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Logistics visibility: enabling effective decisionmaking.

The joint force commander--and by extension, his logisticians--requires timely, accurate, and relevant information to make effective decisions. This requirement is especially critical in the joint logistics environment (JLE). The joint logistics community must continuously execute processes, effectively coordinate the allocation of limited resources, and clearly understand the supported joint commanders' requirements across the broad range of military operations. To execute these functions effectively and efficiently, joint logisticians must have visibility.

This article serves as a reference point for discussion, a framework for concept development, and an integrating tool for the countless efforts across the Department of Defense (DOD) and industry to improve logistics visibility in the broadest and most holistic sense. Focusing specifically on the JLE, this article proposes a definition of visibility, highlights key issues and concepts for consideration, and offers ideas for future efforts based on an understanding of where we believe the most pressing requirements for visibility lie within the joint logistics environment. It is clear that complete system-wide access to all information is not attainable or even desirable. Given this fact, this article offers a framework that describes in broad terms the kind of visibility required by different elements within the JLE.

Current definitions of visibility focus almost entirely upon asset visibility. In order to provide effective logistics support across the operating environment, joint logisticians must "see" more than just assets. They must fully understand the requirements for logistics support (who needs what?), as well as the resources available (what do I have to work with?) arrayed to meet those requirements. Logisticians must also be able to monitor joint logistics performance within the JLE. Without this kind of knowledge, the logistician cannot plan or execute effectively or efficiently.

Logistics visibility is best defined as access to logistics processes, resources, and requirements to provide the knowledge necessary to make effective decisions.

Processes are defined as a series of actions, functions, or changes that achieve an end or result. Multiple processes occur across and within the JLE, such as depot repair, patient movement, force deployment, and delivery of contingency contract support. Before we can effectively develop visibility applications, we must clearly understand the end-to-end processes that deliver an outcome for the joint force. Mapping these processes is critical to knowing where and when to place visibility "sensors" to give us the knowledge we need to enable the effective delivery of those joint outcomes.

Resources can be summarized using the term total assets, defined as the aggregate of units, personnel, equipment, materiel, and supplies brought together to generate and support joint capabilities and their supporting processes. We must be able to see Service component, multinational, and other logistics assets in a way that provides integrated resource visibility to the joint warfighter.


Requirements are defined as what the joint force needs to accomplish its mission. Requirements can originate from anywhere and can result in a tasking for anyone in the JLE. Requirements also change over time based on plans, current operations, and a changing environment.

Collectively, visibility of processes, resources, and requirements comprise the information that logisticians need to accomplish their mission; without each of these elements, they cannot apportion resources and prioritize effort. Logistics visibility provides the ability to plan, synchronize, and monitor operations and processes to optimize outcomes. The ultimate effect we are trying to achieve is sustained logistics readiness.

Some think that the objective for visibility should extend across the entire logistics domain and should include complete real-time access for everyone within the system. While it is true that every aspect of the enterprise must be visible to planners, operators, or managers at some level, it is also clear that not everyone needs to be able to see everything all the time. At some point, too much information may be a hindrance and can actually detract from effective decisionmaking. Consequently, there are several key questions that a high-level consideration of visibility should address: Who among the JLE needs visibility, and why do they need it? What do they need to see? And, finally, where do they need visibility? These questions have significant implications for systems design, operational planning and execution, and resource allocation.

Who Needs Visibility and Why? The answer to this question is fairly straightforward. Everyone within the JLE has a requirement for some type of visibility for a variety of reasons. However, the ultimate purpose of our effort to achieve better visibility resides at the tactical level, where operational requirements form the basis of all our efforts. Our customer is at the tactical level.

The joint force commander's (JFC's) ability to execute his directive authority for logistics is completely dependent upon visibility. Without visibility into the JLE processes, resources, and requirements, the JFC cannot effectively integrate Service component capabilities to achieve mission objectives.

The joint logistician is responsible for matching resources against anticipated requirements to provide supportability assessments to the JFC. The supportability assessment tells us if the JFC's operational concept can be sustained. In addition, as operational requirements change, the joint logistician's ability to reassign resources rapidly against requirements is directly tied to visibility and is therefore invaluable to the JFC.

Services are responsible for delivering ready forces and equipment to the JFC. At the strategic level, this mission demands different information and uses different processes than at the operational or tactical levels. For the Services to accomplish missions, they also need visibility of the JFC requirements to ensure delivery of the right forces and equipment for mission accomplishment. The Services also need visibility into the processes that support theater component efforts.

Planners and decisionmakers at the DOD staff level require visibility to provide responsive and relevant policy guidance and to ensure that DOD strategic resources are applied appropriately to meet all JFC requirements. Their goal is to ensure resources are utilized to achieve outcomes that are both effective and efficient.


Our interagency, multinational, and commercial mission partners require visibility of processes, requirements, and resources necessary to support their participation in our operations.

Ultimately, we need to develop or enhance systems, processes, and tools for improving visibility in a manner that supports each of these user requirements.

What Do We Need to See? The answer to this question depends on one's position within JLE--what the end user wants to see is different from what the manufacturer, supplier, or distributor wants to see. Each player in the JLE tends to see his visibility requirement as the visibility requirement for everyone. Our challenge is to provide the right kind of visibility across a complex environment, to the right user, at the right time. Below are listed the key areas where we need specific types of visibility.

Process visibility provides process owners and decisionmakers the ability to evaluate the effectiveness of a particular process: "Are we delivering what's expected?" The deployment/redeployment process, the force reception process at a major port, or the depot repair processes are all parts of a system of systems that relies upon visibility for its effectiveness. Joint logisticians and process owners require visibility to enable effective control and to allow the optimization of processes against a desired outcome.

Resources must be visible by item, person, or unit individually or in some form of aggregation. In some cases, visibility by a discrete individual identity such as a serial number, lot number, national stock number, social security number, or unit identification code is required. Some individuals or items are so uniquely important--strategically, operationally, and tactically--that, by their very nature, they require real-time, 100-percent visibility across the logistics enterprise. Examples might include fissionable material, human remains, or vaccines. In other cases, visibility of items, persons, or units in some form of aggregation is necessary to determine the status of a particular capability and its ability to achieve the JFC mission. Examples might include a specific force module, a port opening capability, or a medical treatment capability.

Requirements must also be visible by item, person, or unit individually or in some form of aggregation. Ultimately, visibility of requirements is necessary to initiate supporting efforts across the JLE. In most cases, the JFC is responsible for defining those requirements. The Services, supporting combatant commands, and Defense agencies need visibility of those requirements to better support the joint force commander's mission. DOD must have visibility over those requirements to ensure resources are used effectively and efficiently.

Where Is Visibility Needed? As noted previously, the answer to this question depends upon where one sits. End-users will want to know when they will receive their items and be less concerned about every step along the way. Broadly stated, visibility can be applied while elements are in-transit, in-storage, in-process, or in-use. (1) These terms broadly describe visibility needs in terms of the item's location in the JLE. But there are still other factors we must consider.

Although we have specified visibility in terms of who needs to see what and where he needs to see it, in practice there are no clear lines of delineation between different levels and activities with regard to visibility requirements. Moreover, visibility priorities and needs may change over time or across the phases of an operation. For example, planners might see joint force requirements as their most critical need, while during the sustainment phase of an operation, available resources might take precedence. During the initial phases of expeditionary operations, visibility of processes might be the greatest need to ensure that limited resources are optimized as planned. That said, each of the three elements of visibility--processes, resources, and requirements--is needed to make effective decisions.


Even though there may be near-unanimous agreement that the single greatest gap in the world of defense logistics is visibility, there are several barriers that inhibit efforts to enhance and share it. First, authoritative data are not always available to the joint logistician. The only thing worse than having no data is having two sets of data, and our inability to provide trustworthy data impedes quality decisionmaking. Second, it is unlikely that we will have unity of command over the entire spectrum of joint logistics. One of our major challenges, then, is to achieve unity of effort without unity of command. This is a particular issue as we share, process, and integrate information across different commands, agencies, systems, and processes to develop a common operating picture. Another major dilemma is how to ensure adequate security for sensitive information while simultaneously offering the maximum possible transparency and ease of access to all members of the community. Operational partners--both within DOD and without, including international friends and allies--need to have confidence that their information will be handled properly by our systems.

It is difficult, yet essential, to address the way ahead for senior logistics managers, planners, and system developers to enhance visibility for everyone within the JLE, allocate resources, and focus efforts to best achieve that effect. From our perspective, we see four areas for major improvements to visibility:

* Map the processes. Understand, define, and document the processes within the JLE--leverage the work ongoing with the Joint Logistics Portfolio Management Test Case and U.S. Transportation Command (the distribution process owner). Use the base realignment and closure initiative to further our understanding of the defense supply chain and develop an integrated process as an outcome from that effort.

* Identify existing visibility capabilities. Continue to leverage efforts already under way within the distribution process owner and other activities. Document and integrate those existing or emerging efforts that best contribute to increased logistics visibility. We must align visibility capability requirements with our process mapping to eliminate redundancies and gaps.

* Develop a JLE data architecture. Under Defense Information Systems Agency lead, define the data framework, identify authoritative data sources, and influence and guide the joint logistics community's network-centric data strategy efforts. Our goal is to develop a JLE Data Architecture Campaign Plan.

* Deliver a joint logistics application (Global Combat Support System-Joint). This application should enable visibility for the joint logistician and facilitate visibility across the JLE. Ensure that Global Combat Support System-Joint provides an effective work environment to turn data into information and enhances the ability of the joint logistician to plan and execute joint logistics operations.


Visibility is not an end in and of itself but a means to make better decisions, gain efficiencies, and improve effectiveness across the JLE. It is also an objective that we will continually strive toward; as our environment continues to change, there will always be additional information requirements or demands for enhanced timeliness and accuracy. As logisticians, we continually strive to improve the quality of our decisions and optimize the logistics readiness of the joint force. Enhanced visibility will lead to increased logistics readiness and improved user confidence.

We are all partners in delivering visibility across the JLE, and we all have a critical role to play in helping to deliver sustained logistics readiness to the JFC. The logistics community and those who interact with us must work together to develop this capability to enhance support to the JFC and above all to the Servicemembers who depend on us. JFQ


(1) In-transit refers to assets being shipped or moved from origin (such as commercial vendors, units, storage activities, or maintenance facilities) to a destination (such as units, storage activities, or maintenance facilities). In-storage refers to assets stored at unit, DOD or commercial sites, and disposal activities. In-process refers to assets acquired from sources of supply, but not yet shipped, or assets repaired at intermediate- and depot-level organic or commercial maintenance facilities. In-use refers to those items used for their intended purpose.

Lieutenant General C.V. Christianson, USA, is the Director for Logistics on the Joint Staff.
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Title Annotation:DIALOGUE
Author:Christianson, C.V.
Publication:Joint Force Quarterly
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2007
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