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Mastering supply chain complexity to ensure naval asset readiness

Navies have to deal with a complex portfolio of stakeholders. Military organisations, OEMs, contractors and third-party providers maintaining equipment via service-based agreements all need to work together to ensure asset readiness. The key is to treat IT systems not as a transactional tool but as a strategic enabler, writes Evan Butler-Jones, director for defence product line at IFS’s Aerospace & Defence business unit.

The naval support landscape is changing. Assets and equipment are getting more complex and delivery and support are becoming increasingly globalised. The increasing dependence of modern defence organisations on suppliers to generate military capability requires acquisitions and through-life support contracts to be carefully structured, with data shared across buyer, supplier and maintainer partnerships.

Most legacy IT systems cannot handle this new dynamic. Because 70% of total lifecycle costs of complex equipment come from support and maintenance, this is now an area of focus for those responsible for managing these public/private support networks.

We now have complex support models such as contracting for capability, contracting for availability, and the simpler ‘acquire, buy spares and maintain’ approach. In addition, the support chains associated with different asset types require different maintenance schedules and supply chains.

Information flows are key to effective maintenance, asset readiness and ultimately operational success. This means acquiring, transferring, representing and then using data from multiple sources to impact the decision-making processes. To assure asset readiness, logistics support systems for major modern military assets must to span a vast network of players involved in the total lifecycle of the asset, from OEMs and suppliers to maintenance activities and customer support.

The limited scope of traditional supply chain management

The specialist nature of naval equipment makes for a vast support chain. Thousands of parts are required to maintain specialised assets and strict industry safety regulations apply. A primary goal is to track, monitor and deliver parts or equipment status as quickly as possible – whether on-base or at sea. But often planners struggle to get an accurate picture of inventory or asset status, meaning delays and mistakes can occur.

This is the limitation of the traditional systems structure, where separate systems were designed to act as stand-alone applications. Transactional, technical and performance data can get locked into these ‘functional domains’ making it difficult to provide visibility across the entire support chain. Not only will this have a direct impact on operational readiness, but also creates difficulties with audit compliance.

“History has proven that the generic processes of monolithic systems inevitably fail to address the varying needs across many levels and organisations within a defence ecosystem.”

Modern, component-based, IT support systems can enable the integration of MRO, performance-based logistics, project management, fleet management, or supply chain management solutions to eliminate the limitation of stove-piped legacy systems. But one-size-fits-all systems won’t work either. History has proven that the generic processes of monolithic systems inevitably fail to address the varying needs across many levels and organisations within a defence ecosystem.

The same processes required to manage spare parts for air conditioners are will not manage the ship-board maintenance requirements of a fourth or fifth-generation fighter aircraft or comply with the navy’s requirement for vessels to spend months at sea operating in autonomous mode. Mandating a single system to try to achieve the multi-organisation, multi-purpose objectives is as unrealistic as expecting to achieve global force readiness with legacy stovepipe systems.

Striking the right balance through an open approach

Naval forces needs to strike a balance between openness and functionality by carefully choosing the right software partners and deploying a small set of software tools that, when combined, provide that full enterprise capability. To ensure best-of-breed functionality and performance for each area of operations, naval organisations need to deploy open and interoperable asset and support chain software designed to work within a large naval ecosystem with its complex needs around engineering configuration and maintenance.

But, this is only achievable with supporting systems that have a well-developed suite of capabilities tailored for naval support – not a generic enterprise solution designed to support a much simpler enterprise environment. This will allow naval support and maintenance organisations to build the capabilities they need to support specific end-to-end processes that link up the overlapping elements of the support chain.

“Enterprise operational intelligence gives commanders the capability to model operations or readiness by drawing data together from the carefully selected suite of source systems.”

If you now add operational intelligence – one that is beyond the scope of most business intelligence tools – to this new architecture, you can now have a full 360-degree view across your entire naval support chain.

Enterprise operational intelligence (EOI) gives commanders the capability to model operations or readiness by drawing data together from the carefully selected suite of source systems. The goal, when deployed correctly, is to support the readiness posture for deployed operations by accurately identifying assets, resources status and any required maintenance.

The 360-degree view enables operations commanders to answer if they are ready to perform an at-sea mission from an HR, material, and training perspective in a given timeframe. If the answer is no, a supporting EOI solution should analyze what issues need addressing to ensure the mission deadline is met.

The shifting role of IT support

Naval organisations need the ability to maintain asset availability levels no matter how complex, and be able to link policy changes to maintenance outcomes and achieve significant reductions in sustainment costs in a bid for affordable asset readiness.

This means a change in design for IT support systems and a move away from stove-piped legacy systems to a more open, best-of-breed, modular system architecture where naval organisations can build the IT environment that matches the unique needs of defence ecosystems without the limitations of information siloes or inflexible monolithic systems – shifting IT from merely a transactional tool to a serious strategic enabler.