Searching for Disruption: Why the DoD Needs a New Data Weapon

A few months ago, I started a new job at ThoughtSpot and took my first vacation this Christmas. My family and I took a trip to see my brother and his family in San Antonio.

The trip began with the familiar questions every traveler has faced. What gate are we at? How much longer until we’re there? What time is the Alamo open till? Can I exchange these books? When are we going to be home?

But then something striking happened, and I knew this would be a very different trip than the ones I used to take as a kid with my parents. Instead of adhering to a highly detailed, pre planned itinerary, my entire family - the kids, my wife, and I – used the Internet, our phones, and dozens of apps to answer these questions, searching for what we wanted needed on each leg of the journey.

And why wouldn’t we? We easily got near immediate answers to any question we posed, making the trip easy, painless, and more fun.

The new job, the search with my digital native kids, our trip seeing the historic Alamo; they all got me thinking. Why can't we bring that seamless joining of questions and answers to our military’s command and control systems? Does the DoD need to take a page out of consumer tech’s book?

It’s not as novel a concept as you might think. For years, military leadership has talked about the value of big data, especially in putting information in the hands of soldiers. In fact, the ARPANET, the predecessor of the Internet, was initially funded by the DOD's very own Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) as far back as 1967. 

The majority of our soldiers, who are themselves digital natives, benefit in their personal lives from a thing that DoD helped imagine, fund, and create - the Internet. Yet at work, military information systems today are notoriously archaic, with the data within these systems too difficult to access for most soldiers to benefit from it.

Let that sink in for a minute.

So what is it that makes the Internet so easy and military information systems so frustratingly hard? The DoD has struggled to implement, or rather retrofit, their systems to take advantage of fast-moving technological advances. Just look at the wreckage of service-oriented architectures and web services projects. But it wasn't for want of trying. Earnest efforts were made to give digital natives the data they need in a format they could use. They just couldn’t keep up. 

Those of you who run programs know the data tidal wave is overtaking you. Why? More importantly, why can't we keep up and the Internet can? 

The Pew Research Center estimates that fully 99% of 18-29 year olds use the Internet in the United States and that there are over 3 billion users of the Internet worldwide. 

That’s three billion trained operators of a single system.

There are two core attributes that make the Internet the most adopted and successful information system in history: it’s a man on the loop system that you can search.

Imagine the impact on decision making for the military if we could bring these attributes to the world of analytics. At ThoughtSpot, that’s exactly what we’re doing.

Think about how you use the Internet. Your actions are a series of ever smaller O-O-D-A [Observe, Orient, Decide, Act] loops until you find the information, the data, the answers you need. You’re constantly evaluating data, asking new questions, generating new conclusions, and finding better answers.

The Internet was built to make the interface between the user and the results as seamless as possible. You don't need people or friction between you and your answers. Similarly, ThoughtSpot’s search-driven analytics eliminates the time and the middlemen between our soldiers and critical data.

All of those data centers in Ashburn, VA and Silicon Valley exist to help you search faster, better, and smarter. They made my trip to San Antonio a snap. Super smart people, parallel processing, screaming fast servers, algorithms, AI, machine learning make up all those data centers. And they are on the loop - 24x7, with a singular goal of making searching for answers better.

Why? Because search is the key to overcoming poor user adoption. Warfighters know how to search, let them use that skill. Why train and re-train them in the flavor of the day tool? Three billion people know how to search, including 99% plus of the target force.

Need evidence? Look no further than the San Antonio USO before Christmas. Over 4,100 soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines left the San Antonio area to rejoin their loved ones. 

You can imagine what they are doing: saying last goodbyes, searching for that boarding pass, searching for new music, searching for the number of that someone back home, searching, searching, all the way home.

Search driven analytics brings this power of search, along with three billion trained operators, to data. ThoughtSpot has taken the automation, hardware, software - the very guts of the Internet that powers search across the entire web - and reimagined it to work with numbers.

Everything from parallel architectures to the fail overs, from the disaster resistance to the web scale stuff of the Internet that makes search possible, is now being used to drive faster decision making cycles and smaller OODA loops.

Our team was there when the Internet pioneers Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Yahoo were scaling. Our founders built the new platforms and architectures, while our investors, Lightspeed, Khosla, General Catalyst and GeoDesic, were capitalizing these companies - driving them to be efficient and profitable. Companies like Amway, BT, Chevron, Capital One, and Miami Children’s Hospital, have already adopted our search-driven analytics.

What does this mean for you? We know how to get it done without the tail eating the tooth.

If you’re a group using other transaction authorities to speed the pace of innovation, let’s talk. Ping me at [email protected] or (571) 295-5452.