Transportation at the Department of Defense: The Choreography of Mission Execution Starts and Ends with Transportation
It’s a dance—what happens in the course of mission planning and execution at the Department of Defense (DOD). Military units at every level and across every service branch request troops and materiel for a particular mission, and planners at the US Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM), its component commands, and other logistics organizations at the DOD must fulfill those requests. And because both requesters and fulfillers share a common duty to deliver maximum combat power for the mission, they must execute those duties in a way that optimizes personnel and materiel in terms of deployment location and timing.
A dance that requires real-time transportation visibility and synchronization
The planning horizon for these missions can be weeks or months in advance, and where critical real-world conditions demand, the planning horizon could be hours. Planners receive these requests from around the world, and they need global visibility into a host of critical factors including freight demand, timing requirements, availability of military and civilian assets, information and operational security requirements, and other real-world constraints that impact mission execution.
From the requesting side, everyone along the chain of command needs to understand the transportation plan that will support their mission. The information needs to be accurate and timely so that everyone—from the division, brigade, and battalion level down to the company and platoon level—can start their movement planning. The goal is to constantly keep troop and materiel movements in synch so that the mission can execute as planned. That’s why requesting units must constantly know the real-time location and ETA [Estimated Time of Arrival] status of troops and materiel in transit once the plan is set into motion.
Complex, disconnected systems across USTRANSCOM and DOD often miss the beat
As the customer service organization that supports the warfighter across the full spectrum of traditional and joint operations, USTRANSCOM is just like a private sector entity doing all that it can to support the customer. And just like private sector customers, requesting units supported by USTRANSCOM expect an Amazon-like experience during freight execution.
That means the ability to communicate total shipment visibility down to the garrisoned units or in a remote, austere mission environment—an ability that is almost impossible in today’s disparate system landscapes across USTRANSCOM and other logistics organization within the DOD. A key reason for this is that the supporting processes and enabling technologies that deliver system-to-system connections to key military and commercial transportation partners is less than optimal.
The resulting gaps in data and the reduced situational awareness directly impact shipment visibility in terms of current location and status, ETA accuracy, and prompt notification of delays and other conditions that can impact the mission plan. When a lack of shipment visibility leads to unexpected delays or unavailability of troops and materiel in theater, unit, and mission readiness are of course seriously impacted.
Disparate systems and fragmented processes also impact decision-making
The reliance on disparate systems to make complex transportation decisions is no longer sustainable. By not having visibility into all mission requirements in a single, shared view of the entire transportation network, fulfillment services throughout the DOD will not be as efficient as they could be to support both traditional and joint force mission objectives.
For example, the process of gathering freight requirements from individual units is not standardized, and a single, comprehensive view of all freight planning requirements is currently not feasible. And of course, the complexity of globally integrated mobile operations requires detailed planning. But with disconnected systems, the ability to make the optimal choice among the sheer number of possible transportation options around mode, carrier, and route—all while maintaining security requirements—is often an exercise in information overload.
On top of complex mission and security requirements, decision-makers also have to meet legal and statutory requirements for good stewardship over taxpayer dollars. However, disconnected systems and processes create challenges around transparency and auditability. And too often, audit processes are dependent on inefficient manual reconciliation efforts that can lead to data inaccuracies.
Well-choreographed execution needs a holistic, connected transportation platform
Establishing a common transportation platform that brings the entire military and civilian transportation ecosystem together in real-time can help the DOD standardize and simplify processes and improve collaboration with requesting units. SAP is currently partnering with teams across USTRANSCOM, the service branches, and the DOD to bring transportation logistics together in a single, holistic transportation platform. Such military-proven transportation management solutions support decision-making and collaboration across the full transportation logistics lifecycle.
From planning, routing, and scheduling to load, carrier, and driver assignments, these solutions can help the DOD:
- Improve decision-making by enabling real-time analysis of large amounts of internal and external data to automate repeatable tasks, improve predictions, and make smart decisions
- Optimize workflows and organize data assets in one place for easier collaboration and fast synchronization
- Automate recurrent operations and scale resources as needed, so resources can focus on driving innovation
Intelligent orchestration to improve productivity, speed decisions, and reduce spend
By combining transportation management solutions with intelligent technologies, organizations across the DOD can facilitate process automation across the mission logistics lifecycle. From order management and planning to settlement and audit, automation empowers personnel to be more productive and effective. They can leverage system-to-system collaboration to eliminate redundancies and keep unit commanders constantly informed on shipment status.
Key stakeholders can make quicker, more informed decisions with real-time analytics embedded across the transportation lifecycle. This includes the active monitoring of freight demand and resource availability, so planners can consolidate freight resources and improve asset utilization to reduce overall freight spend.
These solutions can help deliver accurate, real-time operational and financial insight that has been typically missing during mission execution and afterwards. With integrated financial reporting and automatic, rule-based compliance checks, personnel no longer have to manually compare and reconcile freights costs with revenue or worry about the accuracy of financial data for auditors.
Our transportation logistics solutions are designed for continuous innovation. In addition to defense, we constantly incorporate best practices and lessons learned from hundreds of customers across industries including consumer products, life sciences, industrial machinery, oil and gas, and wholesale distribution. This cross-industry innovation helps ensure that our transportation logistics solutions will continue to evolve with the future needs of our military.
Hundreds of SAP employees and their family members have worn their nation’s uniform, including the United States military. It’s both a point of pride and an asset to further understanding our customer’s needs. This is reflected in our commitment to development and deployment of world-class technologies that empowers military personnel to continue their trajectory to be agile, adaptive, and innovative logistics leaders.
Stuart Turner, Senior Solution Advisor, SAP Supply Execution, previously held global logistics leadership roles in the automotive and consumer packaged goods industries. His career began as a Logistics Officer with the US Army’s 7th Infantry Division (Light) at Fort Ord, California, supporting operations in Panama and The Persian Gulf.
US Army photo by SGT Charles Probst, USA/Released.