Bryan Harris is Director of Research and Development for Cyber Analytics, SAS.
The OODA Loop concept, developed by United States Air Force Col. John Boyd, was created to help the military achieve a strategic advantage over its enemies by employing a fast decision-making process. It is an instinctive thought process that people use every day but rarely think about.
Consider, for example, your thought process when a car slams of its brakes ahead of you – you observe the car is braking (Observe), figure out you need to brake too (Orient), decide to hit your own brakes (Decide) and then do it (Act). Observe, Orient, Decide, Act: OODA.
Every day, defense and intelligence decision-makers are faced with the difficult task of finding actionable data in a constantly-expanding sea of information. As big data increasingly permeates organizations worldwide, competitive advantage comes from the ability to analyze that data quickly to close analytic and cognitive loops. These OODA Loops are the key to moving any organization forward, whether defense, civilian or commercial. But, when it comes to C4ISR, the stakes are higher because the defense and intelligence communities gather data from the C4ISR components to safeguard our national security and interests. Advanced analytics is the key to maintaining military readiness, even – and some may argue, especially – in an era of tight budgets.
Throughout history, the most profound technological innovations have been driven by the need to communicate – from the telegraph and television, to the Internet and social media. But, as these technologies advance, so do the breadth and depth of unstructured data we collect from them, and we’re holding on to it.
Organizations faced with big data need help sorting it to separate the valuable data from the “dark data.” The challenge is that when a C4ISR organization doesn’t know where to look, big data creates analytical blind spots. Analytics helps determine what to keep, use or delete forever, allowing organizations to unlock the information contained in 80 percent of unstructured data. That analysis puts them ahead of competition via the OODA Loop.
With C4ISR, internal threats and enemy tactics are changing all the time, so defense and military leadership must adapt and orient itself to maintain the advantage. But, keep in mind: the enemy learns from its failures. The offensive and defensive measures a military or Intelligence organization uses today may not work tomorrow, once the enemy realizes it has failed.
In recent years, many organizations have become overwhelmed by the increasing volume of data that make gathering (Observe) and analyzing (Orient) difficult parts of the decision-making process, but speed in these two steps is a crucial factor to gaining the advantage in the information age. Simply put, if Organization A takes four days to complete the OODA loop, and it only takes Organization B one day, Organization B will win.
Analytics help leadership to “get inside” the enemy’s circle – or in short, make their decisions first. If an organization is analyzing its big data and making decisions based on its analytics, they’re winning. On the flip side, if an organization is completing their OODA loop based on what their enemy is doing, they’re losing. In the end, the real winner is whoever’s reality is more current.