What TRANSCOM learned from its system consolidation

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What TRANSCOM learned from its system consolidation

On any given day U.S. Transportation Command (USTRANCOM) tracks more than 20 ships, 1,500 truck cargo shipments and hundreds of aircraft taking off or landing every two minutes. The Department of Defense command center is essentially the FedEx of the U.S. military, moving everything from food and uniforms to tanks and vehicles. Tracking the movements of all items across multiple modes of transportation is a herculean task that in the past has used more than 60 disconnected, stovepiped systems.

When making complicated transit moves, more is not necessarily better. Last year, USTRANCOM made the move to modernize and digitize its transportation operations by adopting a transportation management system (TMS). Now in prototype, the single common platform integrates transport operations across groups, provides visibility into cargo moves and supports auditability. Reaching these newfound digital competencies happened at an unheard-of fast pace, but it was far from easy.

DOD is vast and complex, pushing up the number of systems, domains and agencies impacted by the TMS prototype. Plus, the existing systems leverage older, less flexible technologies. For some new functionalities, the TMS was integrated with environments that have been in place for 30 years. At the same time, transportation operations can’t be put on hold, which meant the new TMS had to co-exist or integrate with legacy systems to ensure continuity.

Initially, designing and deploying an end-to-end transportation management solution for DOD seemed overwhelming, but -- one year in -- the team has learned an incredible amount about working in massive, complex legacy environments and modernizing them for 2020 and beyond. To be successful in similar environments, we advocate following these four best practices.

Prioritize speed. Sticking with old rules and strategies was not going to help USTRANSCOM achieve its goals of visibility into cargo moves or auditability. Instead of the classic waterfall development approach, we followed an agile development strategy within DOD requirements. We chose to release a subset of capabilities into the prototype, gather feedback and make improvements to those capabilities while adding more features and new user organizations simultaneously in future releases. This approach allowed us to deploy rapidly, similar to what most fast-moving digital enterprises are doing in the private sector. The agile development led us to delivering eight releases in less than 12 months.

Build a design with superior user experiences. The end-user experience should be a factor in all decisions. Make sure the functions and features of the system are not disconnected from the people using the system. Designing features and functionalities through the lens of the users -- global leadership, carrier partners, soldiers -- makes the overall solution better.

Expect ongoing adjustments to the rollout plan. Introducing a major overhaul often means addressing problems and new information quickly and adjusting to change in real time. What was agreed on yesterday may alter as new information comes in, so the team must expect changes that become both process and technology improvements. Willingness to change in the moment means we can meet schedules with timelines of days and weeks, not months.

Saving the most important for last: Create a team with a combination of industry, technology, global reach and leadership expertise. The size and scope of this massive project makes it one of the largest transportation projects ever in terms of the number of users and the value of freight moved. No one person or group knows everything, so we gathered experts from transportation management, military logistics, security and the list goes on. It took strong leadership to pull them all together and keep them focused on our end goals.

Thanks to our global partners, we brought together leaders from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and DOD agencies to talk about their transportation needs. We also connected with defense partners and project teams from Canada, the Netherlands and Australia who shared their experiences and provided insight on capabilities needed within their defense ministries and departments. Having this global collaboration has been instrumental in making the project successful.

When government puts these best practices to work, it is possible to transform a complicated, disconnected set of systems into an environment that can readily embrace a modern, digital-ready future.

This article first appeared on GCN, a partner site of Defense Systems.

About the Author

Soren Hastrup is the CEO of Telesto Group.

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