Just a few weeks ago, I had the privilege of attending the Tail Hook Association’s annual conference in Reno, Nevada. It is the first time I attended the conference not as an active duty member of the Naval Aviation community, but as a vendor supporting the enterprise through our role as the software application provider of the Naval Synchronization Toolset. Surprisingly, other than keeping much different hours and standing on the opposite side of the booth table, the conference felt much like it did every year I have attended in the past. There were many “so what are you doing these days?” conversations with old friends and the ever-present aura of “Naval Aviation is special because…” throughout the exhibit hall.
In fact, had I not taken the opportunity to attend some of the panels and engage some of our key stakeholders in pointed conversations it would have been extremely difficult to differentiate this year’s conference from any other I had attended over the last 2 decades. There was a new vernacular that weaved its way into this year’s conference. Words like “sequestration”, “draw-down”, and “budget constraints” permeated the Rose A ballroom, and for the first time in many years, I sensed a palpable uncertainty among the leadership of Naval Aviation as they extolled the virtues of tail hook aviation’s role in the world theatre against the backdrop of future shoe string budgets and unknown war fighting requirements. (Ironically, the Air Boss told a poignant story of a “nugget” strike fighter pilot from CVW-8 expertly delivering ordnance in the fight against ISIS the same day the morning news detailed the withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan as “hostilities in the Middle East come to a close”.)
Given the environment we’re in and the abundance of questions marks hovering over the next several years, it should come as no surprise that many attendees, including most of the NAE leadership took a great deal of interest in the “little” ProModel booth nestled among missile mock-ups, Joint Strike Fighter simulators, and high-tech defense hardware displays. In fact, as one of the very few (if not the only) predictive/prescriptive analytics software vendors in attendance at Hook ’14, we were an anomaly.
A common theme emerged during our discussions with visitors and through comments made during the various panel discussions – decisions must be made via actionable data, courses of action must be modeled and validated, and technology-enabled decision support applications must be agile enough to get an answer in short order. Thus the interest in ProModel.
While the Naval Synchronization Toolset is in its infancy from a relative viewpoint (we achieved initial operating capability just a year ago), ProModel has been delivering enterprise-wide decision support tool capabilities to its customers (both private and DoD) for over 25 years. As industries have evolved (adopted Lean Six Sigma methodologies, harnessed data collection and aggregation, and leveraged emerging technologies) so has ProModel. We have learned, alongside our customers, that there is significant “power” in diminishing uncertainties through “what-if” analysis and exploration of alternatives via technology-enabled decision support tools like the NST. The questions the NAE gets asked have answers and it is discovering that getting there is a matter of adopting a philosophy that centers around modeling the behavior of the system, deciding on dials (variables), and exploring the alternatives.
The NST is that system. Through our integration efforts with Veracity Forecasting and Analysis, we have delivered a software application that establishes the demand signal (the Master Aviation Plan module), models the behavior of the system (Carrier Strike Group Schedule, Air Wing Schedules, and Squadron Schedules), models the behavior of elements (the Airframe Inventory Management module) the utilization of the FA-18 A-F inventory over time, and provides a “sandbox” environment that facilitates optimal disposition of assets in order to meet the requirements of the NAE over time.
We heard, during our attendance at Hook ’14, that the optimal management of the FA-18 inventory was one of the focal points of the NAE leadership. And although we’ve been involved in the development efforts of the NST for more than 2 years, it is the first time that the challenges of inventory management have taken center stage at a venue that has long been unchanged and timeless. We felt privileged to be among the professionals in attendance at Hook ’14 and even more proud to be an integral part of the solution set to Naval Aviation’s challenges going forward. We’ll be back next year and hope that the NAE is no longer talking about it.