Data Analytics and Decision Support
Aghveran, Armenia, 1-5 June, 2015
Background > NATO ARW
Our world is an interlocking collective of Socio-Technical Organizations (STOs) also referred in the literature as Cyber Physical Social Systems (CPSS) that consist of inhomogeneous, interacting adaptive agents capable of learning: large numbers of groups of people hyperlinked by information channels and interacting with computer systems, and which themselves interact with a variety of physical systems in order to maintain them under conditions of good control. Cyber-Physical Systems (CPS) are integrations of computation with physical processes. In CPS, embedded computers and networks monitor and control the physical processes, usually with feedback loops where physical processes affect computations and vice versa. Cyber-Physical-Social Systems, that is, CPS tightly conjoined, coordinated, and integrated with human and social characteristics. Primary examples of STO or CPSS include Command and Control Organizations (CCOs) such as 911/Emergency Response Systems (911/ERS) and military organizations, as well as "critical infrastructures that have become central in the emergency preparedness work of many nations. Use of the term is often related to (inter)national security challenges and exemplified by technological networks like energy supply, transport services, water supply or information and communication services. Failures of these systems can cause major damage to the population, the economy or the national security.
Information overload is a core problem that both military and civilian organizations (CPSS) are facing today. The problem is so well recognized that The Economist (February 27th 2010), dedicated a special report to 'data deluge': "everywhere you look, the quantity of information in the world is soaring. According to one estimate, mankind created 150 exabytes of data in 2005. This year, it will create 1200 exabytes. Executives or commanders want better ways to communicate complex insights so they can quickly absorb the meaning of the data and take action on it. That problem has been referenced as 'BigData' and also 'data deluge' in recent literature.
BigData and data deluge are contextual to CPSS complex dynamic environments. Information overload is a problem in every CPSS, and efforts to confront this problem have been ongoing in many countries, however more extensively and for significantly longer time in most NATO countries. Such efforts have been more intensive in the defence and security applications, in which the problem of dealing with an avalanche of heterogeneous and uncertain information is the most pressing. At the same time, it has been recognized that operational performance can be enhanced with innovative solutions allowing to analyze and "distill pertinent knowledge from available information and recommend approaches to meet specific goals throughout all phases of the decision loop, namely Observe, Orient, Decide and Act (OODA).
In both defence and civilian domains, a confluence of advances in the computer and mathematical sciences has unleashed unprecedented capabilities for enabling or support decision making. These capabilities grouped under the terms 'information fusion' and 'analytics' are making possible the large-scale capture of data and the transformation of that data into insights and recommendations in support of decisions about challenging problems in science, society, and government. The ultimate goal of information fusion is to make sense out of the data. In the general business and industry domain, they have been using the term 'Analytics' to pursue roughly the same goal. Both, information fusion and analytics are the application of computer science and technology, operations research, cognitive engineering and mathematics to support human-understanding of complex situations and guide a proper response (OODA loop).
Managing the complexity of situation understanding and of the decision space is a challenge. The challenge is compounded by the wide spectrum and diversity of data that have to be processed, fused and eventually transformed into actionable understanding. The explosion came with the advent of advanced sensing and the diversity and volume of data from multiple sources and forms (unstructured and open sources, voice records, photos, video sequences, etc.). The deciders/analysts cannot cope with the flow of material, with potentially severe consequences on the quality of the decision and operational processes. At the same time, the state of the art of the technologies supporting agile decision making and actions in dealing with big data has to continuously evolve to accommodate the evolving operational requirements for cooperation and collaboration between stake holders and jurisdictions, and consequently with the exponential increase in information sources and their characteristics. In most applications the state of the art in such technologies is far from being able to support all the requirements for coping with the volume of information or help efficient decision making, even if it is significantly more advanced in NATO countries.