William Streilein, chief technology officer for the Pentagon's chief digital and AI office, in 2023.

William Streilein, chief technology officer for the Pentagon's chief digital and AI office, in 2023. Defense Intelligence Agency / Petty Officer 2nd Class Wade Costin

A key Pentagon data-analysis tool is getting ease-of-use upgrades

The Advana platform is being rebuilt to handle data differently.

The Pentagon wants to make it easier for its organizations to use data analytics, so it’s overhauling its Advana platform to pull data from disparate sources instead of pooling it in one place.

“We're really trying to open things up so that the next generation, if you will, of data platform, can scale and meet the enterprise needs in a much more flexible and open way. And we hope to see acceleration of people bringing their data sources into this mesh so that others can build capabilities off of it,” William Streilein, the chief technology officer in the Pentagon’s chief digital and AI office, said in an exclusive conversation as part of Defense One’s Genius Machines series

Advana, short for “Advancing Analytics,” was released in 2021 by the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller), Chief Financial Office to serve as a common repository for data across the Defense Department. The tool has drawn so many users—including the Defense Department’s inspector general, which uses it to track Ukraine spending—that new Advana development is on hold while the platform is upgraded to handle the unanticipated traffic.

Users have poured data from hundreds of sources into Advana, which has made it an increasingly useful tool. 

“From a policy level, if you will—or even a comfort level for the stakeholders that are providing the data—they know that within that environment, only those people, constituents that are approved to access the data, can,” said Streilein, who is in charge of providing strategic and technical insights to accelerate the adoption of artificial intelligence across the Defense Department.

But authorizing each new source requires a difficult, multi-step process. Moreover, keeping all that data in one place can be expensive, Streinlein said. So the CDAO is looking at a new approach to Advana that would use data mesh principles to simplify authorization, reduce storage costs, and ease the sharing of information. 

“If you don't have to move it into a single location, you can still reference it, you can still find out about it through metadata that's advertised and then leverage it when you need it,” he said. 

Streinlein said the Advana infrastructure changes reflect a shift in the way data is regarded: from a strategic asset to a product. 

“This notion of being a product is something that obviously industry knows very well,” he said, “but for the DOD to adopt that mindset means that we see value when a product gets used by a consumer and so if a data source—a data product manager—actually provides their data in a format someone can use, they see value and basically get rewarded for a consumer which could be somebody else in the department.”