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Agile Computing: Article

Enterprise Mobility, Network-Centric Operations and Decision Making

Mobile apps for the enterprise can offer significant value on their own, but when integrated together into a network (network centric operations) with many other applications, the IoT (internet of things) and other data collection technologies, this network of applications can offer exponentially greater visibility and value to an organization.   The challenge is to understand how to use this plethora of data for the purpose of good operational decision-making.  Modern military strategies offer some useful insights for us.

USAF Colonel John Boyd is credited with the concept of the OODA loop.  The OODA loop (Observe, Orient, Decide and Act) is a concept originally applied to combat operation processes. Today it is also applied to commercial operations and learning processes where significant value has been realized.

According to Boyd, decision making occurs in a recurring cycle of observe=>orient=>decide=>act.  An entity (whether an individual or an organization) that can process this decision making cycle quickly, observing and reacting to unfolding events more rapidly than an opponent, can thereby "get inside" a competitor's decision cycle and gain the advantage.
In the business world, OODA loop is an emerging concept for making decisions and managing fast changing field services, projects and mobile operations.  Today the ability to observe events from afar benefits from mobile technologies and connected devices such as:

  • Wireless networks
  • IoT
  • Mobile data collection solutions (mobile inspection forms, barcode scanners, RFID, GPS, etc.)
  • Mobile field services applications
  • Mobile business intelligence applications
  • Enterprise asset management solutions
  • Plant maintenance systems
  • Mobile CRM
  • GPS location tracking technologies
  • etc.

Mobile data collection and the IoT supply the data that enables a field services or plant manager to observe from afar.

The next step in the OODA loop is orientation.  The manager needs to be oriented as to what the data means, and how it impacts the mission.

Decide - now that you have the necessary data and you understand what it means, you must make a good data-driven-decision.

Act - take action without delay based upon all the data you have received, its business meaning and the decision you have made.

The "loop" refers to the fact that this is a continuous process.  The loop or cycle never stops.  Each time you complete a cycle in the OODA loop you observe, orient, decide and act again based upon the results you see from the prior cycle.  If the results are positive, you can continue down that path and improve it.  If the results are negative, you quickly adjust and review the results again.  It is a fast moving process of trial, error and adjustment until you get the results you want.  Not dissimilar to the agile programming methodology.

The OODA loop is particularly useful in environments that are chaotic and unpredictable.  In these working environments, decision making is often very difficult and without appropriate training paralysis in decision-making results and nothing gets done. The OODA loop is a decision making process that is well suited for helping people make decisions and acting in situations where there is no existing road map to follow. The military has effectively utilized the OODA loop decision making processes in the chaos of battle found in air combat, tank warfare and daily in Special Forces operations.  There is a lot to be learned from these experiences in decision-making.

In a world where nearly 40 percent of the workforce is mobile, companies must learn and implement these concepts in order to successfully manage mobile operations and services from afar.  To be successful implementing and integrating the OODA loop and Network Centric Operational concepts into your field services operations requires the following:

  1. Data collection systems and processes.
  2. Real time knowledge of the location of your mobile workforce, assets and inventories.
  3. Real time knowledge of the capabilities and expertise of your mobile workforce.
  4. Real time status and progress updates of the tasks, work assignments and schedules of the mobile workforce.
  5. Real time knowledge of the location of all inventory, equipment, tools and other assets required to complete specific tasks.
  6. Work order management system that assigns, schedules and dispatches specific assignments to specific members of your mobile workforce.
  7. Business intelligence software applications for analyzing data collected in the field.

All of the items listed above help provide the real time visibility into your field operations that is required in aNetworked Field Services organization practicing OODA loop management decision making.

One of the remaining challenges, however, with the systems listed above is that humans quickly become overwhelmed by large volumes of data.  Complexity can become an inhibitor to the practice of OODA.  It is not enough to have real time visibility into massive volumes of data, as one must be able to orient and understand what the data means and how it will impact the mission.  Business intelligence software, context aware and artificial intelligence capabilities all fit in here.


Kevin Benedict, Head Analyst for Social, Mobile, Analytics and Cloud (SMAC) Cognizant

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Learn about mobile strategies at Follow me on Twitter @krbenedict Join the Linkedin Group Strategic Enterprise Mobility

***Full Disclosure: These are my personal opinions. No company is silly enough to claim them. I am a mobility and SMAC analyst, consultant and writer. I work with and have worked with many of the companies mentioned in my articles.

More Stories By Kevin Benedict

Kevin Benedict is the Senior Analyst for Digital Transformation at Cognizant, a writer, speaker and SAP Mentor Alumnus. Follow him on Twitter @krbenedict. He is a popular speaker around the world on the topic of digital transformation and enterprise mobility. He maintains a busy schedule researching, writing and speaking at events in North America, Asia and Europe. He has over 25 years of experience working in the enterprise IT solutions industry.

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