Pentagon pauses development of its go-to data analytics tool

Getty Images / Yuichiro Chino

New data chief orders infrastructure improvements to Advana platform, which tracks Ukraine aid and many other things.

The Pentagon is pausing development of Advana—its default data-analytics platform—so it can be upgraded to handle increased demand, according to an internal email obtained by Defense One.

In the June 3 email, the Pentagon’s new chief data and artificial intelligence officer directed developers of the Advana platform to “pause much of the active work and additional features” until “infrastructure” changes are complete.

The pause will force users who were banking on forthcoming features, tools, or applications to use existing Advana tools to do their work. The email did not indicate when development might resume.

The “Department's demand for enterprise data and analytics services have outgrown the original architecture of the Advana platform,” wrote Radha Iyengar Plumb, reflecting a review of the infrastructure, tech tools, and applications that her office relies on soon after taking office in April. 

“I have directed the team to focus on upgrading the technical framework of Advana to better meet the requirements of our customers and the whole Department, and develop a sustainable enterprise solution for the future,” Plumb wrote. “To accelerate these platform enhancements, I have also directed the team to reprioritize activities from continuing to build on Advana's current platform to focus on its future platform engineering activities. As part of this, we are looking hard at a variety of applications in the Advana ecosystem.”

During the developmental pause, the Pentagon will evaluate whether the applications are stable and should be integrated on the upgraded infrastructure, or if they would fit better elsewhere in DOD’s tech enterprise. 

“I understand this will disrupt the planned uses and services for your teams, and I did not make this decision lightly. I understand from my team that this reverses prior commitments made…and want to acknowledge the impacts this may have on your roadmaps and leadership obligations,” Plumb wrote. “My team and l are dedicated to working with you all to identify alternative hosting environments for your use case or transition your use case to generally available tools on [Advana] until we are able to relook at bringing new vendor pilots onto the future infrastructure environment.”

The Advana platform has been an important part of the Pentagon’s data and analytics efforts, getting its start with financial data management and growing to include other areas across the defense enterprise. In a 2021 memo, Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks billed Advana as the Pentagon’s go-to data analytics platform, and said defense organizations must get executive approval to use other platforms. 

“The Advancing Analytics (Advana) platform is the single enterprise authoritative data management and analytics platform for the Secretary of Defense, Deputy Secretary of Defense, and Principal Staff Assistants (PSAs), with inputs from all DoD Components,” Hicks wrote. “The use of other data management and analytics platforms must be approved by the DoD CDO and appropriate Component CDO to ensure adherence to an open data standard architecture.”

Researchers have suggested that unified data analytics platforms that tie disparate systems together, like Advana, could help lessen the workloads of Pentagon employees. Moreover, Advana is the “authoritative source” for reporting Ukraine supplemental funding, and has been praised for its ability to keep track of weapons shipments—but criticized for the added burden to soldiers. 

“Having a mission-ready enterprise analytics infrastructure is critical to the Department’s goal of leveraging data and AI from the boardroom to the battlefield,” a senior defense official told Defense One

In May, the Pentagon announced a new initiative, called the Open Data and Applications Government-owned Interoperable Repositories framework, designed to bring data analytics across the defense enterprise. The goal is to build on Hicks’ 2021 data memo to create a multi-vendor analytics ecosystem.

“Advana is an important part of that data infrastructure layer and application environment. Over the past two years, the Advana platform scaled rapidly from initial capability based on pilot projects and prototypes to an enterprise-wide data and analytics environment the Department now uses to inform decision making at all levels,” the official said, adding that the planned upgrades will help support Advana’s rapid user growth. 

“These changes will result in improvements, such as accelerating the onboarding of new use cases for enterprise customers and opening up the Advana data platform to third party software development at a larger scale than we enjoy today. Our work to upgrade the platform will impact back-end engineering and, for the most part, no Advana customers will experience a degradation of existing services.”