Demystifying Big Data

Rob Wedertz – Director, Navy Programs

Rob Wedertz – Director, Navy Programs

We live in a data-rich world.  It’s been that way for a while now.  “Big Data” is now the moniker that permeates every industry.  For the sake of eliciting a point from the ensuing paragraphs, consider the following:

FA-18 / Extension / Expenditure / Life / Depot / Operations / Hours / Fatigue

Taken independently, the words above mean very little.  However, if placed in context, and with the proper connections applied, we can adequately frame one of the most significant challenges confronting Naval Aviation:

A higher than anticipated demand for flight operations of the FA-18 aircraft has resulted in an increased number of flight hours being flown per aircraft.  This has necessitated additional depot maintenance events to remedy fatigue life expenditure issues in order to achieve an extension of life cycles for legacy FA-18 aircraft.

120613-N-VO377-095  ARABIAN GULF (June 13, 2012) An F/A-18C Hornet assigned to the Blue Blasters of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 34 launches from the flight deck of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72). Lincoln is deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility conducting maritime security operations, theater security cooperation efforts and combat flight operations in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jonathan P. Idle/Released)

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jonathan P. Idle/Released)

The point here is that it is simply not enough to aggregate data for the sake of aggregation.  The true value in harnessing data is knowing which data are important, which are not, and how to tie the data together.  Often times subscribing to the “big data” school of thought has the potential of distraction and misdirection.  I would argue that any exercise in “data” must first begin with a methodical approach to answering the following questions:

“What challenge are we trying to overcome?”

“What are the top 3 causes of the challenge?”

“Which factors are in my control and which ones are not?”

“Do I have access to the data that affect the questions above?”

“How can I use the data to address the challenge?”

weeds sept 2015 blog graphic

While simply a starting point, the above questions will typically allow us to frame the issue, understand the causal effects of the issue, and most importantly facilitate the process of honing in on the data that are important and systematically ignore the data that are not.

To apply a real-world example of the methodology outlined above, consider the software application ProModel has provided to the U.S. Navy – the Naval Synchronization Toolset (NST).

“What challenge are we trying to overcome?”

Since 2001, the U.S. Navy has participated in overseas contingency operations (Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom) and the legacy FA-18 aircraft (A-D) has consumed more its life expectancy at a higher rate.  Coupled with the delay in Initial Operating Capability (IOC) of the F-35C aircraft, the U.S. Navy has been required to develop and sustain a Service Life Extension Program (SLEP) to extend the life of legacy FA-18 aircraft well beyond their six thousand hour life expectancy and schedule and perform high flight hour inspections and major airframe rework maintenance events.  The challenge is: “how does the Navy effectively manage the strike fighter inventory (FA-18) via planned and unplanned maintenance, to ensure strike fighter squadrons are adequately sourced with the right number of FA-18s at the right time?”

“What are the top 3 causes of the challenge?”

  • Delay in IOC of the F-35C
  • Higher flight hour (utilization) and fatigue life expenditure
  • Fixed number of legacy FA-18 in the inventory

“Which factors are in my control and which ones are not?”


  • High flight hour inspection maintenance events
  • Airframe rework (depot events)


  • Delay in IOC of the F-35C
  • Fixed number of legacy FA-18 in the inventory

“Do I have access to the data that affect the questions above?”

Yes.  The planned IOC of the F-35C, flight hour utilization of FA-18 aircraft, and projected depot capacity and requirements are all data that is available and injected into the NST application.

“How can I use the data to address the challenge?”

Using the forecasted operational schedules of units users can proactively source FA-18 aircraft to the right squadron at the right time; balanced against maintenance events, depot rework requirements, and overall service life of each aircraft.

Now that the challenge has been framed, the constraints have been identified, and the data identified, the real work can begin.  This is not to say that there is one answer to a tough question or even that there is a big red “Easy” button available.  Moreover, it has allowed us to ensure that we do not fall victim to fretting over an issue that is beyond our control or spend countless hours wading through data that may not be germane.

NST was designed and developed with the points made above in mind.  The FA-18 is a data-rich aircraft.  However, for the sake of the users, NST was architecturally designed to be mindful of only the key fatigue life expenditure issues that ultimately affect whether the aircraft continues its service life or becomes a museum piece.  In the end, NST’s users are charged with providing strike fighter aircraft to units charged with carrying out our national security strategy.  By leveraging the right data, applying rigor to the identification of issues in and out of their control, and harnessing the technology of computational engines, they do precisely that.

ProModel at the 2015 AUSA Global Force Symposium

Pat Sullivan - VP Army Programs

Pat Sullivan – VP Army Programs

The 2015 AUSA Global Force Symposium in Huntsville AL proved once again to be an incredible opportunity for ProModel to learn and share.  With over 5,500 people from around the world, including key leaders from the Army, DoD and Congress, ProModel conducted office calls and provided demonstrations for senior executives from Fortune 500 companies and senior General Officer’s and Senior Executive Service members from the Department of the Army, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology, Army Materiel Command, and Training and Doctrine Command.

The theme primary for the symposium was “Win in a Complex World.”  ProModel was on point for sharing how our tools and capabilities can assist the Army with the ominous task.  The complexity of achieving defined and desired levels of readiness at the best value served as ProModel’s mantle for discussions.

With the proven success of the Lead Materiel Integrator Decision Support Tool, that supports the BCT reorganization, the European Equipment Set establishment, and the dynamic equipping requirements in the Pacific theater; the ARFORGEN Synchronization Tool (AST) that is preparing to transition to support a new readiness model; and the Naval Synchronization Tool that assists the Navy with generating and sustaining F/A-18 readiness, ProModel already has a stronghold in the market of defense complexity.

The addition of the Logistics Readiness Center maintenance optimization capability, leaps the concept of cost wise readiness to new levels.  Attendees had an opportunity to understand how ProModel solutions can uniquely assist in solving challenges related to producing the maximum readiness at the best value.  The LRC Proof of Concept demonstrates how AMC at the enterprise levels and LRCs at the tactical level can best plan and manage capabilities, optimize resources, and maximize efficiencies within and among LRCs.

Another highlight was the demonstration of, and interest in, our COTS products like Process Simulator and Enterprise Portfolio Simulator (EPS). DOD organizations and industry are seeking ways to gain greater efficiency and to stretch their limited resources. While force structure is being reduced, missions and the need for continual modernization are not. The expectation of those funding DOD is that the military will be increasingly efficient in the execution of prescribed tasks. Therefore, an understanding of how to generate efficiency through Lean practices and events, and of how to predict equipment life-cycle costs in a very complex environment, is paramount. Additionally, leaders in DOD expressed how they must apply Lean principles to their processes, identify trade-offs, and understand the downstream impacts of change.

Process and portfolio management are significant across the government sector, and they will become even more necessary during this time of decreasing budgets. EPS and Process Simulator, coupled with ProModel’s customized solutions (AST, LMI DST, and NST), provide the foundation for rapid process improvement, budget estimation, and program management. Thanks to the exceptional hospitality of the Tennessee Valley and the great response by our AUSA hosts, ProModel continues to find new and exciting ways to assist the Army in meeting it’s motto of The Strength of the Nation.

Finding Impartiality in S/W Applications

Rob Wedertz - SME, NST

Rob Wedertz – Director, Navy Programs

As long as I can remember I’ve been a fan of and often used the expression, “I don’t want to build the microwave, I just want to press cook”.  (I’ve never been able to remember when or from whom I first heard it – my apologies for the lack of attribution).  While I’ve sometimes been fascinated by the inner workings and origin of things, in the end I’ve come to adopt the modern world and the pace at which it moves.  I simply don’t have the time of day to dig into the underbellies of things and investigate the underpinnings of how they work nor their interdependencies.  My aversion to such activities was upended when I joined ProModel and led (as a PM) our development team’s efforts to support Verification, Validation, and Accreditation at the behest of our sponsor’s modeling & simulation accreditation agent.  While I do not intend to “build the microwave” here, I would like to describe how I learned that the act of “pressing cook” must be accompanied by complete and total impartiality of the software application.

Software, in a variety of formats, is often used to tell a story.  When it comes to entertainment-based software, and for the sake of the longevity of it, the story should be a very good one.  Thus the reason many folks spend countless hours trying to “level up” (it’s all about the journey, not the destination).  During my college days, I was exposed to Pascal and learned that the methodology (computer language) for telling a story was via if, then, else, while, etc. statements.  Truth be told, I didn’t particularly enjoy trying to figure out how to make the computer say “hello” via that methodology.  Again, I am more of a “show me the story” kind of person, than a “how did you make the story” kind of person.  In that regard I’m quite fond of the software that exists today.  My iPad is a bevy of mindless apps that keep my 5 year old entertained while putting miles on the family wagon.  However, when it comes to decision-support software, the stuff under the hood REALLY does matter and is often as equally important as the story itself.  Through the VV&A journey we’ve traveled to date, I’ve become more and more focused on inner-workings of “the microwave”, both out of necessity and surprisingly out of curiosity.

Our software applications tell stories that often culminate in multi-million dollar and in some cases, billion dollar implications, not necessarily to the good.  Not only must the story be stringently accurate, it must also be 100% impartial (or agnostic) to those who might be directly impacted by the results.  We accomplish that impartiality by ensuring that we never begin our development processes with an end result in mind.  That is not to say that we do not begin with an end-state in mind (i.e. – what is that you want to know?)  The difference is nuanced in print, but significant when it comes to applying the right level of acumen and forethought into software development.  The true genius of leveraging software applications to solve complex problems is that once you’ve figured out “where and why it hurts”, you can use predictive analytics, modeling, and regression analysis to attack the root of the ailment.  In my simplistic mind, our software is being used to treat the condition rather than the symptom.

The rigor that has been applied to the VV&A of our specific DoD program of record is staggering when compared to similar applications.  And it should be.  While many software developers are not particularly fond of documenting source code and defining why a certain script was used, in the end it has made both our customers and us extremely confident about our methodologies, processes, and coding standards.  Frankly, (although I’d never admit it to the folks who raked us through the coals) we’ve become a better development team because of it.  Combine the penultimate requirements associated with VV&A with our use of the Agile/SCRUM development methodology, we’ve accomplished the delivery of an application that withstands painstaking scrutiny and is adaptive enough to answer evolving customer demands and utility.  In the end, the vetting our software application has endured at the hands of the accreditation agent is not the value added propositions our customer demanded, although it was a necessary evolution.  What really matters is that we’ve produced a traceable software application that is impartial.  It may not always give you the answer you want, but it will always give the answer that you need – the truth.

Probing LEAN Space with Dave Tucker

Dave Tucker

Dave Tucker – Director, LSS Initiatives
Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt

Most companies have the same basic question they are trying to answer from a model project.  How can I make more stuff quicker?  Whether it is manufacturing, government, healthcare, or most any other industry, they all want to get more items through their processes faster and often they want to do it with fewer resources.  That’s the climate we are in now.  Everyone has to do more with less.

I have observed that many problems in Manufacturing can be directly attributed to having too much WIP.  Excess WIP inventory ties up money, creates the need for storage, increases cycle time, reduces throughput, and wastes Resources time.  But Managers want to keep everyone busy so they allow more work to be introduced into their systems instead of looking for Lean ways to better manage the “pull” of work.  Companies that learn to control the amount of WIP to meet their orders always do better financially then other companies that continually flood the workplace with inventory.

So I get excited when a model shows some new information that a company has never seen or understood before.  When they can see the process waste, understand how to remove it and implement the plan – that’s a great thing.

Check out Dave’s work on the Space Shuttle Program with United Space Alliance and NASA…. 


Dave Tucker is ProModel’s Director of Lean Six Sigma (LSS) Initiatives and also serves as a Senior Management Consultant and Project Manager.  He assists our clients primarily by providing simulation training, model consulting services, and LSS implementation advice.  Prior to joining ProModel, Dave was the Lead Lean Six Sigma (L6S) Master Black Belt at United Space Alliance (USA), located at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.  USA is the prime contractor to NASA responsible for the Space Shuttle Program.

Dave has over 25 years’ experience leading teams, mentoring employees, solving problems, conducting training, and improving operations. He has led more than forty Kaizen Events, completed dozens of process simulation modeling projects, conducted hundreds of training sessions, facilitated over two hundred Belts & Team Leaders, and assisted with the implementation of numerous process improvements saving millions of dollars.

Dave has an extensive background in numerous process improvement tools utilized in Lean Six Sigma DMAIC & DMEDI approaches, as well as Kaizen team methods and process simulation modeling.  He has about 14 years’ experience using ProModel process simulation modeling tools for process improvement.  In addition, he is a sought after speaker and has made many well-received presentations at Process Improvement, Simulation, Industrial Engineering, and Aerospace Conferences.  He has a BSBA in Management from the University of Central Florida.  Dave is a Certified Lean Six Sigma Black Belt and a Certified Master Black Belt.

Lean and Mean at the AME

Dave Tucker

Dave Tucker – Sr. Consultant & Project Manager

I recently attended the Association for Manufacturing Excellence Conference in Chicago along with about 2,000+ others.  Another ProModel employee (Andy Schild) and I worked in a booth there alongside a Microsoft Visio Specialist.  Andy & I were there to demonstrate a simulation tool called Process Simulator that works inside of Visio.

I observed two things at the conference that I want to briefly highlight:

1. Lean is still a hot topic in Manufacturing.

2. Astronauts have the best stories.

First – Lean is still a hot topic.  I say this because the AME Conference agenda listed Lean or Lean tool sessions and workshops in 53 out of the 111 topics.  This is strong evidence that manufacturing companies are still eagerly interested in learning how to identify and remove waste from their businesses.  And many companies were there bragging about their success stories!  I also noticed that 26 out of the 45 vendors represented had the word “Lean” plastered somewhere on their booth displays.  Obviously, Lean still sells or vendors would change their approach.  Lean is still hot!  And of course, our company ProModel offers the best predictive analytics technology tools to help organizations identify waste, get Lean, and optimize their processes.

Second – Astronauts have the best stories.  Mark Kelly was the Commander of the final mission of the Space Shuttle Endeavour in May 2011.  He is also the husband of former Congresswoman Gabrielle “Gabby” Giffords who was shot in January 2011 at a rally in Tucson, Arizona.  As the final keynote speaker at the AME Conference, Commander Kelly told about his experiences growing up, serving as a pilot in the Gulf War, and his travels as an astronaut.  He recalled that one night while flying a mission over Iraq during the Gulf War, Kelly narrowly missed being shot down twice within just a few minutes.  As both Russian-made Surface to Air missiles approached separately, Kelly had to roll his F-15 jet thru a series of maneuvers to avoid being blown out of the sky.  Having been seriously rattled by the experience, he decided NOT to fly back home south to his aircraft carrier the same way he had come.  Instead, Kelly flew east over Iran and then started heading south towards the carrier.  After several minutes, he began to hear chatter on his radio that an Iranian pilot was heading towards American forces and was about to be shot out of the sky.  The radio called out the approximate position and airspeed of the Iranian pilot and Kelly thought “What a coincidence, that’s my airspeed and position.”  Two seconds later he realized that HE was the “Iranian pilot.”  So Commander Kelly quickly got on his radio and announced to US Forces “Please do NOT shoot down the Moron flying over Iran.  It’s me.”  Kelly then went on to emphasize the importance of communicating with your team especially when you deviate from the plan.  Again, Astronauts have the best stories!

How Did I End Up Here?

Rob Wedertz –  SME Naval Synchronization Toolset   

During the several months leading up to my exodus from the U.S. Navy, I did my fair share of soul-searching, “what should I be when I grow up?  What business segment should I pursue?  What talents do I offer potential employers?”  After 26 years of wearing a uniform proudly and considerable amount of time tearing up the skies in a fighter jet, I had somehow come to the realization that I wanted to land somewhere outside the Department of Defense establishment, including its industrial base.  To explain why would occupy more space than blogosphere ROE allows.  Long road to a short house – the day ProModel HR contacted me and asked if I’d be interested in working on a custom program (Naval Synchronization Toolset – NST) supporting the Naval Aviation Enterprise, I reeled.  A voice inside my head said, “I thought you weren’t going to consider this as a potential vocation.”  Fortunately for me, (and I hope for the company), a much louder voice convinced me to do my due diligence and find out more about both the company and the position.  I did.  We met. We agreed.  Here I am.  (Now is the part where I do have to explain why.)

In 1986, when I joined the ranks of squids, swabbies, sailors, etc. the U.S. Navy was in the middle of what we referred to as the “salad days”.  Secretary Lehman was aggressively pursuing a 600 ship Navy (by comparison we have less than 300 today), toilet seats would cost the military in excess of $500, and there was no shortage of coffers to fix things that were broken, and in many cases things that were not.  At the time, my colleagues and I very rarely questioned the deluge of dollars in our operating budgets.  We were fighting the Cold War after all – we have to be in it to win it.  Fast forward nearly a decade and I had the unpleasant experience of witnessing the polar opposite.  No one told us that when we win the Cold War, we would have to eat sand (a poor reference to the movie Raising Arizona).  The late ‘90s were a dark time for those of us in Naval Aviation as we were forced to do more with less, with no tolerable degradation in mission capability or readiness.  Fortunately, some senior ranking military officers, who were also self-anointed visionaries, turned to the business world for guidance.  It was out of necessity that we in the DoD began to discuss things like Lean Six Sigma, Theory of Constraints, Cost-wise Readiness, and we haven’t looked back.My first exposure to the methodologies associated with LSS, TOC, etc. was in 2004 as a mid-grade Department Head in a Strike Fighter Squadron preparing to deploy to the Western Pacific.  When directed (rarely optional) to enroll in and complete a “Fleet Business” course, I did as I was told and learned a new lexicon – Continuous Process Improvement, Value Stream Mapping, etc.  Far more important than learning ABOUT these initiatives was that I learned we were using them, and to measurable success.  We were actively and aggressively pursuing a business model that was somewhere right in between “salad” and “sand”.  And as a warfighter, our success struck a chord because I knew that my aircraft wouldn’t have to be made airworthy with duct tape and baling wire.

Fast forward again to the “due diligence” exercise when I spent a great deal of time “peeling the onion” about ProModel and the role I would play in working with Naval Aviation.  As it turns out, we have coupled the “wizard behind the curtain” type of development work our software engineers do so well with the tenets of LSS, CPI, and data collection / processing and offered warfighters a tool to make their lives easier.  The key stakeholders within Naval Aviation use the Naval Synchronization Tool Set to make cost-wise decisions, resource squadrons with the right aircraft, and ultimately allow warfighters to be warfighters.  And I get to be the “face” of the company as we support them.  When most of your closest friends are the direct benefactors of an endeavor as important as NST – it’s hard to say no.  I’m glad I didn’t.