SOCOM CDO: Digital Transformation Depends on AI

SOCOM CDO: Digital Transformation Depends on AI


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Data Chief Thomas Kenney said AI is the key to digital transformation challenges.

U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) wants to use artificial intelligence (AI) to enhance data management and digital transformation, according to comments from Chief Data Officer Thomas Kenney at the Special Operations Forces Industry Conference (SOFIC) in Tampa, Florida this week.

Kenney wants SOCOM’s digital transformation strategy to focus on completing the mission more efficiently and effectively, rather than be distracted by the endless possibilities of data.

The Defense Department is awash in data, but a question that keeps resurfacing for Kenney is: what are we using that data for if we don’t know where it’s coming from? That's a sticking point in SOCOM’s digital transformation strategy, but AI could be the key.

“A leading indicator tells us where we’re going, a lagging indicator tells us where we’ve been,” Kenney said at SOFIC. “The challenge is the automation of the data and information flows that give us the ability to look in real time at the leading indicators that help us predict where we’re actually going.”

Kenney sees a gap between innovation and talent. One of his digital transformation goals for SOCOM is to connect innovative solutions with the people who need to use them.

“The ability to get innovation into adoption is critical because the adoption piece is the truth of balancing hardware and humans,” Kenney said. “Humans are absolutely more important than hardware, but humans can be augmented and enhanced with hardware. Hardware and humans coming together can really enable us to do great things.”

SOCOM also wants to tie in asymmetric advantages to bolster deterrence. One challenge the command faces is that there is an internal struggle at DOD to share data. The service is figuring out how to break down silos and make data more accessible across the force.

“The people that need [data] really need to be able to access it with all the security clearances and necessary protection of that data, and that’s what creates digital transformation,” Kenney said. “When that democratization of data is across the entire DOD, the opportunities are absolutely endless.”  

Kenney said SOCOM’S digital transformation strategy has been divided into three key areas: mission command, intelligence fusion and business intelligence.

“If we really want to get good at AI, we need to build muscles of memory that allows us to understand how to find that data, assess the quality of data and massage data into format we need and then deploy that data in a model,” he added.

Robotic process automation (RPA) can also help SOCOM develop muscle memory that will benefit logistics, financial and personnel systems.

“We can build that learn-by-doing capability so that it extends to the more complex challenging battlefield AI approach we need to get after,” Kenney said. “Business intelligence doesn’t just help from a financial perspective or from an operational efficiency back-office perspective, it helps us long term on the battlefield.”