Technology Brief: The 21st Century Solution to Optimizing Critical Resource Planning

NCMS Technology Briefs highlight NCMS’s cultivation and growth of innovative technologies. Through our management of government and industry collaborations, we’ve gained insights into novel approaches and best practices that can assist all companies navigate the sometimes-complex journey towards advancement. Based on the results of NCMS technology projects, the briefs show the applicability and usefulness of proven technical advances—all in an effort to speed adoption and eliminate duplication of effort. NCMS is pleased to share these insights to support U.S. manufacturing competitiveness.

Lessons Learned from the Mission Analysis Readiness Resource Synchronization (MARRS) System

Introduction

Industry has long recognized that effective resource planning requires access to multiple streams of information. But for many years, that effort involved compiling and reviewing manual reports generated by separate offices with separately housed databases. Just imagine the potential benefits of a 21st century solution for such functions as personnel scheduling, logistics, inventory management, and event planning that could automate certain functions, integrate business processes, and improve analysis with a global dashboard that makes authoritative information accessible to all decision-makers.

With the advent of “enterprise resource planning” (ERP) systems, some organizations now employ a highly integrated system architecture that eliminates duplicate data entry and storage, streamlines business processes, and allows users to share and exploit real-time, authoritative information. The result enables more strategic decision-making throughout the enterprise.

So why haven’t all organizations gone down the ERP path? Unfortunately, implementing a sophisticated ERP system can be a costly, time-consuming effort. Disparate sources of data must be transferred and then verified as accurate within a single, “one-source-for-truth” system. To take advantage of the system’s full capabilities also requires an organization to revise many business processes.

The Department of Defense (DOD) has some experience in these issues that can help industry solve their own ERP challenges. The DOD has been shifting away from siloed legacy software tools that long contributed to readiness management. In 2012, the DOD began partnering with computer systems firm MKGCS, LLC to build a prototype for an ERP known as the Mission Analysis Readiness Resource Synchronization (MARRS) system. Its initial goals were limited—to create an automated unit manning roster to support ad hoc operational and mobilization planning. The MARRS system is an open architecture, web-based tool operating on and communicating across classified and unclassified networks. Its design overcomes one big ERP implementation challenge: by employing a secure, web-based environment, it allows users to interface with multiple databases and automate the capturing and integration of data.

Over time, goals for the system have expanded, and efforts to build in greater functionality have faced multiple challenges. But solutions to those challenges continue to be found. The DOD has determined that it should share the lessons it has learned and provide ways for industry and informed experts to assess global ERP implementation strategies that can work for many industries.

In service of that goal, a recent project brought together the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences (NCMS), the DOD, and MKGCS. The objective of this initiative: to provide leaders with a more complete picture of specific military units’ current capabilities by integrating the information and business processes for logistics, personnel, training, and mission planning. A concurrent objective was to identify and establish solutions for implementation gaps—areas where data quality issues or business process issues prevent optimal functioning of the system.

Benefits

The pilot project successfully automated the capture and integration of several data sources and business processes into a shared platform (see figure 1). It allows leaders to operate simultaneously within the same environment, synthesizing information that helps put operations and events in motion. The project’s efforts also have resulted in the documentation of processes and procedures. These provide a map for how to achieve a fluid transition from legacy data processes to modern global resource management.

The automated integration has enabled real-time analysis that can:

  • Identify qualified, available personnel and teams that are the best fit for each specific operational mission or training requirement
  • Ensure payroll, benefits and support programs are enabled properly
  • Enable the tracking of personnel and teams throughout their training, deployment, and response process
  • Implement a tracking tool of critical objectives
  • Monitor case management of benefit programs
  • Track actions of complex business processes
  • Deliver just-in-time resources to control inventory levels

To help develop and document best practices, the project partners:

  • Defined the gaps between pre-ERP methods of planning and the most efficient and effective global logistics processes
  • Assessed current information systems’ readiness for incorporation into the ERP platform
  • Developed ways to improve business processes to make the ERP system function more smoothly
  • Reviewed leadership and administrative procedures to analyze whether the ERP tool-suite was meeting user needs
  • Validated proposed solutions within the user community

Results from the project show that use of the MARRS system saves time and effort, reduces errors, and saves money. MARRS automation, when adopted, can result in a significant reduction in man-hours required for data entry, the cost of compiling paper reports, and the occurrences of human error. An independent Lean Six Sigma black belt study from the Military One Source 2015 Demographics Report determined an effective usage of MARRS conservatively saves one man-hour of processing time per mission through the reduction of redundant reporting and processing. The consolidation of unit movement schedules for both training and mobilization into a single system allows senior leaders to review high-level decision support tools through a point and click dashboard, replacing hours spent by staff officers consolidating various system’s data into PowerPoint presentations. It is estimated that when the processes automated by MARRS are combined with readily accessible information across all commands and the elimination of redundant systems, MARRS will conservatively enable over $5 million per year in cost savings across the enterprise.

Further, more cost savings have been realized because the MARRS system allows existing databases to be integrated into one shared environment, rather than building from scratch each database’s functionality into a closed system. This project’s total cost savings—through exploiting the capabilities of existing proprietary data systems and enabling shared visibility on classified and unclassified networks—has been conservatively estimated at over $13 million.

Technology Use Potential

Having the ability to assemble the right team to execute a mission is essential to efficiently and effectively complete a task. Whether it involves specialized medical or scientific skills, athletic prowess for a winning sports team, or training for law enforcement operations such as with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, or the Drug Enforcement Agency, assembling the right personnel is critical to operational success.

Examples of industries that can benefit from a MARRS-type ERP:

  • Healthcare: managing patient information, medical history, scheduling, and accounting
  • Construction: sub-contractors, scheduling, accounting, project status, payroll
  • Manufacturing: supply chain, inventory, invoicing, logistics, skilled personnel, equipment maintenance
  • Wholesale: demand and supply metrics, warehouse inventory, product shelf life, sales, and purchases
  • Retail: inventory management, sales report, fashion show scheduling, customer spending and satisfaction data, cash flow

Other examples of specialized teams that can be mobilized:

  • Illegal Narcotics and Global Threats Mitigation
  • Federal Emergency Management Agency, COVID-19 Response Team.