Tableau and the USAF: data as a strategic asset
Data analysis and visualisation company Tableau offers its customers the capacity to make better use of the data they have. Michael Parker is VP, Business Development at the company. “ Tableau's mission is simple,” he says. “We help people see and understand their data. We provide that through a single pane of glass view of their data in a secure environment, ensuring the right people have the right access to the right data at the right time.” The security of that data is another key concern, with the company striving to fulfill that aspect while ensuring it remains accessible. “The ability to use your data in this secure environment is critical. That’s accomplished by building a data trust initiative with customers, building accuracy, timeliness, quality measures into their data and ultimately creating a culture of literacy and knowledge around data. We don't expect everyone to be a data scientist, but we do see data literacy grow across organisations.”
Parker has 34 years of experience as a public servant, having recently transitioned from the DOD, and has accordingly seen a sea change in how data is used. “Data analytics and visualisation was classically used by data analysts for descriptive analytics, predictive analytics, but mostly for measurement tools and the creation of reports. That's changed significantly now with new, powerful weapons within analytic platforms like Tableau that allow real-time decision-making for both subject matter experts and senior leaders alike to draw insights from data.”
It’s that capability that is behind Tableau’s partnership with the United States Air Force, as Parker explains. “They’re looking at data as a strategic asset and as a common service component of digital transformation. We use the tools specifically around a couple of use cases that draw a great return on investment. One was civilian hiring. We needed to understand where the choke points are, where's the lag and the slack in the process. By pulling the data in from end-to-end in that whole civilian hiring process, we could look at it through an operational lens to really understand where we were experiencing challenges. Strategic decisions made along the way ultimately compressed the timeline by two thirds.”
With chief data offices now established in each of the services, Parker believes the full value of data is now being appreciated. In standing that up, it's been recognised that data is a strategic asset and a powerful tool for both the business and warfighting domains.” The partnership has also proved its worth in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. “Having tools for personnel use, personnel accountability, tracking of individuals and even return to work processes was really important, and so the partnership was critical at that point.”
Parker emphasises that the partnership is built to last. “At Tableau, we plan to continue to build our partnership and understand the strategic and operational needs of the Defense Department and how the platform can help solve issues and provide capabilities in strengthening our partnership over time.”
SAS: Improving the British Army’s decision making with data
SAS’ long-standing relationship with the British Army is built on mutual respect and grounded by a reciprocal understanding of each others’ capabilities, strengths, and weaknesses. Roderick Crawford, VP and Country GM for SAS UKI, states that the company’s thorough grasp of the defence sector makes it an ideal partner for the Army as it undergoes its own digital transformation.
“Major General Jon Cole told us that he wanted to enable better, faster decision-making in order to improve operational efficiency,” he explains. Therefore, SAS’ task was to help the British Army realise the “significant potential” of data through the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to automate tasks and conduct complex analysis.
In 2020, the Army invested in the SAS ‘Viya platform’ as an overture to embarking on its new digital roadmap. The goal was to deliver a new way of working that enabled agility, flexibility, faster deployment, and reduced risk and cost: “SAS put a commercial framework in place to free the Army of limits in terms of their access to our tech capabilities.”
Doing so was important not just in terms of facilitating faster innovation but also, in Crawford’s words, to “connect the unconnected.” This means structuring data in a simultaneously secure and accessible manner for all skill levels, from analysts to data engineers and military commanders. The result is that analytics and decision-making that drives innovation and increases collaboration.
Crawford also highlights the importance of the SAS platform’s open nature, “General Cole was very clear that the Army wanted a way to work with other data and analytics tools such as Python. We allow them to do that, but with improved governance and faster delivery capabilities.”
SAS realises that collaboration is at the heart of a strong partnership and has been closely developing a long-term roadmap with the Army. “Although we're separate organisations, we come together to work effectively as one,” says Crawford. “Companies usually find it very easy to partner with SAS because we're a very open, honest, and people-based business by nature.”
With digital technology itself changing with great regularity, it’s safe to imagine that SAS’ own relationship with the Army will become even closer and more diverse. As SAS assists it in enhancing its operational readiness and providing its commanders with a secure view of key data points, Crawford is certain that the company will have a continually valuable role to play.
“As warfare moves into what we might call ‘the grey-zone’, the need to understand, decide, and act on complex information streams and diverse sources has never been more important. AI, computer vision and natural language processing are technologies that we hope to exploit over the next three to five years in conjunction with the Army.”
Fundamentally, data analytics is a tool for gaining valuable insights and expediting the delivery of outcomes. The goal of the two parties’ partnership, concludes Crawford, will be to reach the point where both access to data and decision-making can be performed qualitatively and in real-time.
“SAS is absolutely delighted to have this relationship with the British Army, and across the MOD. It’s a great privilege to be part of the armed forces covenant.”