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SIGTRAKS: Tracking Logistics Information

The Army Field Support Brigade Pacific has developed a system to bring order to the mass of available logistics information and improve situational awareness.

Twenty years ago, Lieutenant Colonel Bob Mad-ayag (now retired) observed when the first computers arrived at the Army School of the Americas, “It will be another 20 years before the real capabilities of this technology are realized.” Little did I know then how accurate his prediction would prove to be. Compared to today’s computer systems, those first computers were little more than digital typewriters or, for some users, confusing status ornaments. Today, Army transformation is pushing the digital boundaries, with real-time network-centric technology at the epicenter. In fact, the amount of information available to Army leaders and staffers is now so great that systems are needed to organize it into usable forms. The Army Materiel Command’s (AMC’s) Army Field Support Brigade (AFSB) Pacific has developed such a system to help organize logistics information, increase logistics situational awareness, and track critical issues. This system is SIGTRAKS—the Significant Issue Tracking System.

Information Overload

The Army faces no shortage of information, but the availability of more information is not necessarily a good thing. Email has become an endless flow of facts and figures with limited filtering, accounting, or tracking features. Staffers must sort through volumes of runaway emails, attempting to establish ownership and separate the relevant from the extrane-ous. Misdirected emails, laced with outdated or already resolved actions, steal time from many users who have to read them. It is not uncommon to have information unintentionally delayed or overlooked or to have critical information bypass key personnel.

Information overload, accumulating from multiple, dissimilar channels, complicates the flow of real-issue tracking. Information from reports in multiple texts, such as Word and PowerPoint, can be difficult to search for, sort, and summarize and has a limited shelf life before it is deleted, lost, or archived into obscurity. Leaders cannot lead and managers cannot manage without access to timely information. Timely, critical information that does not reach its intended audience is essentially worthless.

D Minus 90

In June 2003, AMC Forward Stryker at Fort Lewis, Washington, began assembling AMC’s first brigade logistics support team (BLST). This integrated team of 15 to 17 highly trained AMC logistics specialists was tailored to provide habitual, dedicated direct support to a Stryker brigade combat team (SBCT). With an SBCT scheduled for deployment in 90 days, the greater concern at the time was BLST management of 85 program manager (PM) contractors and their systems. For example, of 79 communications systems, only 22 were supported by the Communications-Electronics Command (CECOM); the remaining 57 were supported by PM-managed systems contractors.

Clearly, in 2003, the lines of logistics responsibil-ity, accountability, and authority were becoming doc-trinally transparent among contractor and Government personnel. However, little consideration was given to how to collectively integrate SBCT equipment sup-ported by PM-managed contractors into an effective centralized management structure within the BLST.

Operational Tracking System

The immediate solution was to establish an Operational Tracking System (OPTRAKS) on the SBCT Intranet, which enabled the brigade to submit, consolidate, and track all AMC and PM trouble reports through completion. “We must be able push information from the ground up,” stated Richard Metcalf, who designed the initial operating system. This network-centric system synchronized AMC with the warfighter, sharing logistics situational awareness while tracking requested support.

The idea was to triage each trouble report and forward it to the right technicians for immediate resolution. The trouble report remained active until the problem was resolved to the satisfaction of both the initiator and the problem solver (either an AMC lo-gistics assistance representative [LAR] or field service representative [FSR]). As the trouble report database grew, it quickly became a source of performance-based information used to resolve recurring technical issues.

OPTRAKS implementation ultimately resulted in an 18-percent decrease in FSR calls forward, which, in turn, reduced the logistics footprint. OPTRAKS was used in garrison and combat, and, as of October 2006, it had logged over 6,000 trouble reports. The success of OPTRAKS was unparalleled.

Significant Issue Tracking System

An AFSB is the AMC regional center of gravity and the single face of AMC to the warfighter. It is responsible for integrating, balancing, and providing global reach back to AMC’s life cycle management commands (LCMCs). The goal of each AFSB is to have one AMC person in charge with one focus—tactical support to the Soldier.

In November 2005, the AFSB Pacific operations officer, Hiep Nguyen, began modeling a prototype SIGTRAKS. The primary purpose was to integrate and rapidly move LCMC critical issues through the AFSB chain of command.

During the testing phase, AFSB Pacific tasked its stakeholders in Hawaii, Alaska, Washington, and several overseas locations to evaluate SIGTRAKS. Using a disciplined, measured approach facilitated rapid feedback from a diverse control group. The primary objective was to eliminate redundant or valueless reporting while maximizing useful output.

By March 2006, the verdict from LARs, BLSTs, LCMC senior command representatives (SCRs), and logistics support element commanders in the field was, “Implement SIGTRAKS immediately.” Users at all levels adapted to using the system and quickly recognized its added value. They moved from simply being in compliance with SIGTRAKS guidance to committed supporters of the system. SIGTRAKS received command approval and was implemented in March 2006.

SIGTRAKS Supporting the Field

AFSB Pacific, in concert with the Directorate of Information Management at Fort Lewis, operates SIGTRAKS on a secure Department of Defense server, requiring both a login and a password.

SIGTRAKS, like OPTRAKS, operates in a collaborative real-time network, encouraging early, rapid resolution of logistics issues at the lowest level. SIGTRAKS empowers the user and maintainer to document, track, and resolve issues quickly or move them forward as required. Essentially, at the point of receipt, each AMC leader or manager must decide if the SIGTRAKS issue is solvable, should be moved forward, or should simply be filed for future reference. Only unresolved issues are forwarded to the next echelon and ultimately entered automatically into the AFSB commander’s weekly situation report for the Army Sustainment Command. Approximately 10 percent of reported issues are approved by the commander and forwarded for general officer review.

SIGTRAKS was designed primarily to digitally empower the frontline user, the LAR. The first “face to the field” the Soldier sees is an LCMC LAR, who acts as an “entry point of success.” The LARs are the foot soldiers of AMC, the de facto eyes and ears of the command. LARs operate at the tactical level as highly respected LCMC solution-oriented technical experts who bring unparalleled added value to their supported units. As such, they also are tremendous sources of information and combat enablers; by using SIGTRAKS, they can harness and expand daily logistics situational awareness for the AFSB commander and the LCMCs. SIGTRAKS focuses only on the current week’s mission-related issues; previous reported issues are archived. (It should be noted that the current weekly, or 7-day, cycle can be adjusted to meet any determined period.)

Unambiguous SIGTRAKS submissions are available immediately for worldwide review by the designated AFSB chain-of-command, which includes regionally assigned LCMC SCRs. SCRs are indispensable assets to the AFSB commander for solving materiel readiness issues beyond the scope of the LCMC LAR.

SIGTRAKS reporting has eliminated the dreaded weekly nightmare of cutting and pasting text from disparate reports and multiple sources into a single, standardized Microsoft Word document. This feature alone saves countless administrative man-hours throughout the command. Anyone who has attempted to create a single document from many sources will have a profound appreciation of how such a simple process can be so frustratingly difficult.

Previous SIGTRAKS submissions can be updated easily for resubmission into the new week’s cycle. Resubmissions automatically thread historical data and once again move through the digital chain of command. This action precludes the loss of valuable historical data, or “data dumping,” caused by operational and personnel turbulence. It is not uncommon to have a SIGTRAKS submission with many updates over a period of several months. SIGTRAKS also uses tools and techniques to document cost avoidance, training received or given, trip reports, and meetings attended.

Continuing Developments

Initial analysis showed SIGTRAKS to be an extraordinarily intuitive, easy-to-use, affordable, Internet-based solution that significantly improves the control and flow of vital logistics information. AFSB Pacific is studying SIGTRAKS software exportation to other AFSBs, which will enhance its collective value at the LCMC level.

As the frontline executive agent of SIGTRAKS, AFSB Pacific is able to implement software recommendations submitted by users, often in less than 24 hours. SIGTRAKS is a work in progress designed for the user and by the user, and today it continues to be improved to meet new requirements. This type of software development is an example of post-development software support, or, as SIGTRAKS systems analyst Bob Farr aptly stated, “Building and flying the plane at the same time.”

Through a process of natural selection, complicated, irrelevant, or ineffective logistics software programs will go the way of the dinosaur. The Army is transforming while at war. To avoid future shock, the logistics community must catalyze change from within. By applying spiral and evolutionary development, the Army is working to achieve its vision of combining interoperative systems to reduce information waste, increase operational efficiency, and enable focused logistics from the tactical to the strategic levels. SIGTRAKS contributes an important tool to the realization of this vision.

Gregory L. Alderete is the Chief of Plans, Operations, and Security at the Army Field Support Brigade Pacific, Army Materiel Command, at Fort Lewis, Washington. He served 24 years in the Army and is a graduate of the Army Command and General Staff College and the Army Acquisition Level III Certification Program.