Neo4j Keeps the Army Running by Tracking Equipment Maintenance

The United States Army is the largest branch of America’s Armed Forces and one of the country’s most important government organizations. With over 1 million active, guard and reserve soldiers and around 200,000 civilian staff, the Army also deploys a staggering amount of equipment – small arms, rifles and machine guns, tanks, trucks and armored vehicles, and thousands of ships, helicopters and aircraft.

The Challenge

Equipment levels on the scale of the U.S. Army require a massive amount of maintenance and support, necessitating the procurement of millions of spare parts per year. Since maintenance, operation and support costs of equipment (depending on the program and program longevity) represent as much as 80 percent of the total lifecycle costs, it is understandable that the tracking of these costs is very important.

The tracking of parts orders and the connections to the systems, components and subcomponents that they are being ordered for is a significant logistical challenge for the Army. Army leaders need the ability to rapidly query this connected data to:

    • Forecast the need for replacement parts
    • Calculate mean time to failure rates
    • Perform multi-dimensional cost comparison and trend analysis
    • Inform the Army’s budget requirements process
    • Answer vital “what-if” questions such as the cost of deploying certain forces and the supporting equipment to a new war zone

The level of data management was becoming increasingly difficult on the Army’s aging mainframe-based system as the volume of available data was increasing and many of the historical data sources were changing. It was obvious that a system with more flexibility would offer greater performance and the ability to add in new dimensions for more insights and richer analysis.

The Solution

The Army recognized the need to modernize its core tracking system. The scale of the information Neo4j handles is vast, including a 3TB database with over 5.2 billion nodes and 14.1 billion relationships. Working with CALIBRE, an employee-owned management consulting and IT solutions company that delivers enduring solutions to defense, federal, and commercial clients, the U.S. Army is now employing Neo4j as a major part of their solution for providing greater visibility into the total costs of owning a system.

The Results

Thanks to Neo4j, the U.S. Army can now rapidly store, explore and visualize this wealth of logistical data. The contrast with their previous system is stark.

“Typically it would take 60 person-hours to load data so the Army could understand ‘we’re going to need to replace X, Y, or Z parts’ or provide cost estimates and analyses,” said Hendrickson. “Now it’s down to seven to eight hours.”

Components are ordered sometimes millions at a time. With Neo4j, the Army anticipates the demand for spare parts and spread it across multiple time periods, instead of one quarter at a time.

“The result is better ordering and budgeting,” Hendrickson said. “The Army gets a fuller total cost estimate but it’s also a more predictable total cost of ownership (TCO) as well.”

Even maintaining the database infrastructure used to take nine people; now with Neo4j it is down to just two staff doing the same level of work.

Neo4j also enables CALIBRE and the Army to use modern languages and tools like Ruby, Python, and Qlik to visualize, access and query the data.

“If an analyst has a question, they get an answer immediately instead of having to figure out how to assemble the question before they actually ask it,” Hendrickson said.

In the past, a new what-if scenario would also mean the data had to be reloaded and recomputed all over again; now queries and analyses can be done the same day. “Neo4j enables analysts to save huge amounts of time,” Hendrickson continued. “Now everything is in the graph, we are able to see more detailed data that previously had been glossed over. We now have original data, and much better detail in analysis. Answers are immediate. As a result, the parts delivery is more accurate and order turnaround is much faster.”

There is an even more important benefit, he concluded: “If you have vehicles that are not going to break down in the middle of an action, lives are saved.”

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