Modern Soldiers: Balancing Experience-Centric and Data-Driven Decision Making

From adolescence to adulthood, the ability to make sound decisions is one of the hardest milestones to achieve. We’re faced with decisions every day—everything from what we wear in the morning to the type of breakfast we choose to eat. In research at MIT on the cost-benefit conflict—which involves choosing between options that have both positive and negative elements—scientists discovered that chronic stress makes mice more likely to choose high-risk, high payoff options. What does this mean in the context of decision-making? Simply put, when faced with a decision under times of great stress, we may make poor choices. That’s where data-specific decision-making can make a difference.

Imagine a solider being faced with uncertainty when trying to make a choice that could mean life or death for themselves or one of their fellow soldiers. I have never been in the military or in a high-risk situation, but I can’t imagine a more stressful time knowing that a decision can determine your survivability. In this post, I’ll discuss the difference between experience-based and data-specific decision-making.

Gaining an Edge With Data

Data-based decision-making has never been more important when assessing our warfighting capability. The Department of Defense recognizes the importance of modernizing the enterprise by putting in motion a digital strategy in order to keep up with the speed of change. And using data to give the United States military an edge over our adversaries is a critical factor in this digital transformation. But which is better? Should a soldier rely on past experiences to drive future decision-making? Or should they purely rely on data to make their decisions? Let’s start by defining experience-centric and data-specific decision-making:

  • Experience-centric decision-making is scientifically defined as decisions that are emanating from direct or vicarious reinforcements that are received in the past. In the context of the warfighter, this can be roughly interpreted as a solider under duress having to make life-or-death decisions based on their own experiences. The United States Army develops programs like the “Middle Management Development Program,” which was created to help Army civilian workers make split-second decisions even in the most stressful situations. This is an effective way to train soldiers, but with today’s technology, what if they could be presented with options using situational and historical data in real-time? Would—or should—this replace an experienced soldier’s instinct?
  • Data-specific decision-making is described as the practice of basing decisions on the analysis of data rather than purely on intuition or experience. The Department of Defense is making strides to create data standards enterprise-wide to support decision-making, information sharing, cloud modernization, and artificial intelligence strategies. So how does the Department of Defense build this foundation of standardized data? When standards are established, how do they transform data in order to unleash its potential?

Department of Defense Chief Information Officer Dana Deasy states, “The Digital Modernization Strategy is all about the warfighter.” It’s all about sharing information and communicating all the way to the tactical edge. In order to make data the fuel that feeds next-generation artificial intelligence engines and applications, it must be modernized using the following methods:

  • Discover all the data you have to work with. This is critically important when putting together a strategy to standardize across the board.
  • Ingest the data in a data warehouse or data lake, preferably in a secure cloud platform.
  • Apply polices to mask mission-critical data and personally identifiable information (PII).
  • Cleanse, enrich, and govern effectively to ensure accuracy and fitness for use.
  • Create a single source of truth to provide a 360-degree view.
  • Prepare and provision the now curated and trusted data and insights in order to make them consumable and to be displayed to an airman, infantryman, or general officer in real time.

A combination of experience and the use of artificial intelligence, fueled by trusted data, will give the United States military the edge we need against our adversaries. Knowledge and experience are the foundation of an effective business professional and soldier by giving them the ability to make split-second decisions under extreme stress. But in order to power the next-generation tools that will ensure our military’s effectiveness, data must be made discoverable, accessible, cleansed, governed, mastered, and secured using a key set of data standards, combined with an enterprise data management strategy and platform.

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