U.S. Transportation Command, the division of the Department of Defense responsible for worldwide air, land, and sea transportation for the U.S. armed services, manages the mother of all supply chains. It distributes matériel to every corner of the defense enterprise — including durable goods, fuel and consumable supplies, hazardous materials, perishables, and even personnel.
“USTransCom is a multibillion-dollar, multinational operation,” says Air Force Brig. Gen. Mike Basla, director of command, control, communications, and computer systems for the command. “There aren’t too many examples in the corporate world, if any, that we could say resemble the kind of scope and breadth of what we do.”
USTransCom’s mandate was broadened significantly in 2003, when it was assigned the role of DPO (Distribution Process Owner). Previously, the command had been concerned only with distribution from the port where goods were loaded to the port where they were received. The DPO designation extended its responsibilities to include coordination and synchronization of the supply chain from end to end.
But as the scope of USTransCom’s operations increased, so too did the complexity of its IT infrastructure. Basla guesses that USTransCom’s full distribution capabilities are now distributed across some 600 IT systems, many of them antiquated, poorly integrated, and redundant. “If you go back maybe 15 years in technology, you can probably find it somewhere in the enterprise,” Basla says.
Given the uncertainty surrounding ongoing military budgets, overhauling that legacy infrastructure has become a top priority. During the next few years, USTransCom will consolidate its systems and eliminate legacy applications as part of an ambitious move toward a modern infrastructure based on SOA, with the goal of reducing those 600 systems to fewer than 100.
Branching out and paring down
If a shipment of supplies is currently in Rota, Spain, to be delivered to Ash Shuaybah, Kuwait, on Oct. 5, then trucked that afternoon to Kuwait International Airport, where it will be loaded onto a C-130 for delivery to Balad Airbase in Iraq, field commanders must have confidence that the supply chain is credible and that those individual deadlines will be met. That’s why, according Gen. Norton Schwartz, USTransCom’s combatant commander, moving the information about the stuff is as important as moving the stuff.
With DPO responsibility, however, USTransCom must track that information across the IT systems of multiple branches of the armed forces and then beyond, to the systems of its various partners both inside and outside the DoD. Reducing the redundancy in that multidomain infrastructure is one of the key goals of USTransCom’s SOA initiative.