are made.
However, there can be difficulties in quantifying the benefits of research; how do you prove to leadership that what you are doing is worthwhile so that new and ongoing research can be funded?
"The struggle every day across the command is to tell that backstory," Samms said. "We're not paying for the present; we're investing in the future."
She said it is important to link execution to outcomes and payoffs, and build out the story that science is worthwhile across the entire board. That can be a hard story to tell when there are bills that need to be paid now.
Little said in the SFO Act of 1990, one of the laws main points was for financial management to produce better data to run a better government.
"This concept is of data analytics is not new for financial management. But we have struggled to use our data to gain meaningful insights," Little said.
Samms added that sometimes too much data can convolute the situation creating "analysis paralysis", where there is no opportunity to make a decision because too much time is spent looking at the data.
"How do we minimize that; make sure we've got the best data," Samms said, "We know we're going to have holes and gaps in data, but we understand the limitations of the data we're looking at." She said understanding and using context was important to making the best decision.
Samms said that if a decision needs to be made tomorrow, but it takes two weeks to make the decision, then it is not an effective method.
Both speakers agreed that it was important to be able to look at data in a realtime format, to be able to understand the data, put it in a context that makes sense with analytics and visualization and then to be able to translate that into something that senior leaders can easily digest and use to make decisions.
Both Samms and Little have embraced technology at their organizations to help make better decisions at their organizations.
Little said they leverage their tools to gain a cross functional and cross enterprise view of data. This has allowed them to identify "Pockets of Excellence in DoD", parts of DoD that are operating efficiently and achieving above and beyond. The enterprise view highlights these pockets allowing them to create benchmarks against themselves.
Samms and Little also found that the pandemic sped up the changes already happening. The tools they have put into place are allowing some office staff to stay home as the world recovers from the pandemic, and to work even more efficiently than before, while increasing collaboration across departments.
2. Better Collaboration and Understanding Across Departments
Automating budget formulation and other processes has also allowed for better collaboration and understanding across departments.
The pandemic sped up the pace of the technological transformation already taking place. Things that once took years to accomplish are now being accomplished at DoD in just months.
The telework environment has allowed for increased collaboration and understanding in some aspects. Little said it has become very clear how important enterprise data is for operations daily, but in a crisis especially.
The use of technology for budget formulation and analytics has allowed for another important change. The tools are easy enough to use that they have increased the level of collaboration and understanding throughout staff because data scientists and laypersons are able to "use the same language" and interpret the data.
3. "Citizen Data Scientists" allow Data Scientists time to tackle "really hairy" problems
Little emphasized the importance of technology in his organization's success. Automation tools are becoming more and more user friendly, making them easy to use. Work that once required a programming professional can now be done by a layperson who just needs three weeks to initially learn the software before they can produce the budget analytics. Users can do the crunching without the computer science and math background.
“What’s powerful about these tools that makes it so easy is you can have citizen data scientists with deep functional knowledge who can use AI to manipulate the data and have the algorithms run for them,” Little said.
Samms said her organization is able to do more now that the data scientists have their time freed up through automated analytics, but that it also has resulted in a higher level of collaboration and understanding throughout her staff.
“We are all speaking the same language and everyone is immersed in the data science terminology,” Samms said.
Both Little and Samms said the major benefit of budget formulation automation is the ability to use “citizen data scientists” for the low complexity and mid complexity problems, saving data scientists for the really “hairy problems” (as Little described it).
Overall, the use of technology for automated budget formulation has freed up both Samms and Little's resources to help DoD achieve great things.
Learn more about technological advancements in DoD and watch the on-demand webinar here. You will need to register for the webinar in order to view.