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U.S. Air Force Heavies Up On BI

The Armed Services branch uses real-time reporting to plan and carry out its complex array of global missions that it carries out each day by the hundreds.
Each day the U.S. Air Force's Air Mobility Command (AMC) supports 400 to 500 mobility missions worldwide. This includes everything from troop deployments to transporting food and medicine to disaster victims. And AMC is employing business intelligence to provide Air Force Command and Control personnel with the most integrated and real-time view of its aircraft to plan and execute its missions more effectively.

"We want a single snapshot that shows status information on aircraft at the same time, from anywhere in the world," says Joe Sabin, systems analyst for AMC's logistics integration division.

To accomplish this -- at least in part -- AMC needed to fuse data from its various OLTP systems and provide users with a composite view of information for some 1,500 aircraft. The task was not an easy one. For starters, each plane can have as many as 40 configurations. Specific configurations such as the aircraft's location, onboard supplies, and availability also change as it begins a new mission -- and many AMC aircraft run numerous missions in sequence.

In November 2000, Sabin and his team determined they could leverage AMC's current technology assets to meet some bold new reporting requirements. After considering applications from Cognos and Business Objects, AMC deployed Information Builders' WebFocus. The $200,000 BI investment included iWay's Enterprise Integration Suite to handle the ETL (extract, transform and load) in pulling select data from AMC's 10 transactional systems into an Oracle operational data store (ODS), which houses all information on aircraft that's relevant to Command and Control personnel.

Using WebFocus and iWay's technology, data is now formatted first to be compliant with open-system use, says Sabin. It is then made available to users via a browser interface as Oracle or XML files. According to Sabin, WebFocus offers several ways to format reports. One option allows users at 72 Air Force bases to view data as XML files from which they can tailor reports to suit their needs.

In the past, AMC used customized reports that were created using Perl and Java. These reports took six to eight weeks to create, and alterations could not be made to them. Now it takes four to five days to create a report, and reports can be updated in near real-time.

According to Sabin, the iWay technology offers a number of advantages beyond its standard ETL functions. "It allows you to more closely integrate disparate applications," he says. "We will use iWay to set up an interface from our maintenance system into our Command and Control system. This will help us to achieve a near real-time view of information since we will always be looking at current transactions," he says. The technology also allows users with access to AMC's servers to receive clearly defined metadata, which permits them to easily import data in the file into other OLTP systems.

Depending on how often configurations on aircraft change, AMC's transactional systems can now be refreshed only as needed. Data on personnel does not typically change often, so refreshing it every 24 hours or so doesn't bog down the transactional systems. More variable information such as the location or availability of aircraft is updated every 10 to 15 minutes. Since the deployment, overall transactions have been reduced by 50 percent.

Delivering real-time information with WebFocus has been especially useful on high priority mobility missions. For instance, a wing commander in the field can request a view of information that's relevant to his or her mission. Command and Control personnel can then access specific files and take a snapshot view of the information, which Sabin says goes outside the normal reporting parameters. This information could, for example, reveal a potential problem for the mission. The wing commander will then be made aware of the issue via PDA or other mobile device.

AMC is looking to create a universal language that makes it easy to find information quickly. "The idea is to enter data once and use it in multiple locations, providing access from any browser," says Sabin.