Last month the Department of Defense (DoD) announced that it is working to digitally transform its technology operations. Critical to that effort is the successful recruitment and retention of digital talent in the DoD civilian workforce. Even as the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in record high unemployment and millions of Americans continue to look for work, there remains great demand for those with IT skills.

However, the workforce is just one part of the struggle the DoD is facing today when it comes to the ongoing IT transformation. The other problems include legacy equipment that has resulted in incompatible systems but also the ever increasing creation of data.

Known as “big data,” this is the large volume of data – both structured and unstructured – that inundates an organization on a day-to-day basis. However, it isn’t the amount of the data that is important. Big data is also the field that treats the way to analyze, systematically extract information from, or even otherwise deal with the data sets that are too large or complex to be dealt with by traditional data-processing application software.

For military operations, it is now possible to mount operations without knowing the when, where, and what in deploying resources. This is a key component of the military’s big data.

Handling the Big Data

Military technology hardware has long been capable of producing large amounts of information, but now the military must focus on developing new digital transformation and modernization programs to leverage that vast quantity of data.

“Militaries are increasingly getting to grips with the scale of the challenges they face, but there are still significant development obstacles in utilizing big data – namely upgrading legacy IT infrastructure to facilitate the collection and use of large datasets,” said William Davies, aerospace and defense analyst at analytics firm Global Data, via an email to ClearanceJobs.

“The major focus of armed forces in the coming years will be to ensure that their own IT infrastructure is up to date and can effectively communicate before the task of utilizing big data becomes more realistic,” Davies, author of the report “Big Data in Defense – Thematic Research,” added.

Big Data and Prediction Algorithms

The United States Air Force is taking the lead on big data initiatives including finding ways to process the large amounts of data for its strategic airlift capabilities.

“There are others out there who wish us harm,” said Gen. Jacqueline Van Ovost, commander of Air Mobility Command, as reported by National Defense magazine. “We must get the data advantage. What we deal in is physics. We need to solve the problem better with new ideas and with the data.”

To address this need, the Air Force is collecting data for predictive maintenance, and using information gathered from each aircraft, which can help predetermine which parts to replace before they fail.

Better Security Through Big Data

Last month, the Air Force also awarded $9 million to startup SimpleSense for a virtual “Installation Resilience Operations Center,” which will act as a central hub for base security at Tyndall Air Force Base (AFB), Fla.

Tyndall AFB, which has launched its “Base of the Future” effort, sought ideas from four pairs of companies during a “Shark Tank”-style pitch competition. SimpleSense and data-analytics company Novetta came out on top and will reshape the way the Air Force manages so-called “Internet of Things” in this new program.

The software that was developed by the two firms will be connected to sensors and systems across the base, and it will gather information about building health, personnel safety, energy efficiency, and more. It can address immediate awareness of programs, determine a response, and even offer predictions for major incidents.

“It is truly a testament to the Air Force’s commitment to developing innovative, cutting-edge solutions for not only the installation of the future, but for military installations around the world,” said Brig. Gen. Patrice Melançon, executive director of the Tyndall Air Force Base (AFB) Program Management Office (PMO).

This collection and use of big data could be used from serious situations, such as detecting gunshots and alerting people of dangerous situations to enable a quicker response, to determining if an air conditioning unit is about to fail. The goal is to address problems quickly and possibly before they are a serious issue instead of waiting for something to break or reach a dangerous level. In this capacity it could save lives and also save the government money.

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Peter Suciu is a freelance writer who covers business technology and cyber security. He currently lives in Michigan and can be reached at petersuciu@gmail.com.