Naval Information Warfare Center (NIWC) Atlantic hosted its second Naval Research and Development Establishment (NR&DE) Data Science and Analytics workshop Nov. 5-7 at NIWC Atlantic headquarters in Charleston, South Carolina.
More than 240 Department of the Navy (DON) civilian and military professionals interested in data science attended the workshop to share information, identify key technology growth areas and gaps, and collaboratively plan for the future.
The primary goals of this year’s workshop were to unify a common vision and shared effort aimed at enhancing the DON’s data and analytics capabilities in the areas of warfighting, readiness and business operations.
NIWC Atlantic Commanding Officer Capt. Wesley Sanders opened the session, welcomed attendees and noted that the workshop draws data scientists from across the DON who provide significant data for decision-making. This collaborative gathering, he added, will help determine the direction of naval data science capabilities.
“Our data scientists securely capture, store, disseminate and curate accurate data from disparate data sources,” Sanders said. “They work to replace outdated technology that keeps military leaders from seeing and considering critical data, and making suboptimal decisions.”
He urged participants to focus on leadership and workforce perspectives to bring together sub communities in the data science field to collaborate in strategic and tactical directions to enhance accurate, timely decision-making.
“Your objective is to see things differently and to see data for what it is – an enabler to the workforce on ships, submarines and other platforms, for the Sailors themselves. Today’s war depends on innovative uses of technology – not on the number of troops,” Sanders noted. “The Chief of Naval Operations makes it clear what he expects from us, and this is the right time for this workshop to draw data scientists to collaborate, identify strengths and gaps, and work together to assure we have a path forward to meet the Navy’s strategy.”
Thomas Sasala, designated the first DON Chief Data Officer in October 2019, served as keynote speaker. He described the drivers for a modern naval data environment and provided a high-level overview of the naval data management concept of operations and the proposed naval data architecture.
“Naval data management is centered on 12 information domains. The DON will structure data management around these information domains instead of organizational units, systems, programs of record or funding lines,” said Sasala. “The DON data governance board (DGB) governs all naval data policies, regulations and guidance. Each domain will be managed by a data steward through the DGB, and decisions and policy will be made through the governance structure.”
Sasala discussed a data hierarchy of needs, which is founded on the ability to make data visible. Moving upwards, the next tier consists of access to data by consumers, which is followed by the need for continuous cleaning and control. It culminates with exploitation of data. The DON strives to be at the pinnacle of the hierarchy exploiting data, but must start with addressing data visibility and accessibility.
A DON-wide community of practice (COP) is being built around data management and data analytics.
“It’s important to identify success stories and positive outcomes by championing successful projects through the COP,” said Sasala. “We want to identify centers of excellence and have COP members interact physically and virtually. We must make immediate changes in the way we do business.”
Philip Lee, DON Chief Data Office staff member, discussed the DON Implementation Plan of the Department of Defense (DoD) Data Strategy (I-Plan). The DoD Data Strategy, which sets the vision, guiding principles, goals and objectives to transform the DON into a data-driven organization, is expected to be signed by the end of November, followed by the release of the DON I-Plan in early 2020.
The DON I-Plan is separated into five lines of effort: set the foundation; evolve the workforce; position and protect data; build, optimize and operationalize the environment; and manage and govern.
“The I-Plan outlines the actions required to develop and maintain a successful data management and analytics-driven environment within the DON,” said Lee. “Our team has been working with stakeholders across the DON to develop this plan and encourage you to participate.”
Panelists from various naval warfare centers and agencies presented information about critical projects underway and moderators led audience discussions about a wide range of topics including: understanding current naval data science needs, the role of data science in participants’ current positions, issues with data accessibility and governance, tools used to aggregate and share data, and existing naval data science lines of effort.
They also discussed advantages of having experienced data science employees with industry experience as well as bright, self-taught personnel. Panelists stressed the importance of having team members skilled in data story-telling — the ability to explain analytic results to high-level leaders.
William Bray, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development, Test and Evaluation, addressed workshop participants via video teleconference and discussed his primary data science areas of responsibility: science and technology, prototyping, NR&DE priorities and systems engineering digital transformation testing and delivering systems.
Dr. Robert Parker, Deputy Program Executive Office for Command, Control, Communications, Computers and Intelligence for Technical Direction and Capability Integration, also briefed workshop participants.
“Data needs to be the backbone of everything we do in the fleet,” said Parker.
Throughout the workshop, audience members formed groups and completed data science projects at their respective agencies. Eighteen attendees displayed posters about projects.
Group members also talked about project gaps and briefed all workshop participants about primary outcomes from these discussions.
“A workshop like this is amazing because of the synergy,” said Naval Air Systems (NAVAIR) Command data professional Karen Frech. “It was a great opportunity to discuss projects we’re working on — and I can see we’re really starting to become a force.”
Robert Keisler, senior scientific technical manager for data science and analytics at NIWC Atlantic, participated in a workforce development panel discussion with leaders from NAVAIR and Naval Sea Systems Command. Keisler, director for a data science department with more than 250 members, discussed best practices for hiring, training and retention, stating the ability to give data scientists meaningful work as the number one retention issue.
“At NIWC Atlantic, our data scientists and engineers have a core purpose to revolutionize naval decision-making, tackling interesting and challenging problems regardless of the mission,” said Keisler.
Dr. Lucas Overbey, science and technology lead for data science and analytics at NIWC Atlantic, described NR&DE data science and analytics road-mapping efforts to move the Navy forward by unifying a common vision and establishing a blueprint for the next three years, aligning with high-level DON implementation plans.
“This has been exciting and incredibly valuable. Connecting with DON data science professionals has helped me, and I’ve gotten a lot of valuable suggestions,” said Sasala. “My office will try to help you with roadblocks you encounter.”
The NR&DE includes scientists, engineers, mathematicians and technical personnel from Naval Warfare Centers, Systems Centers and the Naval Research Laboratory who conduct DON research, development, testing and evaluation. This establishment encompasses the technical resources required to explore, develop and field future naval warfighting capabilities such as laboratories, test facilities and test ranges.
As a part of Naval Information Warfare Systems Command, NIWC Atlantic provides systems engineering and acquisition to deliver information warfare capabilities to the naval, joint and national warfighter through the acquisition, development, integration, production, test, deployment, and sustainment of interoperable command, control, communications, computer, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, cyber and information technology capabilities.