Transforming joint logistics information management: changes underway in the Department of Defense are saving billions of dollars while transforming the way the Government and the commercial sector exchange logistics-related information
James C. Bates
Few mid- and high-grade military or civilian logisticians spend time loading or unloading trucks, operating materials-handling equipment, or physically handling supplies these days. Instead, they focus most of their efforts on managing information pertaining to supplies. With this in mind, think of all the time logisticians have spent over the years looking up codes, determining addresses, handwriting or keypunching data, or supervising those who perform these tasks. Throughout the Department of Defense (DOD), an enormous amount of time is spent accomplishing these information management functions and correcting human errors. Fortunately, real transformational change is underway that is reducing this time-consuming burden.
Although their efforts are unheralded, DOD and the commercial sector have initiated improvements to logistics data processing methods within the last few years that have saved billions of dollars. These improvements simultaneously have transformed the methods the Government and the commercial sector use to exchange business-related information. Just as automatic identification technologies (AITs), such as magnetic strips, optical memory cards, radio frequency identification tags, and linear and two-dimensional bar code devices, have transformed the transport of supplies and equipment, the use of standard data “transaction sets” has greatly improved efficiency in transferring, receiving, and processing logistics-related information. The DOD legacy information systems, many of which use unique computer applications and telecommunications protocols, are transitioning to systems that incorporate evolving commercial practices and standards. This is fostering enhanced interoperability among the services and among DOD, other Federal agencies, and the commercial sector on a worldwide scale.
Basics of DOD Information Processing
In the past, DOD’s logistics information system was based on the use of the 80-column punch card that debuted in the early 1960s. Each card contained information about one transaction. Since only 80 characters could be placed on a card, almost all logistics-related information had to be coded. The first three characters–card columns 1, 2, and 3–formed the document identifier code (DIC). This code set the stage for the type of logistics information contained on the card or, in other words, the type of transaction. The DIC and many other aspects of the 80-column card format are still in use today. Just as there are myriad types of logistics transactions, there are over 1,000 different DICs to identify them. The chart above lists some DICs that are familiar to most tactical-level logisticians.
The DIC determines the types of information contained in the other 77 card column positions, so the DIC must be known before the codes used in the other columns can be chosen or interpreted. In addition to the DIC, two other codes are of special importance: the DOD activity address code (DODAAC) and the routing identifier code (RIC).
The six-character DODAAC codifies the name of the organization (or the activity) that is requisitioning an item, will receive the item, will receive the status of the item, or will pay for the item. Most organizations that have a DODAAC have three distinct addresses. These are called type address codes (TACs). TAC 1 identifies the mailing address of the activity, and TAC 2 identifies the ship-to address (also known as the freight address). Frequently, a unit’s TAC 2 address is the supply support activity that supports the unit. TAC 3 identifies the billing address for the activity. The three TAC addresses for a given DODAAC are contained in what is known as the DOD Activity Address Directory (DODAAD). (See DOD 4000.25-8-M, Military Assistance Program Address Directory (MAPAD) System, for an explanation of the TAC codes.) Before deploying, a unit should contact its DODAAD central service point to ensure that its DODAAC is updated with its deployment address. After-action reports following conflicts repeatedly have shown that many units failed to receive supplies on time because their TAC 1 or TAC 2 addresses did not reflect their deployed locations.
The three-character RIC serves several purposes. It designates the source of supply, routes transaction messages to the appropriate activity’s computer system, and identifies the shipper who will be transporting the item of supply. Many activities have both a DODAAC and a RIC. DOD 4000.25-1-S1, MILSTRIP [Military Standard Requisition and Issue Procedures] Routing Identifier and Distribution Codes, contains a comprehensive listing of RICs.
DICs, DODAACs, and RICs continue to be standard components of DOD logistics information systems, programs, and procedures. These information systems initially were called the Military Standard Logistics System (MILS). As information technology advanced, MILS transitioned to the Defense Logistics Standard System (DLSS), which is now in the process of transitioning to the Defense Logistics Management System (DLMS). These systems monitor the DODAAD, the MAPAD, the MILSTRIR Military Standard Transaction Reporting and Accounting Procedures, the Military Standard Billing System, the Military Standard Contract Administration Procedures, the International Logistics Community System, and the DOD Logistics Data Element Standardization and Management Program.
The Defense Automatic Addressing System (DAAS) is the name given to the key information-processing computers that support over 80 million DLSS and DLMS transactions per week. DAAS is managed by the Defense Automatic Addressing System Center (DAASC). The center oversees two operating locations that function 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. DAAS is the critical logistics information processing hub for the entire DOD. In effect, it is the gateway for all DOD-related logistics information. Each of the two sites provides backup support to the other. Almost all automated supply transactions and some transportation transactions make their way to one or both of the DAASC sites, where they are edited and then routed to the correct activity. The vast majority of U.S. military supply requisitions, regardless of their originating locations, are routed through DAAS.
According to DOD 4140.1-R, DOD Supply Chain Materiel Management Regulation, Section C18.104.22.168.7, “The Defense Automatic Addressing System Center (DAASC) shall provide conversion services (DLMS to DLSS and DLSS to DLMS) until all DOD components have implemented approved commercial standards and business processes and these corporate conversion services are no longer needed.” Further, Section CS.22.214.171.124 states, “… the DOD components shall use the corporate services the DLMSO [Defense Logistics Management Standards Office] and the DAASC provide for all logistics business system processing….” Finally, Section C126.96.36.199.8. states–
The DAASC is designated as the corporate
community service provider for DLMS. In this
capacity, the DAASC shall provide telecommunications
support, archiving and storage, translation
services, ASC [Accredited Standards
Committee] X12/DLSS conversion processes,
and other services to support DOD component
supply chain management systems and DLMS
DAAS integrates logistics information and telecommunications methods into a single automated information computer system. It is a near real-time, transaction-oriented system with direct interfaces with both private and commercial communications networks, it is designed to receive, validate, process, and deliver all logistics transactions that are computer readable and authorized for transmission by the customer. The two DAASC sites have fully redundant connectivity to private and commercial communications networks to ensure that there is no single point of failure for mission critical processes.
Each time a commercial or military shipper delivers an item of supply, the transaction record is routed through DAAS. The advantages of using DAAS as an information hub are profound. DAAS provides the military services with a single entry point into the DOD logistics supply system. It simplifies communication by permitting customer units to batch different types of transactions into one message, even though these messages eventually will be routed to different locations. Whenever DAAS receives a message with multiple transactions, it breaks down the composite message into individual transactions and routes each transaction to the appropriate address.
DAAS also edits transactions to ensure that they contain the correct data elements, such as source-of-supply codes, project codes, DODAACs, and RICs, as prescribed by DOD and service or agency business rules. Whenever possible, DAAS adjusts, in real time, incorrect or outdated information to ensure that logistics transactions are forwarded to the appropriate activities. If necessary, DAAS sends a failed transaction back to the originator, along with a message describing the related error.
DAAS is designed to effectively use the communication services provided by the Defense Logistics Agency’s Enterprise Telecommunications Network (ETN), the Internet, dedicated circuits, and direct-dial commercial networks. DAAS uses these services to receive and transmit logistics transactions and to provide a variety of logistics-related services to its worldwide customer base.
Besides receiving, editing, and transmitting logistics information for the customer to the intended activity, DAAS also makes mirror images of an average of 122 million transactions monthly and transmits them to interested stakeholders, such as the Army’s Logistics Intelligence File (a subordinate function of the Logistics Integrated Data Base), DOD’s Joint Total Asset Visibility (JTAV) system, the U.S. Transportation Command’s Global Transportation Network, the Air Force Materiel Command’s TRACKER system, and the Defense Finance and Accounting Service. With DAAS, logisticians can track the life cycle of a requisition through the Logistics Information Network and the Web Visual Logistics Information Processing System.
DAAS also serves as the DOD repository for logistics-related information, including DODAACs; military RICs; the Plain Language Address Directory, which is used to route military message traffic; transportation account codes, which are used by the Defense Transportation System; type address codes; distribution codes, which are used to identify requisition-monitoring activity; and DOD fund codes.
DAAS also serves as the authoritative source for end-to-end performance metrics associated with DOD logistics, including logistics response time and customer wait time reports. The DAAS repository has an archive of all files and transactions that it has processed since June 1994, which is a valuable information source for conducting logistics analyses.
The DAASC also collects transportation data. It receives over 250,000 motor-carrier shipment status transactions each week from the numerous commercial shipping companies that support DOD. It also maintains and administers the DOD Activity Address File, which contains the standard point location codes (SPLCs) published by the National Motor Freight Traffic Association. SPLCs are nine-digit numbers that identify the specific origin or destination location of freight. The Army’s Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command is required to maintain a DODAAC-to-SPLC cross-reference file. In its role as the DOD information gatekeeper, DAASC obtains and reviews the critical data elements that ensure accuracy in the Defense Transportation Payment Program.
Another major benefit of DAASC is the fact that it facilitates network protocol interoperability. When users communicate with DAAS using their internal communications protocols, DAASC translates these protocols so they can be delivered to and received by the ultimate destinations. For example, if originators send extensible markup language data using the file transfer protocol, but the destination requires delivery using X12 and MQSeries-type protocols (messaging middleware from IBM), DAASC has the capability to overcome these differences.
DAAS is central to the DOD efforts to foster electronic data interchange (EDI). With the advent of the Internet and improvements in telecommunications, electronic commerce has increased exponentially. Business-to-business transactions and business-to-government transactions, which once were completed painstakingly in a handwritten or keypunched format, now are being processed by computers and passed between the interested parties over the Internet using EDI.
EDI is the computer-to-computer exchange of business data in standard formats. In EDI, information is organized according to a specified format agreed upon by two parties, thereby permitting both to conduct a computer-to-computer transaction that requires no human intervention or keypunching on either end. When EDI is used throughout a supply chain by all vendors, suppliers, and contractors, huge cost savings and efficiencies result. The focus of EDI is on business data that are structured for exchange among trading partners, including procurement, transportation, logistics, and financial data. EDI’s standard format is application neutral, which allows data to be extracted and read into a variety of application systems for further analysis and reporting.
ASC X12 and UN/EDIFACT
To exploit fully the power of digitization, private businesses and governments throughout the world have established organizations that provide guidelines on standardizing the formats and procedures for exchanging logistics-related information. The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) is one such organization. In 1979, ANSI chartered the Accredited Standards Committee (ASC) X12 to develop uniform standards for EDI. On the global level, the United Nations Electronic Data Interchange for Administration, Commerce, and Transport (UN/EDIFACT) was established to serve a similar purpose.
Many of the standards promulgated by ASC X12 are incorporated by UN/EDIFACT: the latter adopts the international EDI standards that are designed to meet the needs of both the governments and private industries. As the key U.S. organization for advancing electronic data interchange, ASC X12 develops, maintains, and publishes the EDI standards for the United States. According to the ASC X12 Web site, www.x12.org/x12org/about/X12Strategy.cfm, “Hundreds of organizations representing … Fortune 500, small and mid-sized companies, industry associations, and government agencies participate in ASC X12. More than 300,000 companies worldwide use the X12 electronic data interchange standards in daily business transactions.”
A clear distinction must be made between standardized formats and the means to transmit and receive them. The EDI standards and the telecommunication methods of transporting the standard data formats are two separate entities. Fortunately, the standard formats can be exchanged over any electronic messaging service. The X12 and UN/EDIFACT standards specify only the format and data content of e-business transactions. They do not define how users will establish the required communications links needed to exchange EDI data. Users may choose any EDI and communications software that support the use of the standards. One of the many advantages of DAAS is that it facilitates the use of a variety of telecommunication methods in both DOD and the commercial sector.
Today, EDI data are moving over many types of electronic messaging services, including the Internet, which makes it easy to implement EDI at minimal cost using many commercial off-the-shelf application tools. Data can be transmitted over the Internet to DAAS by DOD users and commercial providers.
Routine business documents that once were completed by hand, printed on paper, and stored in steel file cabinets now are captured electronically and processed automatically on computers in what are called transaction sets. ASC X12 has published over 300 different transaction sets that can be used to record a wide variety of electronic commerce transactions. Many of them are applicable to DOD. Each transaction set can be identified by a brief written description and a three-digit code. Here are a few examples–
104 Air Shipment Information.
109 Vessel Content Details.
309 Customs Manifest.
310 Freight Receipt and Invoice (Ocean).
850 Purchase Order.
869 Order Status Inquiry.
870 Order Status Report.
Transaction sets can be broken down into data segments that can be divided further into data elements. An ASC X12 data element dictionary specifies the name, description, type, and minimum and maximum lengths for each data element. Data elements contain such basic information as an item’s price, product code, size, and color. ASC X12 transaction sets standardize e-commerce data an& at the same time, permit a wide range of telecommunications methods to transmit the standardized data.
Extensible Markup language
One way to transmit ASC X12 transaction sets is through the use of extensible markup language (XML), a relatively new Web language that was developed specifically for electronic business. Structured data can be sent over the Internet and processed using a computer. This is a significant improvement over hypertext markup language (HTML), which can display text and images but cannot process them. XML allows data to be processed with software applications such as the Joint Operation Planning and Execution System, the Global Transportation Network, and JTAV.
XML is an evolving technology that is particularly well suited for Web-base& computer-interface applications that require some human entry of information. On the downside, XML is bandwidth intensive; therefore, transmitting ASC X12 transaction sets is generally better suited for computer-to-computer interfaces.
DAAS supports translation services among X12, XME, and MILS. While use of standards is preferred, the DAASC also supports user-defined files (UDF). For example, if data that originate as a MILS transaction are required to be in an X12 transaction format at the receiving destination, DAAS provides the required translation service.
Transition from DLSS to DIMS
The Defense Logistics Agency, the parent organization of DAASC, is in the process of upgrading its legacy automated information systems using a program it calls Business Systems Modernization (BSM). Commercial off-the-shelf software programs and private industry methods are key components of BSM. The transition of the DLSS to DLMS is part of this process. DLMS readily accepts and processes XML transactions, many of which make use of variable-length data elements. The constraints of the fixed-length, 80-column card formats will soon be overcome. DOD 4000.25-M, Defense
Logistics Management System Manual, describes DLMS like this–
The DLMS contains a broad base of business rules, to include uniform policies, procedures, time standards, transactions, and data management, designed to meet DOD’s requirements for total logistics support. The DLMS is founded upon ANSI ASC X12 EDI and will be expanded to support emerging Electronic Business/Electronic Commerce (EB/EC) capabilities such as: data sharing, automated identification technology, object-oriented user interfaces, electronic malls, web-based technology, and electronic funds transfer, as appropriate…. It provides standard procedures and data formats to link the various component organizational elements of the Defense Logistics community, including inventory control points (ICPs), distribution depots, maintenance depots, transportation nodes, and end users in posts, camps, stations, and ships with deployed units. The DLMS not only addresses the different functional processes of logistics, but also provides standards for interchange of data across the military services, defense agencies, other Federal agencies, foreign national governments, international government organizations, and with nongovernment participants. As other EB or EC methods emerge, DLMS will incorporate these new capabilities into the Department’s logistics business processes as appropriate.
The transformation of information processing methods continues to gather momentum. DOD is continually updating its procedures to shift from DOD-unique logistics data exchange standards to ASC X12 and UN/EDIFACT standards while incorporating the widely available Internet language of XML. The advantages of transforming logistics information exchange have been, and will continue to be, profound.
THE AUTHOR WISHES TO THANK WILLIAM STRICKLER AND OTHER PROFESSIONALS AT THE DEFENSE AUTOMATIC ADDRESSING SYSTEM CENTER FOR THEIR VALUABLE ASSISTANCE IN WRITING THIS ARTICLE.
DIC TYPE OF TRANSACTION
AOA Requisition for domestic shipment with NSN (national
stock number) or NATO (North Atlantic Treaty
Organization) stock number.
AC1 Cancellation by requisitioner.
AE1 Supply status to requisitioner.
AS1 Shipment status to requisitioner.
FTE Customer report of available excess.
TK4 Intransit data prepared by shipping activities showing
data on Government bill of lading shipments within
the continental United States (CONUS) and overseas
intratheater and retrograde shipments.
TK6 Intransit data prepared by the Air Mobility Command’s
(AMC’s) air port of debarkation (APOD) showing the
hour and day a shipment is received at an APOD and
forwarded to the ultimate consignee.
TV Intransit data prepared by Headquarters AMC or the
Military Sealift Command’s (MSC’s) Ocean Cargo
Clearance Authority (OCCA) showing the hour and
day each export shipment unit is received or lifted
from CONUS by AMC or MSC. The OCCA entries
include the date of overseas vessel discharge.
LIEUTENANT COLONEL JAMES C. BATES, USA, (RET.), WORKS FOR ALION SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY AND SERVES AS A SUSTAINMENT PLANNER FOR THE U.S. JOINT FORCES COMMAND, J-9 TRANSFORMATION, DISTRIBUTED CONTINUOUS EXPERIMENTATION ENVIRONMENT, IN SUFFOLK, VIRGINIA. HE IS A CERTIFIED PROFESSIONAL LOGISTICIAN AND A GRADUATE OF THE ARMY COMMAND AND GENERAL STAFF COLLEGE AND HOLDS AN M.B.A. DEGREE FROM THE UNIVERSITY OF HAWAII. HE CAN BE CONTACTED BY EMAIL AT JAMES.BATES@JE.JFCOM.MIL.
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