WASHINGTON — A newly developed dashboard is feeding the U.S. Department of Defense data-driven insights on its own activities, including implementation of the National Defense Strategy and other critical endeavors.
The analytics program, known as Pulse, was created by the department’s Chief Digital and Artificial Intelligence Office, led by Craig Martell, in collaboration with the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, headed by Colin Kahl, and others.
Its purpose, officials told Defense News, is to provide senior defense leaders with a rigorous, standardized look at how things are going: Are the defense secretary’s priorities being fulfilled, and are other performance metrics across the department being met?
Defense Undersecretary Kathleen Hicks teased the dashboard — which takes advantage of Advana, the department’s premier big-data visualization platform that scours hundreds of business systems — at a Jan. 31 launch for the Defense Management Institute, an independent entity that will pool experts and research for Defense Department improvement.
“We are working now on measuring performance and creating clear accountability to speed progress, including by using tools, such as Pulse,” Hicks said at the event. “The secretary and I will have a far better view of implementation of the NDS than our predecessors were ever afforded. This dashboard approach will give us data-driven insights into what’s working and what’s stuck and what we can do about it.”
Pulse took some five months to pull together. Such a pace, Hicks said, was an “extraordinary feat” and sets the bar for future investments.
More broadly, the deputy defense secretary touted the CDAO as having a key role in instituting the department’s reform priorities and said the office was “elevating and transforming how we create decision-advantage from the back room to the battlefield.”
DoD’s four-year Strategic Management Plan, led by Hicks and released in October, emphasizes the use of data-first assessments of progress.
The Defense Department has for years attempted to harness data and its environment, the digital domain; as far back as 2019, the Trump administration’s deputy defense secretary, David Norquist, set a goal for the department to apply data analytics and AI to tackle jobs as diverse as technology development, audits and maintenance of the F-35 fighter jet.
Hicks in May 2021 released a memo to leadership describing data as a “strategic asset.” That memo also cemented Advana as the department’s primary enterprise-wide data analysis platform.
“Data is essential to preserving military advantage, supporting our people, and serving the public,” the memo reads. “Leaders at all levels have a responsibility to manage, understand, and responsibly share and protect data in support of our shared mission.”
The Defense Department has since established the CDAO and brought Martell, a former LinkedIn and Lyft executive, onboard to broaden and accelerate the adoption of all things digital. The office hit its first full strides in June, after subsuming what were the Joint AI Center, the Defense Digital Service, Advana and the chief data officer’s role. Martell has described AI as a vacuous term, and has instead advocated for top-tier analytics and a better grasp of the information already at hand.
“Fundamentally, at the bottom, we have to get the data right,” Martell said Jan. 26, at a separate event. “On top of that, we have to get great analytics.”
Colin Demarest is a reporter at C4ISRNET, where he covers military networks, cyber and IT. Colin previously covered the Department of Energy and its National Nuclear Security Administration — namely Cold War cleanup and nuclear weapons development — for a daily newspaper in South Carolina. Colin is also an award-winning photographer.
Joe Gould is the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He served previously as Congress reporter.