When an IED explodes (similar to what happened at the Boston Marathon) in Afghanistan, the pieces are gathered up, scanned and sent to an advanced biometrics group in the United States.With sophisticated equipment the remains of the explosive device are scrutinized to provide evidence of the origin, tactics, trends, etc. Actionable intelligence leads to changes in US military strategy and tactics to thwart IEDs and minimize loss. Timely response is critical to making informed decisions that will save lives.
Problem with the Current System
The current system looked effective, but there was too much time being used up in the analysis process. The slow analysis process could mean that the soldiers could be exposed to potential threats. The process was slow mainly because of the time difference between the schedule of onsite investigators, and the scientist in the US, the type of information that was being sent, how the data was then processed in the US through different departments, and how the results had to be consolidated back together before a report could be generated.
Mapping and Simulating the Process Flow
The problem with complex projects is the difficulty in calculating the benefit on the entire system from improving any individual area. Such was the case when a vendor to the US military proposed a 40 million dollar solution that would reduce the turnaround-time (TAT) for biometric results by 30%. The presentation was outstanding and who can argue with a 30% improvement when US soldiers lives are on the line. The vendor’s proposal was on the fast track to approval when a simulation study was authorized.
Process simulation provided a method to link together information in a way that would be impossible using traditional methods. The problem with traditional methods, like spreadsheets, is the difficulty in calculating a realistic TAT (often being inaccurate by +/- 50% or more). Spreadsheets are great tools, but fall down when calculating time dependent calculations (like work schedules or variation from times depending on the mix of product). Some of the pieces of information required to calculated a realistic TAT include:
- Work schedules of onsite investigators
- Type of information being sent (many different types are sent for the same IED)
- Arrivals rate of information (large files take a long time to send)
- Processing times based on type of information
- Work schedules off site investigators by skill level
- Consolidation of results
- Transmission time of results
Process Simulation Shows Results of Changes
After a process simulation was built, showing the main interactions of the system, experiments were run to test new technology’s effect to the TAT. After studying the vendors solution in the simulation, it was found that no appreciable TAT improvement could be expected from implementation. The project went from fast track to trash can in a few weeks. That is a 40 million dollar savings (from expenditure avoidance) on a single process improvement project with a minimal investment.